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My Thoughts on the Kialoa Makahiki

June 11, 2012

Kialoa recently sent me their new Makahiki dragon boat paddle and asked me for my thoughts on the paddle. I spent a few weeks paddling it and passed it around to other Los Angeles Racing Dragons (TeamLARD or simply, “LARD”) paddlers – both experienced and new paddlers.

In order to properly evaluate this paddle, we must understand why Kialoa created this paddle. Kialoa’s first entry into the dragon boat paddling market was the Dragon Hybrid paddle. The Dragon Hybrid is my favorite dragon boat paddle to date. I currently practice and race with the Dragon Hybrid (as does most of TeamLARD) and the paddle is appearing in the hands of more and more dragon boat paddlers. The Makahiki was not created to replace or even compete with the Dragon Hybrid; rather, it fills different niche within the dragon boat community.

“Makahiki” means festival in Hawaiian. The Makahiki is aimed at two (2) primary groups – those new to dragon boating that want to own their own gear but do not want to spend a lot of money and those clubs and festival organizers looking for a durable, low cost, and low maintenance paddle. With that in mind, lets have a look at the Makahiki.

The first thing I noticed when I unboxed the Makahiki was its mean and aggressive look. The Makahiki has a black circular shaft and handle with a black, grey and white blade. “Kialoa” is emblazoned near the paddle blade’s tip and down the shaft.

The Makahiki is made of Continuous Fiber Reinforced Thermoplastic (CFRT™). CRFT combines the durability of thermoplastic and the strength of composite fibers. What that translates to is durability. Remember those wooden paddles many of us used before the proliferation of composite paddles? What about the festival paddles that many organizers provide paddlers at our local races? How screwed up did they get over time? After awhile, those wooden paddles begin to ding and the coating begins to erode. At that point, there are a few things that can be done – you can throw them out, you can try to refinish them, or you can leave them as is. Once water gets into the wood, the paddles get heavy and begin to fall apart.

With the Makahiki, you don’t have to worry about the paddle getting waterlogged. Hell, you don’t even have to worry about it breaking. To show the durability of CRFT materials, Kialoa recently produced a short video of a truck running over the Makihiki (Click Here). Simply put, this paddle will last (Ironically, the day after Kialoa sent me the above video, one of our LARD paddlers inadvertently ran over his full carbon blade with his car. The results were not the same).

One of the first things I look at when evaluating a paddle is the sharpness of the blade tip. The sharper the tip, the cleaner the entry – that’s assuming you know how to properly enter a paddle into the water.  In the past, when paddling manufacturers have asked me for my input on their designs (both Kialoa and Burnwater), I told them to make the tip sharper. I am so obsessed with sharp tips I used to sharpen my wooden paddle’s tip on cement in hopes of getting the cleanest possible entries. The Makahiki’s tip is sharp. It has one of the sharpest dragon boat paddle tips on the market. For sure it is sharper than any wooden or festival paddle I have ever encountered.

Out on the water, the entries were clean and sharp just as expected. The paddle sets you up for a clean entry and fairly solid pull phase. I felt the paddle needed a bit of coaxing out of the water. I believe this is due to the flex in the shaft and blade. That being said, this is not something most paddlers can detect nor is it something that a recreational paddler borrowing a festival paddle will even notice.

The flexibility of the paddle may be a benefit for some – especially those with shoulder problems. There are both dragon boat and outrigger paddles on the market that are intentionally made with additional flex to alleviate shoulder stress. There are even some paddlers that prefer additional flex in their paddles as they feel the flex adds a bit of kick to the tail end of the pull phase and exit.

The edges of the top handle were a bit too sharp for my personal liking as I am more accustomed to the curvy handle of the Dragon Hybrid. That being said, most of the LARD paddlers that tested the Makahiki did not have any issues with the handle.

During testing, I asked most of the LARD paddlers if they would prefer the Makahiki, a festival paddle, or a standard wooden Grey Owl paddle. All of them except for one preferred the Makahiki.

So who would I recommend this paddle to? I would recommend it to any new paddler that wants his/her own paddle but doesn’t want to spend $200+ on a high performance paddle.  I would also recommend this paddle to any team our festival organizer that is looking for paddles that will last many seasons with little to no maintenance and easily out perform the waterlogged and warped wooden paddles they currently provide their festival racers.

Again, if you are an experienced paddler, the Makahiki will not be your race paddle of choice but if you are on a team with a propensity to clack paddles, you might want to give the Makahiki a look as a possible practice paddle as the heaviest paddle clack will likely not do too much, if any, damage to the Makahiki.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am a KIALOA ‘Elele (ambassador) and Kialoa sponsors the dragon boat team I coach and paddle for, the Los Angeles Racing Dragons (

The Makahiki I used for this evaluation was donated to the LA Racing Dragon’s paddle quiver. If you are ever in the Long Beach area during one of our practice, let me know if you want to take the Makihiki for a spin.

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