Have you ever wondered how many times a human touches a handcrafted paddle in the course of it being made? “Hands of Blackfish Paddles”, a film from Blackfish Paddles, designers of high performance, refined and handcrafted SUP paddles, highlights each step of the paddle making process. Featuring Blackfish Paddles Founder, David Smart and Team Rider & World ChampLincoln Dews, the film is a fascinating look into the brand, the hands that create handcrafted paddles, the precision, quality and safety each step possesses. TotalSUP had a unique opportunity to capture the story behind this great film and chat with David Smart, the Founder of Blackfish Paddles.
Watch the “Hands of Blackfish Paddles”
Hi David! Massive congratulations to your team and Lincoln for claiming the 2019 ICF Technical Course World Champ title! What’s the origin of Blackfish Paddles?
The idea behind starting Blackfish Paddles was to take our passion for stand-up paddle boarding and start a small business with the goal of building the best possible paddle. We see the paddle as the connection between the paddler and the water, and we saw an opportunity to improve on this tactile experience. So we started on this journey six years ago and today we build some of the lightest and highest quality paddles on the market, at our own facility in Thailand.
Why handcrafted SUP paddles?
The short answer is because it’s the best way to build a paddle, but we should also define what we mean by handcrafted. When we talk about handcrafted paddles we are describing the process for laying up the blade. Everything that we build is made using “wet layup” where the individual sheets of composite start out as dry “cloth” and the epoxy is applied by hand. The degree of difficulty in doing this well is quite high – the guys who layup the blades have all worked with us for five or more years and are true artisans.
Very often when we speak to people about how a paddle is made they have no understanding of the process and they don’t realize how many people are involved in the process. This was the idea behind our “Hands of Blackfish” film, we wanted to show people how we build paddles and how many “hands” touch a paddle. So we invited Lincoln Dews, one of our team athletes, up to our factory in Bangkok so he could watch the layup process and then build a paddle for himself. And yes his paddle, with some assistance for the layup guys, came out and he used it at the APP event in London a few weeks later. It was a lot of fun showing Linc around, explaining how we build things and then watching him build his own paddle.
Blackfish Paddles brand has a strong sustainability focus. Could you tell us more about your mission?
Paddling has taken me to some amazing ecosystems, some of those ecosystems remain intact and others are clearly degraded or struggling due to the impact of humans. Whether we are talking about climate change, air pollution, plastic in the ocean or any of the other significant issues that we face on the planet, the simple fact is that the current trajectory of resource consumption is simply not sustainable. So today all businesses need to be run in a sustainable manner if they are to be successful.
We have made a number of initiatives that set us apart. We were the first brand to ship all our paddles in a reusable sock, so there is no plastic and no bubble wrap, and 2020 will be the fourth year of us shipping free of plastic. We were also the first brand to build all our blades and handles using bio-resin, which is a resin that gets its carbon chain from sustainable plant sources rather than a barrel of oil. These are small but important steps in being a sustainable business.
Could you tell us more about your latest designs?
Our new blade, called “Viento”, is a very special paddle. The design and prototype testing took about a year and when we had something that I felt was good we gave it to Lincoln Dews to test. While he was up in Bangkok filming “Hands of Blackfish” we got him to give the paddle a try and after a few minutes he came back to the dock and said “This is the best paddle I have ever tried”. That made me smile and I said to him, “Go finish your workout and if you still feel that way when you’re done we’ll take it into production”. And the rest is history!
What makes the Viento so special is the power face shape, with what I call the twin power pockets, as well as the blade weight. The power face is designed to have a super clean entry, solid catch with no flutter and a clean exit. We aim to get this feel as part of the Blackfish DNA in all our paddles but the Viento really does it well. Then there is the weight of the blade at under 165 grams, it is the lightest on the market and yet is incredibly strong, thanks to the hard work of the R&D team at the factory.
What’s next for Blackfish Paddles?
Our product range has something for everyone, driven by our desire to make the best quality paddle across a range of products and prices. So for us we are always looking to improve and evolve the product. That said we don’t have a new product of colour every year because that feels too consumeristic and so we would rather think in terms of generational type change as we find a better way of doing something.
One idea we are working on is Blackfish Paddle Camps. The idea is to give a small group of 6 to 8 passionate paddlers access to a world class athlete, like Lincoln Dews, and train in an iconic ecosystem for a week. This would be an amazing learning experience as well as a great way to understand how to improve as an athlete. Stay tuned as we hope to announce something further in the next few weeks.
Thank you David for your time, we can’t wait to hear more about that project!
To find out more about Blackfish Paddles and their progressive, refined, handcrafted designs, visit www.blackfishpaddles.com
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