HYDRO – Designing the fastest SUP paddle for racing

A behind the scenes look at of the development of the Hydro SUP race paddle. From initial concept ideas to project management, testing & eventual production.
By Chris Freeman 3 years ago

HYDRO – Designing the fastest SUP paddle for racing

Designing the fastest SUP race paddle

The HYDRO Pro SUP race sup paddle was the culmination of 9 months of R&D on Maui. The initial design brief was pretty simple, or so we thought – Make a new innovative elite level sup race paddle to rival the best sup paddles already available and those in development elsewhere! The result is an innovative, lightweight and strong race sup paddle ready to accelerate you onto the next bump or to the head of the draft train.

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Lara Claydon (Team Hawaii) is one of our Maui based athletes who is involved in product testing. She gives valuable feedback especially from the perspective of a smaller paddler.

HYDRO – Concept, development & testing of SUP paddles

We wanted to see how much forward drive we could build into the paddle without sacrificing comfort over longer distances. Developing ideas and prototyping paddles is a challenging (and costly) exercise. There is nothing more daunting than the first stroke with a new blade. Very quickly you feel out the good and bad things about the prototype and get back to the drawing board and make adjustments.

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3D modeling & analysis is performed to ensure that the water flows & forces are balanced efficiently. Our designer Tom Hammerton has 20+yrs of experience with controlling water & air flow.

Paddle technology has improved a lot in the past couple of years and it was important to try a range of paddles from other brands, this helped us set some clear benchmarks. It is clear how diverse the market has become, there are some great paddles available and there are some not so great. It takes time to develop and bring products to market so when you are developing you have to look into the future and design a product to beat what will be available elsewhere in 12 to 18 months time, to do that you have to have an open mind and look past what is already released.
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This HYDRO prototype had 5mm sanded off each side, we loved the result!

We started with a completely fresh perspective with the HYDRO and our designer Tom Hammerton had no constraints imposed. Often designers are confined to a set of parameters dictated to them based on marketing and/or production considerations. This is not the case at Black Project, design the best and then figure out the rest.
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Since we started using Asana development has been more effective & we love that it is easy to collect/share/discuss athlete feedback all in one place.

CAD modeling combined with rapid and cost effective 3D printing is very important during the prototyping phase. However, its the adjustments which you make by hand that often lead to the best solutions. A grinder and some resin can help you try out ideas quickly and make refinements which can later be translated into the 3D model. Version control and use of project management software makes development more effective, quicker and on budget. This is especially true when you are managing testers in multiple locations. At Black Project we use Asana to manage all our projects.


HYDRO – SUP paddle blade design

The blade design challenged a few typically accepted SUP paddle norms. We made it more compact, shorter, narrower and squarer than other paddles, as one measurement changes a whole series of others have to change as a result. The blade angle was kept at a shallow 8 degrees to promote a positive and aggressive stroke. 

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Rhino an application which we use to build our 3D models which are then printed or sent to our mold supplier.

We built grip and drive into the blade face with a large degree of Scooped Dihedral shaping, the power is concentrated in the center of the blade where the shaping is at its max. The shaping gradually tapers towards the tip but remains more pronounced than others and to the very bottom of the blade, this which gives you a little extra kick.
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This diagram shows how each of the four sizes of Hydro are scaled. Each blade size is tuned & optimized for a different group of paddlers, for example the XS73 blade is considerably shorter than the S78.

Power is nothing without stability, on entry into the water we wanted the blade to grip, like being on rails, this helps especially when fatigue starts to creep in and paddle stroke breaks down. At this time when you are at your worst the Hydro SUP paddle is designed to correct and stabilize the pull phase to ensure that no power is lost. Upwind is now much easier with the Hydro, increased stability and power mean than you can maintain speed on upwind legs. 
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This is one of the first batch of Hydro paddles ever made & tested, still in our test quiver today.

The paddle blade face is both innovative and distinctive, with the most shaping that has been put into a blade to date. The shaping creates its own set of challenges and earlier prototypes were too thick with too much volume. Later prototypes were thinned out to reduce buoyancy and increase flex for improved feel. The front of the blade is also very distinctive with a pronounced ridge, this was designed to increase lateral blade stability while increasing blade strength.
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The #2 prototype of the Hydro Large 88.

We had been testing various paddle prototypes for sometime in a range of conditions with a range of paddlers. As we closed in on the final design we wanted to put the paddles to the ultimate test and the Maui to Molokai race was the perfect opportunity, nothing else tests rider and paddle more. Thankfully it came through that testing well and a few refinements later the new HYDRO SUP race paddle was ready.

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The development of the Hydro was an interesting journey as we challenged our pre-existing views and opened our minds to new learning. The Hydro is available in a number of options to suit a range of paddlers. The blade is finished in matte 3k twill carbon for a stealthy look but also to save another 15 grams. We have also made it available in our new travel option. Using 2 of our HEX joins we made a paddle which looks and feels like a one-piece paddle which assembles in seconds and is ready for travel complete with its padded case.


Hydro SUP Race Paddle Overview

  • Available in L88, M83, S78 & XS73
  • Standard diameter shaft (SDS) on L88, M83 & S78
  • Reduced diameter shaft (RDS) on XS73
  • Palm or T handle (most paddlers opt for the Palm)
  • Available in Premium Carbon
  • Available in Fixed or 3-Piece (2 x HEX)
  • Weight from 365 grams


Ready to enjoy a new paddling experience?

  SUP, Racing, SUP Paddles, Choosing A SUP Paddle, Hydro
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