A Special PL Q&A with AT Product Manager Hastings Blumer
At this year’s Outdoor Retailer Summer Market tradeshow, Confluence and AT Paddles unveiled what the company bills as a “gamechanger” in the whitewater paddle market: Duraweave™, a blend of polypropylene-based Innegra fiber that forms the lightest, strongest paddles on the market. Intrigued, we caught up with brainchild and product manager Hastings Blumer for the skinny. Here’s what we found:
PL: What, exactly, is Innegra, and what are its features?
Blumer: Innegra is a polypropylene based fiber that when woven can be used just like carbon fiber or fiberglass. It’s lighter, more buoyant, more impact resistant, and more abrasion resistant than fiberglass. It’s also more flexible than fiberglass, but can elongate almost twice as much before it fails. When combined with materials like fiberglass and carbon fiber in the right way, Innegra can improve structural characteristics and optimize weight.
PL: How’d you come up with the concept for Duraweave?
Blumer: At some point in the past couple of years it dawned on me that the evolution of paddles has disproportionately favored design, over materials and construction. While blade and shaft design has evolved somewhat over the years, the materials used to make paddles have remained largely unchanged. It was this realization that sparked what would ultimately become Duraweave. The concept behind Duraweave™ is basically “lighter, stronger, better.” We knew that to be successful we had to go above and beyond anything else that’s out there on the market, and there are some really good whitewater paddles on the market, so that was no easy task. We had to put blinders on, look beyond our preconceived notions about materials or construction, and innovate. Our goal was to develop a new standard for whitewater paddle strength and durability while still being as light, or lighter, than any equivalent paddle on the market.
PL: What makes it so much better? Is it really that much stronger and lighter?
Blumer: Innegra offers a unique set of features that fiberglass and carbon alone don’t. This is not necessarily unique to Innegra; there are other composite materials out there that offer similar features, but they’re really expensive. Innegra is an alternative to using only fiberglass or carbon and it allows us to replace brittle and heavy fiberglass with a lighter and more durable material. Composite materials only become strong and durable when they’re combined together in the right way. The term “recipe” is used in the composite industry in the same way that it used for cooking; the recipe is a list of all of the ingredients used to make something. By adding Innegra to our recipes in the right way, we’ve significantly improved the strength and durability of our paddles without increasing weight.
PL: Tell us about the impact tests…how did you conduct them?
Blumer: Testing is a major part of any new product development project, but when the product that you’re developing is one’s sole means of control in a potentially terminal environment, thorough testing is absolutely critical. We spent a lot of time evaluating paddles that had been put through the wringer. Then we’d test a paddle in the lab and compare it to a paddle from the field to be sure that our tests were representative of the actual abuse that whitewater paddles experience. We tested in many different ways, but there are three specific ones where our wildest expectations were surpassed.
In the first of these tests we used a lead weight to repeatedly strike one point on the edge of the blade to measure impact resistance, more specifically resistance to delamination. We saw that our Duraweave™ blade with Innegra held together while the leading competitor’s blade began to splinter, chip, and delaminate. The next of these tests measured abrasion resistance by allowing a paddle blade to rest on top of a grinding stone that had been modified to lift and drop the blade three times per revolution. In this test we saw that the leading competitor’s blade wore down roughly 300 percent more than our comparable Duraweave™ blade with Innegra.
The last of these tests is a fairly standard test in the world of paddles that measures how strong shafts are by applying a load to the shaft using a hydraulic press and recording the force exerted at failure. We broke a handful of each of our shaft types and each type of the competitor’s shaft and looked at the results. Our shaft broke at an average of 509 foot lbs. while the equivalent shaft from the competitor broke at an average of 480 foot lbs. While inspecting the broken shafts we noticed how solid our shaft felt, even though it had been cracked half way around its circumference. So we decided to test all of the shafts again to record secondary strength, but this time we applied the force on the opposite side of the first break. The competitor’s shaft cracked after 101 foot lbs. of force and broke into two pieces while it took 496 foot lbs. to crack ours. Even after being cracked all of the way around our Duraweave™ shaft, it still maintained at least 80 percent of its original stiffness. The results were absolutely incredible.
PL: Does it have applications beyond whitewater paddles?
Blumer: Yes. Innegra has been used in Head tennis rackets and Bauer hockey sticks for a few years now. It’s also used in automobiles, police shields, orthodics and prosthetics, ropes, windsurfers, kiteboards, kayaks and more. We’re currently exploring opportunities to use Innegra in some of our composite canoes and kayaks as well. It offers a unique set of features that could be of value in many applications.
PL: Do you feel it’s the wave of the future for whitewater paddles?
Blumer: Absolutely, at least until it is replaced by a better fiber that is yet to be invented. We live in a time where the consumer is more engaged and educated than ever. As the word spreads that there is a safer paddle on the market that’s also affordable, one that is far less likely to break, consumers will not be willing to accept anything else.