Hey Chris - I'm a little late to the thread, but here's what I can tell you about my experience. I picked up a friends ZRE paddle two summers ago and used it for our local little races. I didn't have a board, but used this time to learn and demo as many boards as I could. I really didn't think a paddle would make that much difference. Finally this spring I was able to snatch up a 14' Bark Dominator. I"ve raced, trained and 'toured' (meaning cruising) that board all summer. Still with the ZRE.
I started watching my friends during the local weekly fun races and saw how they had a higher turn over rate on stroke. So, I started talking to them, doing some research, and it does seem that most of the top racers, locally and on the larger scene do use a smaller blade to get a higher stroke rate. (Granted, there still is technique involved, but still....)
I tried several paddles; Kialoa, Werner, and Quick Blade. I finally bought a Quick Blade "Kanaha" about two weeks ago, just before a long local race. The blade size is a "90" and I had a few good training sessions on it before the main race. (Side note - the ZRE I think is a bit lighter, but the blade looks like a shoe box, very square, so a larger surface area. Solid paddle, but was torqueing my shoulder. I believe I was trying to get a higher stroke rate, but moving to much water with the larger size.)
On race day the wind was HUGE. I say that because of surface area of the paddle. I KNOW that the smaller blade was very helpful to me in these conditions. I was able to get a higher stroke rate with this paddle and didn't feel like I was getting any 'blow back' due to wind. (Again, feathering the paddle helps reduce this, so good technique is key) Sometimes I did notice a little flutter in the water, but I think I'm still getting used to it. I'm pretty stoked on my choice, and while not the lightest of the QB lineup, it will be a good paddle for racing/training. I've delegated my ZRE as my surf paddle and loaner paddle. Hope this helps.
Cheers and good luck.