Photo by Chris Bishow


Don’t let the decorative feathered pieces of red and white cedar fool you. Holz’s custom paddles, available in a wide selection of blade shape and shaft angle options, can go straight from hanging on the mantel to being thrown around your canoe. We tried the Switchback shaft (featuring a double bend) combined with a classic Beavertail blade (with an epoxy-guarded oak tip). Add a comfortable square grip on the shaft, the flex in the blade, a light swing weight (21 ounces), and a front-facing asymmetrical grip, which excels at aligning your wrist (knuckles facing forward vs. up), and Holz delivers a seriously efficient tool for sustained, long-haul cruising ($170,


Ever get sick of your paddle? Wish you could get a little extra leverage when you need it, or take a little off for the long miles? Sawyer answers the call with its variable-length, ergonomic carbon bent-shaft Venom (30.4 oz.). The proven Cam-Lock system delivers 5 inches of travel, latching securely at your chosen length, while the neutral grip goes easy on your wrists. Our on-water tests proved the scooped, “tulip”-shape blade, made of fiberglass-backed western red cedar over an ash core, and reinforced with a carbon power face, Dynel edging and a ‘glass tip, can step up to the most demanding strokes and whitewater abuse ($250, 52-57″ and 57-62″,


With more than a quarter-century of paddle-crafting know-how, Bending Branches combines the classic and the cutting-edge with the Sunburst. The rugged composite construction in the tapered shaft (boasting BB’s in-house T-700 carbon, known for its high strength-to-weight ratio and use on Boeing aircraft) complements the slight flex of the thin yet surprisingly rigid blade, with elegant lines of ‘glass-reinforced red alder, black willow and basswood. The larger XL blade, at 115 square inches, delivers powerful strokes and keeps you going at a ridiculously light 17 ounces. Also available with a bent shaft, and in a smaller 15-oz. size ($170,


If you don’t want to throw down the dough on a high-end piece of fine woodwork, that doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the durability and feel of hand-crafted wood. Take Harmony’s Shadow, with a shorter and wider, fiberglass-tipped and overlaid blade (featuring distinct lines of walnut and Ponderosa pine). It’s set on a fir shaft bent at a 10-degree angle that will keep pushing the broadest range of weekend-warrior, flatwater paddlers to that farthest shore. At 25 ounces, and with a comfortable palm grip, the balanced and solid Shadow minimizes fatigue and provides a worthy option for putting performance in the hands of your entire paddling clan ($79,


Performance and durability. Few paddles blend these two key factors as seamlessly as Mitchell does with its Olympic-caliber, aptly named Premier, which combines an ash/basswood shaft with a basswood/spruce blade core reinforced with carbon, edged with fiberglass rope and tipped with aluminum. The wooden soul of this 31-ounce paddle provides the right float to braces while the curved power face delivers serious C-boaters the power and precision they can depend on, for years of use and the rigors of whitewater ($220-$266 in four carbon/wood, blade/shaft options,