Deso Kayak Paddle
(; carbon shaft $375, hybrid shaft $335)

As one of the leading manufacturers of high-performance rafting oars, Cataract Oars knows whitewater, but until this summer they hadn't ventured into the realm of whitewater kayaking. That changed with the release the Deso paddle. I got my hands on a carbon-shaft Deso a few months ago and I've used it at the play park, on long days of flatwater and through Class V whitewater. The verdict: after a short adjustment period, the Deso offers a pleasantly unique take on the whitewater kayak paddle.

Detail of the Deso's injection-molded hand grips.

Detail of the Deso’s injection-molded hand grips.

The Deso has one major feature you won't find on other leading whitewater paddles: raised urethane hand grips. This allows for a smaller diameter paddle shaft and a lighter overall paddle weight. The 194-centimeter carbon Deso weighs in at 1020 grams, roughly the equivalent of Adventure Technology's carbon Geronimo and only slightly heavier than Werner's carbon Powerhouse. The Deso also holds its own against these other models when it comes to stiffness and apparent durability; I had no complaints about its performance on the surf wave and in whitewater.

For my first few hours with the paddle, I had mixed feelings about using the grips. Their oval shape and slightly raised seams from the injection-molding process made it hard to forget the paddle was rotating through my hands with each stroke. As I put in more days with the Deso, however, I came to see the benefit of the grips. If you're like me, you're familiar with that feeling when you flip over and lose track of your paddle's position underwater. On your first roll attempt, your blade can end up slicing through the water before you regain your bearings. The seams on the Deso's grips help solve his problem since they allow you to feel if the blade is oriented correctly before you try to roll. In addition, the urethane is stickier than gripping a carbon fiber shaft directly and it's less likely your hand will slip from the Deso in a key moment.

The foam-core blades are also stiff and held up well through weeks of testing. Thin Dynel protectors line the end of the each blade to keep them from wearing down on rocks, a problem I do have with some of my well-used paddles. Time will tell if the protectors stay attached to the blade through multiple seasons.

The major downside to the Deso at the moment is that they don't come in bent-shaft models. But if you prefer to paddle with a straight shaft and you're willing to try out the paddle's unique hand grips, it's worth taking the Deso out for a spin.

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