Freestyle canoe paddles - wood

I’m looking for a wood paddle to use for Freestyle canoeing. I’m currently using a beavertail paddle to practice my FS maneuvers, but it’s time for me to get a dedicated Freestyle paddle – a paddle that is designed specifically for this purpose. I’m new to Freestyle, so I don’t I know enough about my specific needs yet to invest in having a custom FS paddle made for me - for this first FS paddle I’d like to buy something “off the rack”.

I have a definite preference for wood paddles; composite paddles do not interest me. A carbon blade with a wood shaft and grip might be acceptable, but plastic/carbon shafts and grips are not. Also being tall I have large hands. I tend to prefer shafts and grips that have a “full” feel. Living in the back-country (well away from large cities) I’ll probably need to order this paddle “sight unseen” from an on-line source.

I’m compiling a list of FS paddles to choose from. I’d also like to ask for any input on any of these particular paddles from those with first hand experience using them. So far I’ve located these FS canoe paddles:

Mitchell Surreal

Sawyer Cedar Freestyle

Cricket Designs’ Honey Island series

Grey Owl Freestyle

Can the Freestyle canoeists on this board assist me with this quest?

Many thanks! Randall

pretty much covered
most of the standard manufacturers. I have been using a Grey Owl as it is quite a bit of paddle for the money. I have heard from a couple people that their paddle fell apart, but I only use mine for deep water stuff and am rather gentle with it-no problems. The grip works great for me.

I have wanted to try the Cricket Honey Island series but have not yet had the opportunity; they are supposed to be real sweet. Somebody I ran into lately said they were having a paddle made by Craig Quimby. Those FS paddles are legends and I did not know he was still producing them. I would definitely stay away from the Sawyer FS. A friend of mine just purchased one and is extremely disappointed. It has a shaft ridge down in the blade area and the quality looks suspicious. The Mitchell might be okay for you, but I did not like the feel of the grip. You also might keep your eyes open for a used Blackburn-also legendary. I wonder if Don Meany at XY Paddles would do one?

And of course, don’t forget our friend Mark at Dog Paddle.

By the way I have a 58" Grey Owl FS that is for sale; I replaced it with a shorter one. It might work for you.

Good luck on the quest


Go Mitchell
I’ve paddled and own at least one of all of the paddles you mention except the Cricket. I cannot say enough about the Mitchell from the standpoint of design and quality of construction. It has a wonderful smooth feel in the water and handles the fine manuevers and strokes of Freestyle beautifully. I believe Bell Canoe also sells the Mitchell under the Bell name.

The design of the Sawyer, by Bob Foote and Karen Knight is great, but Sawyer’s quality control leaves much to be desired.

I have also had quality control problems with Grey Owl. It is a good paddle but doesn’t have the fine feel of the Mitchell.

You may want to contact windwalker on this message forum. He makes beautiful paddles.

Big Mac

Thanks folks
I appreciate the input.

I’ve seen a couple of Craig Quimby’s FS paddles and was able to try one once - very nice. I wasn’t sure if he was still making them or not, good to know he’s still doing it. I think I’ll wait on a custom paddle for now though - I don’t think my beginner’s level skills at FS warrant it yet.

Canoeist11: Could post here or e-mail me contact information for Quimby? I have searched the ‘net for that to no avail. Others might like to contact him about having a paddle made – I’d like the information for future reference.

Nepaddler: Do you have the older Mitchell Freestyle/Bell or the Surreal?

I’ve heard some other quality issues regarding the Sawyers – this is regrettable, especially considering the top-shelf paddlers/designers involved…

As to Grey Owl, I have another model GS (the Guide) which my wife brazenly stole from me :^) Long story, but I picked that one out of a large bin of the same length/model at a large paddle shop some time ago and would agree that that brand can have some quality control issues at times. By doing some sorting that day I found more good ones than bad. I think it’s a “price range” thing.

Also Caneist11: Please see my private e-mail to you concerning your offer to sell me your GS-FS-58” - thank you my friend.

Big_Mac: I’ve met windwalker & I saw his paddles a couple of years ago at Raystown when he was new to Freestyle. I’ve also been seeing links to pics of his fancy paddles here at PN – pretty sharp.

Mike: are you out there? Are you making FS paddles these days? If so perhaps when my skills warrant it we could have a discussion about a custom stick… I imagine we’ll run into each other again at Raystown or elsewhere.



– Last Updated: Nov-11-04 7:06 PM EST –

The Mitchell I have is the Surreal straight from Mitchell, not the Bell version. I have two, one made in 2002 and the other in 2003. Both paddles were ordered directly from Mitchell. I have found them some of the nicest people to deal with. You can also ask them to customize it to some extent.

I agree with you on the Sawyer design although, having spent hours paddling with both, I actually prefer the way the Surreal paddles. The Sawyer has a rounder, staighter shaft profile. The Surreal is more oval in cross section, a bit beefier and tapers toward the grip. The grip also is fatter than the Sawyer, which is wider in the direction of the blade width, but narrower in the other direction.

Another thing to remember is that the Sawyer comes in a large and small blade size. For solo, I preferred the smaller blade, the larger for tandem. The smaller is easier for finer blade control. All of this is, however, a matter of taste.

The Sawyer QC problems are unfortunate. I had the shaft of one their paddles break in my hands under very little load while doing an axle. I know others who have had similar issues.

freestyle paddle
I’ve got the Bell version of the Mitchell and a number of Grey Owl freestyles. Both are very nice paddles. The Mitchell’s blade is a bit too big for my tastes. I think there is variability in all of the wood paddles you’re thinking about.(in weight for sure…in straightness and in flex too)…that’s one strength of the carbon paddles (much more consistent).

The Grey Owl freestyle has always had a solid reputation as a great value for the price point.

And - Pat Moore is still trying to sell off his small remaining inventory of “cues” and he only has longer paddles left, so maybe that’s your destiny. I have several. Those are fine paddles.

Yep I’m here
Yep, I make paddles. Not sure if they’re “freestyle” paddles or not. But most that have seen then would agree… they are pretty. I use them to paddle in a free style, lol. What actually defines a “Freestyle” paddle? During my limited exposure to some incredible freestylers I have noticed some things. They all have a similar taste in boats, however… paddles are a different story. So it becomes easy to classify boats as “freestyle”, based on what is popular with the freestyle crowd, but what about paddles?

I have a blade design that is my own, for me it works great for freestyle, down river, lake tripping and just paddling.

I think “freestyle” is a way of being, not a boat or a paddle. I can do a christy in most any boat and with most any paddle, does that make them all freestyle boats and paddles? I think that if your in a boat that puts a smile on your face and have a paddle in your hand that connects you to the water in such a manner that everything feels as one, bingo, freestyle, paddle and boat.


So, tell us how to get in touch with Pat
Moore. Maybe he has a Cue too long for anybody but me.

Great input
Mike raised and interesting and unexpected question… I saw Kim Gass begin her Classic Solo presentation at the Peninsula symposium using a tree branch as a paddle – literally. She then switched to a borrowed FS paddle to propel a borrowed Bell Morningstar (she had flown to the event). Her performance was breathtaking – her skill transcending the fact that she was using unfamiliar equipment. Poetry in motion. Ah!

What little I know about Freestyle has shown me most Freestylers prefer a boat with equal amounts of rocker fore and aft and one that edges well. They tend to use long/wide blades with thin edges. Beyond that it seems to come down to personal preference – in blade sizing/cross sectional shape, shaft diameter/shape, grip shape/feel and of course material.

I’m going to go with the Grey Owl for now and try other paddles as my skills (hopefully) grow and I run into other paddlers on the water with an interest in FS & try their sticks. I do know this: learning a bit about freestyle has reinvigorated my weekly paddles – I don’t know what could be more fun on the water than learning to dance with a pointy boat!

Pat Moore cues

Very Helpful
Nice thread folks.

Arkay, you always seem to be a bend or two in the river ahead of me. :slight_smile:

“Freestyle Canoeing” by Lou Glaros and Charlie Wilson showed up in my mailbox earlier this week. Plus I just re-read Jeff Solway’s article that appeared in Canoe Journal a few years ago.

So I’ve been trying to see what might best fit for a new paddle. Glaros and Wilson provide some good info. , but do leave it very open to paddler preference.

I think for now I’m going to try a straight shaft cruising paddle with a medium sized blade. Something like a Bending Branches Explorer or Sunshadow.

You don’t need a special paddle
to paddle freestyle. Freestyle or advanced quiet water canoe technique can be done with any paddle. However, the following characteristics in a paddle make FS easier, more beautiful, and more enjoyable:

Symetrical grip (both sides the same)- makes doing palm rolls easier

Larger blade - more flotation for some moves, particularly helpful for tandem

Symetrical (flat not scooped) blade - for clean slices

Blade with fine/clean entry and exit- less flutter or cavitation.

If you are a FS purist or competing, the whole idea is to have pure, clean paddle strokes, with no splash, noise or “unsightly piffles.” For most of us this takes lots and lots of practice.

Glad you joined us in this thread my friend.

I’ve been meaning to get the Glaros/Wilson book – I should order that soon.

When I had to opportunity to meet Tom MacKenzie (FS instructor and builder of the Loon Works cedar/canvas canoes) this fall at the Peninsula symposium I purchased his Solo Freestyle Canoeing video. This video features many Freestylers giving step by step instructions on how to do a wide variety of strokes and maneuvers. Charlie Wilson was one of the presenters in this video. I thought I knew all there was to know about such simple things as the forward stroke… think again! From him I gained valuable insights not only about various strokes but also about torso rotation and hip snaps… on and on… He’s a very clear and concise instructor. There are several other very good instructors in that video as well. I think I may wear it out eventually… I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve watched it!

If you or anyone else in this discussion would like to order a copy of this video e-mail me on the side and I’ll send you Tom’s e-mail address.

Thanks for laying it out nepaddler
From what I’ve learned so far the characteristics you’ve described for a FS paddle are right on the money. I know I’ll never be a competitive Freestyler or a purist…. Still as a rank beginner at FS I do enjoy what I’ve learned so far and am committed to the practice required to take my skills to the next level - for my own enjoyment. I’m drawing great pleasure from learning to dance a bit with my little pointy boat.

Regarding “unsightly piffles”: My friend Callahan borrowed my MacKensie FS video and has been on the water with me since I got into it (and tried a few maneuvers himself). His comment: “Pinkies up!” hehehehe

All the instructors you mention a excellent. However, in my opinion, if you want an awesome FS instructor and to see some amazing FS paddling, seek out Karen Knight. You’ll find her at She got me started and took me a very long way with FS.