Lightweight Canoe Paddle

Hi all,

I primarily paddle whitewater in a kayak, but I also flatwater canoe, and I’ve recently come to the conclusion it’s time to upgrade my canoe paddle. I don’t have a lot of experience in this realm, so I’m looking for some input…

I’m doing a lot of “blackwater” paddles in my canoe in East Arkansas swamp areas: little to no current, so lots of paddling. I have a rather heavy straight shaft paddle that had been my primary paddle, but I realized that using my MUCH lighter Grey Owl bent shaft is lot easier on me on longer days on the water. The problem is the Grey Owl is a paddle I bought used and really it is too short for me (probably shouldn’t have gotten it, but price was right).

The paddles I’m considering after research are the ZRE recreational paddle, the Foxworx Foxfire 2, or the WhiskeyJack Jill. I like these both for their weight and price.

Note that while I like the lighter weight of bent shaft paddles, I paddle on one side and do not sit and switch (that’s why I also thought the 10 degree Foxfire 2 might be better for me than the 1 which is 14 degrees - does that make sense?)

No place local sells these type of paddles, so unfortunately I will NOT be able to try before I buy.

Does anyone have any experience with these paddles or any other suggested models to consider?

Thanks for any input.

I only have experience with the ZREs
of the paddles on your list.

I use the Medium bent shaft for most of my paddling on both lakes and rivers.

I also have a ZRE Medium STRAIGHT shaft, which weighs an ounce or two more than the bent shaft because of the transition area in the straight shaft. I think that it has potential, but I bought it used and probably need to shorten it a little - it’s 56" and 54" would probably be better for me. It’s blade is 8.5" wide, which is also probably wider than what’s best for me, since I’m not a real strong paddler, but the weight is great.

Others will chime in on the wood paddles that you mentioned.

I have a medium weight straight shaft and love it. I’ve had it for two years. I had paddled with a Gray Owl for 12 years, but carry it for my spare now.

straight shaft…?
What is the general concensus on paddling with a bent shaft? I was under the impression that a bent shaft is “supposed” to be used sit and switch, but I really prefer to use a j-stroke/c-stroke. Maybe I should just go with a ZRE straight shaft and I could have the best of both worlds (light weight, and straight shaft). If I like to paddle on one side is it better to stick with straight shaft?

Or do many of you with bent shaft paddles use them while paddling just on one side just fine? One thing I’ve found is that when I use my straight shaft and I end my stroke in a bit of a rudder, I will have rotated the paddle so that my upper hand has the thumb pointing down. I believe it is more efficient if I end my stroke with a bent shaft to rudder with my upper hand thumb pointing up. Is that “correct” and is it true that to rudder with bent shaft you use the opposite rotation?

I have borrowed my friends ZRE paddles and they are sweet for sure. I really love wood, but I was already considering a ZRE. I think maybe I should look at their straight shafts too, perhaps.

I use my bent much the same way I use
a straight. I also use my bent while paddling just on one side just fine. When using my bent on one side for a while instead of sit & switch, I often end my stroke in a bit of a rudder (actually, it’s more of a little flip away from the hull) and I usually have rotated the paddle so that my upper hand has the thumb pointing down, just like I would with a straight. I’ve only experimented a little with ending the stroke with the thumb of the upper hand pointing up. I make no claims to have the best technique.

For freestyle moves or for in-water recovery, the straight shaft is probably your better bet.

If you get a ZRE straight shaft, your friends with ZRE bents will be able to try your straight version.

Whether you decide on a ZRE straight or bent, give some thought to which blade width you’d prefer. 8.5" wide seems too wide for me.

What type of canoe would you be paddling?

Straight sticks

– Last Updated: Nov-29-07 6:23 PM EST –

If you kneel and paddle mostly on one side, you need a straight. The best are Quimbie's @ ~$500. and Dog Paddle Designs, @~$350. After that, consider the Grey Owl Freestyle in carbon; @~$200.

The ZRE straight really isn't - the blade is offset from center. It doesn't work.

You will want a ZRE bent to change where it hurts and for tighter cadence when sitting and pushing across big water. For sitting, you'll want a 12 dg bend.

The bent so compromises draws and pushaways that it can be a problem on moving water, where kneeling with a straight stick shines. [12dg is, by design, already outside John Winters +/- 10 dg to the stroke window.

Whiskey Jack
I’ve tried both ZRE and Whiskey Jack bent shafts. Both are super paddles and lightwieght too. I have to admit though I’m a big fan of wood. In my opinion it feels better in the hands and its a lot prettier too. You may save a couple ounces with carbon fiber but whiskey jack paddles are works of art. But its personal preference really. You cant go wrong either way.

Paddle for a solo 14

– Last Updated: Nov-29-07 2:34 AM EST –

My wife has a solo 14 and I occasionally use it. That little canoe really shines in twisty creeks, maneuvering around obstacle courses in riffle areas, and shorter distance meaandering flatwater shoreline exploration with a straight shaft paddle. On the other hand this boat isn't the best choice if the paddling is mostly straight line, long distance cruising. Where I am headed with this is - if your blackwater paddling is mostly twisty turny stuff through the bald cypress, stick with the solo 14 and a straight shaft paddle. If your blackwater paddling is mostly open water straight line cruising stuff and you are trying to make a cruiser out of a solo 14 with a bent shaft, the results will be less than impressive. The only chance a solo 14 has of keeping up with a solo cruiser canoe pace is with a double blade. I personally think the better combination would then be a solo touring or lake cruising canoe matched with a bent shaft. By the way Bending Branches is coming out with a new wood paddle for next season weighing in at only 19 ounces - either in bent or straight shaft. Might be something to put on your short list for consideration.

ZRE and BB Viper
I enjoy both, the Bending Branches Viper is a double-bent wooden paddle that’s also very light, but not as light as the ZRE. It feels really sweet and comfortable in the hands. I don’t have any problems with bent shafts on twisty rivers, myself, and YOUR learning curve is obviously much sharper than mine. You’ve become a much better paddler in a fraction of the time! WW

Once you go to a bent, you will never
go back to a straight.

I can do every stroke with the bent that I could with the straight.

Also if you get a ZRE it is a simple fix to shorten it’s length if it is too long.

I have shortened three or four of them for paddlers.



Lightweight Canoe Paddle
For slow cadence paddling and ease of turning, both of which are generally assets in blackwater swamps, a large blade, straight shaft is the way to go.

I now offer a touring paddle (less costly than the freestyle blade). It has a dynel edge instead of the tripple wood laminate shown on the website. The dynel edge is tougher but not quite as classy. I also omit a couple of accent strips on the blade, either side of the shaft. Shaft diameter and grip size can still be custom at no additional charge. The overall blade is slightly narrower than the freestyle. I genreally make these blades a bit heavier than the freestyle, because they will be used in less controlled settings. These aspects of the paddle vary according to the uses’s requirements and are discussed prior to fabrication.

Marc Ornstein

Dogpaddle Canoe Works

Another fan of a double bend
I have a Sawyer Manta double bend and love it. Light and very fiunctional. I too prefer wood to carbon.

Go for a bent
Go for a bent ZRE and ask for an uncut one on the longer side. Bob Zaveral delivers the grip only attached with tape if you ask him, and you can shorten the paddle little by little until it fits you. Once you get used to a bent paddle you will probably never again use anything else. I use mine on all types of rivers and lakes and never need a straight paddle. I use a J stroke with the thumb pointing down if I want to paddle on the same side. You twist the wrist slightly and move the upper hand a little into the boat at the end of the power stroke. If you really want a strong J you have the upper hand further out at the beginning of the power stroke so that the power phase is with the paddle blade a bit under the boat.

Good luck Paul

Mitchell Paddles
Check out their Leader. Light weight with carbon blade and wood laminate shaft. The have standard bends and will also do cumstom degree bends. Awesomwe paddle…thing of beauty.

What we dont know about you
is if you are a sitter or a kneeler.

Its possible to get a vertical entry with a bent while kneeling though the mechanics might not be suited to your body.

Usually bents are for sitting paddlers. Yes you can j with them Its a thumbs down J. The stern pry is going to give you way too much correction and brake. Its abad enough with a straight on flatwater and nigh a nightmare with a bent.

Moreover not all bents are reinforced on the backface. I have broken two Zavs. They are good paddles but use the dedicated face only.

For bayou blackwater paddling I use a Grey Owl FreeStyle in wood. It can fend off cypress stumps etc. I have used one for about 11 years of six weeks a year canoeing in all parts of North America. Its ugly now but still holding together.

I like Marcs paddles too but mine is the more expensive one he makes and its not going to go alligator bashing.

There really isnt any need for spending big bucks on super lightweight paddles unless you are racing, have a physical limitation, or are paddling 70 miles or so a day.

There are more lightweight alternatives to the “tree branch” you have been using without emptying the wallet. You can spend five times the amount of a good paddle for a really fine paddle. It is not going to paddle five times better.

We have an event in Louisiana in early April where there will be plenty of paddles but I dont know where you are. And April in the south is the end of the season.

thanks for the replies…
Re: my canoe: DuluthMoose nailed it: I have a Mohawk Solo 14 which is great for the twisty curvy parts of our paddling, but on straighter stretches I struggle to keep up with the couple other more “sleek” canoes or kayaks that might be out with us. So I guess maybe I should consider a new canoe rather than a new paddle! LOL! Actually I am thinking about it a bit, but I need to see how much I continue to do flatwater paddling. Also, for canoe camping with my (large) dog, I love the stability of the Solo 14. So, yes, I know it’s no speed demon, but it’s largely been a very good boat for most of what I want it to do.

Having said that, clearly a high end racing paddle isn’t going to suddenly make me fast in my Solo 14. That’s why the models I’m looking at are lightweight, but still more budget-minded (Trying to stay under $150). I want the benefit of reduced fatigue from a lighter paddle, but realize I’m still not going to win any races. I’m out there poking around and exploring and looking at birds and wildlife, so I’m not racing anyone anyway!

As for sitting/kneeling: yes, I do both. I was kneeling more but I hurt my knee this summer and can’t keep my right leg bent for too long anymore although it’s continuing to improve. So I’m kneeling now for short periods but largely sitting or doing a combo of sitting with one knee down and one leg straight.

I’m not sure I’m any closer now to deciding what paddle to get, but I do have some more to think about! Thanks for everyone’s comments and suggestions.


i’d recommend ZRE
it’s such a proven brand, and i’ve had very good luck with the two I’ve owned. i’d recommend getting a factory second (you’re going to scratch the blade up a little anyway and it saves you money), uncut ZRE rec paddle. Then you can experiment with say a 54 inch paddle, trim it down if needed and then glue in the handle. you should be able to get a second rec. shipped to your house for $150 or so.

canoe newbie…
My learning curve in whitewater kayaking is one thing, but I can assure you I still am very much the novice when I’m in my canoe!

with the solo 14

– Last Updated: Nov-29-07 4:07 PM EST –

another option is to get a lighter paddle than you already have and work on the body mechanics to put more oomph in your forward stroke.

You might have already done the torso rotation thing but if not it really helps.

The Solo 14 isnt the fastest esp if you are travelling with tandems. I have a Solo 13. Have paddled it with a group. Not really a problem unless I slack off on the torso rotation.

Just trying to save you some Christmas money!

Its a myth that bents are all lighter than straights. I bet you have only seen clubs for straights.

I have a Dog Paddle that comes in as super light, and now Marc has a rec paddle that may be a little heavier. They are wooden straight paddles.

Personally I like straights for their versatility and wood because it feels good. Palm rolls with a bent really are uncomfortable.

ZRE factory seconds
By the way - I haven’t seen any blemished paddles listed on their online store. Am I just not looking in the right place, or are they only occasionally available?

Thanks again!