-- Last Updated: Dec-07-12 10:29 AM EST --
When racing I use what everyone else does, a graphite bent shaft. My preferred paddle is made by Grasse River Boatworks (GRB). On several moderately long races (such as the Adirondack 90-miler), and ultra long 460/360/1000 mile Yukon races, it is important to keep a consistently fast and powerful stroke all day long without tiring or killing your muscles and joints. My crew and I train to maintain up to 50, not less than 40 strokes/minute for fully up to 18 hours a day in the case of the Yukon 1000 miler.
But for recreating I much prefer a well made wood straight shaft with a feather thin blade edge to cut through the water for advanced strokes. I've used Caleb Davis Tremolo ottertail and willow blades for more than 20 years and wouldn't want anything else. Caleb describes his paddles and paddle making classes on his web page here: