Other soft/light woods including pine, hemlock fir etc. could be considered, but Sitka likely has the best overall characteristics.
Laminating the seat rails (and thwarts) using soft, light woods for the core and facing with hardwoods works well. My good friend Paul Conk makes some components that way. I have such a seat, made by Paul in my Wildfire.
I'd keep the strip thickness to 1/4". Thinner strips will reduce beam strength and lead to oil canning. Also, it's hard to find bead and cove cutters for thinner stock. Finally, the likelihood of sanding through or nearly so increases dramatically with thinner stock.
Pawlonia is neat wood. I use it for some paddles. Some Pawlonia is on a par with balsa wood when it comes to weight. The downside is likely to be supply. The nature of the trees is that you're unlikely to find long lengths. If you're willing to scarf or otherwise join shorter strips together, it may be a good option.
Dogpaddle Canoe Works
Custom Canoe Paddles and Wood Strip Canoes
PFD's (Life Jackets)
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