The Espresso straight shaft canoe paddle is one of the best all-around paddles that I've found. The Black Willow is quite strong, while being almost as light as Cedar; the wrap-around blade guard is effective and the fiberglass sheathing of the blade really reduces maintenance over time. Fortunately, Bending Branches put the symmetrical grip on this paddle (unlike many of their straight shaft paddles, where they include the "oh so popular" asymmetrical grip), making the paddle much better for underwater recoveries and for linking strokes. For a really comfortable tripping paddle, one that will handle the stresses of hard turning and one that will do most of what is required in a flat water freestyle stick, this is a great instrument (and at a good price.) I've used my first one for about 1000 miles of river paddling, mild whitewater, Iowa's twisty and obstructed flat water creeks and more than a bit of lake paddling. I'll buy some more of these for friends in the near future (Friends don't let friends paddle with junk...) If this paddle had a glass wrap up the bottom 8 inches or so of the shaft, it would be even better, but for a commercially-produced stick, it is great!