Angling for a Bentshaft Paddle

I thought I would get a bent shaft paddle in addition to my straight shaft, just so I can change over some sit n’ switch efficient paddling on stretches of flatwater if I choose to. I was looking for a reasonably priced bentshaft, maybe 52", from Bending Branches…they look like nice wood paddles at a decent price. The website says the paddle has a 14 degree bend. Then, I come across this surprising quote from a solo canoeing book:

“Fourteen degree bends were popular a decade

ago; now the trend is to twelve degree bends. I’ve used them both and much prefer the shallower blade angle.”

My question is this: is the above just one man’s opinion, or am I better off finding a paddle with a twelve degree bend? Could those two degrees make that much of a difference? Please help, fellow paddlers. I’m confused.

I’m gonna be…
a bystander on this un’. I’m heading down to buy a new bent shaft (first one) this week. The one I’m looking at is 14 degree but they also offer a 10 degree as well. When I asked the manufacturer the difference, he said," the 10 degree is able to handle J strokes etc better than the 14 and you can manuever the canoe better with it." However, I’ll let someone with more experience take over from here…

If you are buying the bentshaft for strictly sit and switch style paddling in a solo or as sternman in a tandem on flatwater, get the 14 degree. If you are buying the bentshaft for a bowman’s digger paddle, get the 14 degree. If you are a sternman in a tandem and paddle Northwoods style (same side paddling for extended periods with sternman adding correction strokes) and just want a bentshaft for the extra power and speed, get a 10 or 11 degree bentshaft. If you are buying a bentshaft for a solo and will use it Northwoods style, I suggest you try a lot of paddles before you buy. Depending upon the size of your solo canoe, 10 degrees may not give you enough control in your stroke to control the canoe. You’ll have to find that power / control balance for your boat.

What exactly do you mean with control in a stroke?

I use a bentshaft paddle, 14 degree bent, with and without switching (depending on my stroke rate) and I just do not understand what one would mean with (less) control.

Control in a stroke

– Last Updated: Dec-27-06 7:31 AM EST –

It's the amount of C or J or sweep in your stroke necessary to carve a strongside or weakside sweeping turn or cruise in a straight line in total control of your canoe even in wind. The larger the degree bend in the paddle, the more of those control forces you give up. If you've found Northwoods style control in a 14 degree bentshaft in a solo canoe, that's great. Many won't find that.

don’t know what you mean with a strongside or weakside sweeping turn, but when turning my canoe with a bent-shaft paddle and cruising in a straight line I do not have not the feeling of less control of my canoe even in wind with a bent-shaft paddle.

Interesting discussion
and here is some more fuel for the fire.


I use to race back when 14 degree was the norm. I still have some 14 degree bent shafts as well as some newer ZRE’S which are 12 degree. Although I use the ZRE’s 95% of the time it is because of the weight and not the 2 degree difference. I myself can not tell the difference although I am sure that the top racers can.

If only it was 10 oz instead of 23 oz.
It might be a decent paddle for solo canoe river paddling, though my ZRE Medium works pretty well most of the time. Hopefully I’ll paddle with someone in the new year that has one of these Mitchell 7 degree bend paddles so I can try it out.

I certainly find “control” or “maneuvering” strokes to be easier or less awkward with a straight shaft paddle, but still prefer the light weight bent shaft for nearly all of my paddling, including river paddling. I paddle solo most of the time. I’m not near as experienced or proficient as most of the posters on this board.

Happy paddling.

Help!I think I got lost
I think I got lost in the shuffle here, guys, or at least in the debate about ‘control, maneuverability,’ etc. Could maybe someone return to my question and tell me whether it’s going to make a great deal of difference to me, as a recreational solo paddler on mostly flat or slightly moving water, if I get a 14 or a 12 degree bentshaft??

The bare bones answer
depends on your main usage of the paddle.

If you are going to be paddling mostly from point a to point b in a straight line, then the 14 would be better for you.

If you are going to be “paddling around” and maneuvering around bays or shorelines, then the 12 would be better for you.

All in all, you see some responses indicating that either will work depending on the type of paddling strokes you are willing to use. One can adapt to circumstances, somewhat.

Get a light weight paddle, whatever it is. I bought a “nice bent shaft” a few years ago, but it was actually heavy by today’s standards.

I would go with the 12.

Happy Paddling!

two degrees is not a big deal
The shape of the grip can mean more in a paddle than the difference between a 12 degree bend and 14 degree. I have bent shafts from 10 degrees to 14 degrees, going from one angle to another means switching paddle brands in my case and there is always a difference to be felt, more from the weight and balance than from the angle.

A 14 degree will be fine for what you intend to do.

Power vs. Pry …

– Last Updated: Dec-28-06 9:35 AM EST –

Here's my take on the paddle angle thang.

I tend to have two paddling styles depending upon if I'm trying to cover water or just poke around, often in stealth mode.

When paddling for speed typically with a bent shaft you will be leaning and reaching forward a bit at the start of the stroke and pulling the blade out of the water relatively early before it gets behind you. The power comes from the pull "in front" of the paddler.

When I'm poking around or trying to be sneaky, I still use the pull in front for propulsion but using a much longer and slower stroke keep the paddle in the water behind me for control more like a rudder.

I have been using ZRE 12deg bents and have found myself wishing I had an even more shallow shaft angle for the poking around paddling because the angle does make it more difficult to j-stroke and rudder.

I've been wanting to try something like a 7deg as a compromise but at $200 a pop for a nice light ZRE I'm hoping to try one first.

My $0.02

How long have you been using …
the ZAV?

When I first started using a ZRE for racing, I would switch back and forth with the straight for nature watching.

But after a while it dawned on me that I could do “J” strokes, draws and pries just as well with the bent shaft, and I don’t even use a straight shaft paddle any more.

Cheers, and Happy New year,


bent shaft angle
I have a Bending Branches bent shaft and I really like it…it’s a great paddle period and a great value.

Overall I don’t think 2 degrees will matter much at all for you…not enough to worry about.

I think that paddlers with a little experience and any reasonably cooperative boat can make the boat dance with any paddles (reference Pat Moore video with Pat using shovel for paddle). While I can certainly freestyle a boat with a bent shaft paddle, I enjoy it more with a straight shaft.

One of my paddling buddies recently told me that freestyle tandem paddlers now use bent shaft paddles. I don’t quite understand why.

I think you ultimately have a touch more control with a straight shaft if for no other reason that it’s longer than a bent. Plus there’s no chance of having an awkward reach for something like a pry.

But it probably would take class III to make any real difference.

My buddy has an old Grey Owl 7 degree bent. It’s a wonderful paddle…lovely compromise…can really make some power for driving the boat forward and is also “much” more like a straight shaft for maneuvering. It’s a 54" where I’d take a 52" bent and a 56-58" straight.

I’m with land-locked…just a little hesitant to order the 7 degree Zav but pretty sure I’d love it.

One paddle and it is the ZRE …
I’ve been using the ZRE for a year or two and it is the only paddle I use. I do have a straight wooden paddle but only mess with it for a change.

I do like just using one paddle and I too have become acustomed to using the 12deg for all situations … I’m just wondering about shallower angles.

I love the ZRE for its weight and comfortable handle and even how dry it is when it slips out of the water.

in addition to heavier whitewater
… whitewater ultimately pointing up “control” differences (for want of a better word) between a bent and a straight, surfing large waves will too. Try surfing to the limit of what you can handle from the break zone all the way in with a straight vs. a shorter 14 degree bent. You will know the difference.

I am laughing out loud
All this theoretical stuff.

All he has to do is take a friend along to watch him paddle a table in the store.

The proper angle of the bend is the one where his stroke enters the water vertically and exits vertically. If there is any lifting and pushing down of water there is loss of efficiency

Its different for different people. No two people have the same body mechanics.

Just understand what the bent shaft was meant to do and that was to maximize the efficiency of the forward stroke.

All the rest of the stuff is adaptable. You can do a nice j with a pretty big bend, unless you really are doing a stern pry! It will slow you down really fast.

Go for 7
I’m not trying to change the thread topic, but there are a couple mentions of hesitations about buying a 7 degree bent paddle because it may not have enough bend.

I have a 5 degree bent shaft paddle, and it is truly amazing how much more power that 5 degrees transfers over a straight shaft paddle! Much more comfortable to paddle than a straight. So, I would go with a 7 degree bend any day.

But, I will not ask for anyone’s 2 cents on the differences between a 5 degree and a 7 degree bend.

another solution?
another option, which in a way solves the 14 vs. 12 degree uncertainty, is the Mitchell Leader bent-shaft paddle

where the blade of this paddle has a curve,

so in a way it goes from a 15 degree to a shallower bent?

I must admit that this paddle is the most comfortable paddle I have ever tried, with only one too serious drawback – for me – the price…