Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle Stroke???


Does paddling with a bent shaft paddle require any subtle differences in stroke than when paddling wiht a straight shaft?

I am pretty new to canoeing. I paddle solo and generally like to kneel and use a J stroke.

However, I recently got a bent shaft paddle to switch things up a bit and do some hit and switch paddling.

I use a 58 inch straight shaft and got a 54 inch bent. It just feels so short too me but in theory should be the correct size.

Does the stroke with the bent shaft go deeper in the water…does it extend farther back than with a straight shaft? Do you apply the power later in the stroke?

I have just recently gotten an Osprey Swift solo canoe. Granted it is not probably the ideal boat for fast hit and switch paddling but is certainly suitable for it as an all around boat I would think.

I don’t find that I can get many hits before switching and find that I do veer off course. I am using a pretty vertical stroke and staying close to the gunwale (even have shaft basically rubbing on the gunwale it is so close). I especially find the veering bad when sitting. I have found that when putting one knee down it is a bit better.

Any suggestions and tips would be appreicated. Thanks.


it depends

– Last Updated: Apr-25-09 10:11 AM EST –

on your way of paddling,
as I have learned watching other people paddle.
I do adapt a little when paddling a bent-shaft paddle (or vice versa...)
but in general my forward stroke is about the same with a straight as with a bent-shaft paddle.
Erroneously it is often assumed that the moment you have a bent-shaft paddle in your hands, you have to switch sides when paddling to go straight. But, this is NOT the case. The so called sit/hit'n switch technique was already used before the invention of bent-shaft paddles. So the bent-shaft paddle has little to do with the switch technique, other than that most people will use the correct paddle length with a bent-shaft paddle that will facilitate a higher stroke rate and makes switching paddling sides easier, because it is much quicker to do.
As I see it, switching sides to go straight is only required when the stroke rate is so high that there is too little time for course correction strokes, which can happen with straight paddles too. Of course, you can switch sides to go straight at lower stroke rates, to avoid using course correction strokes, but I think a good correction stroke is more efficient then.

Strange as it perhaps may seem, I don't like switching (to go straight), and only use it when my stroke rate is too high for me to make a course correction stroke, or when the going gets (too) tough for me, which mostly happens when I am getting tired paddling against a very strong head wind. Otherwise I only switch paddling sides (after 20-80 strokes, depending on the wind and so) to prevent fatigue and overuse of the same muscles and 'undertraining' of one side, no matter what kind of paddle I am using.

I think hit/sit 'n switch is often misunderstood because of its seemingly simplicity when compared to 'normal' paddling, where we use al kind of steering techniques like the pitch stroke, J-stroke, ''canadian'', C-stroke, or the more brute but effective stern pry (that actually is more like a reverse stern sweep that is also known as a thumb-up J-stroke or rudder stroke). Only all those different names for the correction strokes may give the impression of high complexity of this technique, where hit/sit 'n switch seems to be very straightforward. In reality though, hit/sit 'n switch technique has its own difficulties IF you want to do it really well and efficient! And, to the surprise of many, all the mentioned steering techniques, can and will be used by paddlers who do hit/sit 'n switch well -- although as minimal as possible of course.

Bent Shaft Paddles

– Last Updated: Apr-10-09 8:54 AM EST –

are best used for hit and switch paddling, at high cadence, with mimimal wasted effort on boat control, in minimal rockered canoes with the objective of going faster than you can with a large bladed low cadence straight shaft paddle. The tradeoff for the increase in speed is at the expense of boat control, and that's why the paddling style preferred with a bent paddle is hit and switch. But with good balance between a boat, a bent paddle, and paddler skill; a paddler can use a bent shaft paddle with sufficient boat control to paddle in traditional style. If you are experiencing less than good balance in your situation, something in that equation needs to change. Keep these thoughts in mind. Solo canoes are more difficult to control with a bent paddle than two paddlers with bent paddles in a tandem canoe. Paddles that give the most boat control are long bladed straight shaft paddles and those that give the least control are short bladed bent shafts. Your Osprey is moderately rockered and maybe not the best to learn how to paddle with whatever style of paddling you want to do with a bent shaft paddle. With experience things will get better.

yeah, it’s different
Paddle physics, getting your power to the water is a function of Blade, Body and Boat in that order. Lets compare straight paddles and bents with minimal nod to body, bio-mechanics, and even less boat hydrodynamics.

As better described in Winters Shape of the Canoe, blades transfer power in the intended direction when they are +/- 10 dg of square to the stroke. Consider what this implies for forward strokes.

Straight paddles square up within that +/- window roughly 18 in in front of our knee and aft until square to the knee. This ~ requires kneeling and torso rotation to reach far enough forward to a catch that places the blade in its “physics window”.

Bents square to the stroke further aft on the boat and closer to the paddlers body, basically abeam the paddlers thigh. This allows the paddler to sit, which, if you’re in the boat for hours, is more comfortable then kneeling. Less torso rotation is required because the catch is closer to the paddler. Because the paddler is sitting, the blade can be kept within it’s window over a shorter range than when kneeling, so the bent stroke is shorter. Shorter strokes can be applied as a higher cadence, which will increase speed.

In either case, when that blade is carried under load aft of the “physics window”, force is miss-directed inwards and upwards, turning the boat to offside and inducing porpoising or cyclical pitching, which slows the boat in the water.

Most solo trippers might be advised to a straight and a ~ 12dg bent, so they can take advantage of the strengths of both; the power of the full torso applied to the straight blade for “must make” eddies, and the more comfortable stance and faster hull speed of the bent.

As I usually paddle a highly rockered solo, I find it helpful to do a quick little thumb roll down correction with each bent stroke, but it is a weak little correction.

I have my doubts

– Last Updated: Apr-16-09 3:48 AM EST –

about that theory of John Winters about bent-shaft paddles.
I do not think that you have to catch the water with a vertical blade in relation to the water surface,
as long as the direction of travel of the blade through the water is done perpendicular
by pushing down hard enough with the upper hand, like paddle A in this drawing:

We strive to acheive
perfection of the blade being exactly 90 degrees to the surface when the power is applied. Any variation from that, although biomechanically necessary, is less effective/efficient. Power is applied further back in the stroke as the blade reaches that ideal position. Prior to that you are effectively pushing water down and the hull up.

I doubt one really pushes the hull up

– Last Updated: Apr-16-09 3:51 AM EST –

when making a forward stroke. With a forward stroke you are pulling yourself forward with your bottom hand->arm on the paddle, and you are then also pulling yourself and with that the canoe downward in the same motion. Possibly there might be a little upward effect with the upper hand, but not so much that it will counteract the downward pulling effect enough to create an uplifting effect of the canoe during the forward stroke. With a bent-shaft paddle there might be less downward effect than with a straight shaft paddle (
which is the best (technical) explanation I can come up with to decribe/explain the possible advantage of the bent-shaft paddle over a straight shaft.
What I do know for sure, is that paddling theory is a very complicated matter, and I am very glad my body does pretty well with the practical part of it.

Are you kneeling or sitting?
Bents were optimized for the sitting paddler.

When I kneel I watched my paddle placement and to avoid coming out of the water at an angle I had to way shorten the stroke and it now enters six inches in front of my knee and ends six inches in back of the front of the knee…

The upshoot is unless you are going fast…alot of this stroke is ahead of the pivot point… hence turny.

Not so sitiing. All info anecdotal from my experience and subject to fraying by lab testers.

Good thread. Thanks Matt et al.

the J stroke is a comple waste unless

– Last Updated: Apr-10-09 10:46 AM EST –

you are lilly dipping or trying to sneak up on some wildlife. All that it does is slow you down.

I use my bent shaft the exact same way as I used my straight shaft, and yes you can J stroke with them too.

If you want a good instructional video that teaches you the plant, catch and the various strokes, get a copy of Marathon canoe Racing by the Fries.
You can get one at J & J Canoes in up state NY.

I am guessing that once you get used to a bent shaft paddle you will never revert to the straight.

This old paddler just switched to a Out rigger bent shaft and love it ! (we don't get older, we get stronger)


Hi Bowler:

Notwithstanding questions of verticality, which should not be minimalized, I see another potential problem with your stroke. You mention that you follow the gunwale even to the point of scraping it with the shaft. IMO, this will cause too much yaw ( turning to the offside). Try making the path of the blade more parallel to the centerline by starting the catch about 8 inches away from the gunwale, and pulling your onside knee toward the blade, with the bladeface perpendicular to the centerline path which actually appears to be a closed angle of attack. Before the catch, turn at the waist so that you are facing toward the flat side of the blade then with straight arms pull youself toward the blade in a path toward the onside knee. By the time the flat side of the blade reaches the hull you should be moving forward with little yaw and a very minimal correction should be necessary. This is a short stroke and cadence can be faster than a J. An in-water recovery is preferrable with this style stroke.

Short version: for every action there is an opposite and equal reaction and since the gunwale inscribes an arc , following it will produce an arced path to the offside everytime. I learned this from Issac Newton who was a great solo paddler.

Your paddle A is not

– Last Updated: Apr-10-09 12:01 PM EST –

applying power parallel to the surface which is what we strive for when desiring to move forward. Any variation from that position is not applying the power in EXACTLY the opposite direction we want to travel, and therefor less efficient. You do move the hull up at the beginning of the stroke if the catch is not perfectly vertical and down at the end if you carry the stroke past the "perpendicular to the surface" position. Can you see the hull move up or down?...not really but we're talking attempts to be the most efficient. Think of it like this...the MOST efficient stroke would be right through the hull at the center line, paddle completely vertical at catch, power phase and taken out vertically at the end. Obviously we can't do that, but we try to get as close to it as body and boat allow.

CEW is correct.

Winters and Pivot Points
One generally disagrees with John Winters about hydrodynamics immediately before an embarrassment, which usually includes more referenced scientific papers than one really cares to read. Few would know that better than myself. John is/was a member of the Society of Navel Architects and Marine Engineers, and not a lowly associate member like myself. He designed world championship winning sailboats and fine canoes and sea kayaks. He understands sampling and regression analysis which almost always trumps our own confirmation biases. His late 80’s early 90’s work on paddle blades seem spot on to this old biological scientist.

That said, here’s a concept he didn’t/doesn’t agree with, but that explains why a forward stroke isn’t before the paddle stroke for long. Google the Peripatetic Pivot Point for a discussion of how that damned spot moves.

gotta disagree with you there Jack
While not as fast as a marathon stroke evolutions of the J are quite quick.

Most of us are paddle at less than athletes speed with boats that may not be designed for racing.

We might not go 50 miles a day. Solo tripping in a canoe I am happy with 20 with my J, Canadian or Northwoods.

But a Canadian stroke or a Northwoods is an effective speedy stroke. So is a J properly done. Most people do not do it correctly.

What we can learn from the racers is the importance of body mechanics.

what I strive for

– Last Updated: Apr-16-09 3:48 AM EST –

is getting the most resistance of my paddle blade to pull myself (and with that the canoe I am in) forward. My idea is that we are making wrong assumptions about how paddle propulsion works when looking at the paddle blade position only. I think that as long as the direction of movement of the blade is perpendicular to the paddle blade, the paddle blade is working well in creating a point of resistance that you use to pull yourself forward (when you do the forward stroke, of course). I think I do not have to catch the water with a vertical blade in relation to the water surface, but to the movement of the blade through the water, as paddle A in my drawing is doing.

nothing to be embarrassed about
if John Winters proves you wrong.

Any force which is not aligned …
…perfectly with the direction you want the boat to go wastes energy. This is best illustrated with vectors and trigonometry, which can calculate exactly what the loss in propulsive force will be as the angle of force application veers away from a line that is parallel to your intended direction of travel (and yes, applying that force as close to the boat’s centerline as possible also matters, but is a different issue). We can’t achieve perfection in this regard, but the closer you can get to perfection, the less energy is wasted. Again, CEW is correct. Go to a used bookstore and pick up a high-school physics book, and it will all be clear.

On the other hand, there must be some consideration of the ease of motion involved with a stroke, and some of the energy used when forcing your body into positions it does not “enjoy” will also detract from your body’s useful expenditure of energy (your best postions for applying force with your arms are not the same as those which create the best position of the paddle). I doubt there is a way to calculate this, but “allowing yourself” to deviate from “perfection” by a comfortable margin is probably as good a method as any.

Gotta agree with this

– Last Updated: Apr-10-09 3:41 PM EST –

A J-stroke can be very efficient at medium and "almost-fast" speeds. It's not a racing stroke, but it can be very good for long-term energy output. A good, high-cadence J-stroke applies just a little "flick" at the end, and it's a convenient side-effect of boat hydrodynamics that less and less effort is needed for correction as your speed increases, meaning you can reduce the effort of your "flick" as you go faster. Most people use a ruddering motion with their J-stroke, which isn't "wrong", but it won't allow you to go fast. I don't believe a "dragging-rudder J-stroke" wastes energy, because correction strokes become progressively more efficient the farther back they are applied, so reaching back and ruddering produces very little drag relative to the steering effect that is created (this is why a mechanical rudder provides the ultimate conservation of energy when using a single blade). However, a "slow dragging J" correction DOES reduce your cadence, and THAT will definitely put a limit on your speed.

Thanks for all the information. Some really good points in here. A few that jumped out at me that really start to tie things together for me….first is what was said about the sweet spot of the paddle essentially. I knew that a bent shaft does not lift as much water at the end of the stroke…makes sense that the most powerful part of the stroke is a bit farther back than with straight shaft. Much like Greenland Paddle in kayaking it would seem. Also interesting / did not consider, the fact that sitting gives less torso rotation and therefore is more suited to the bent shaft and higher cadence.

Also found comment about starting the blade farther out from gunwale to be interesting. I deliberately mentioned the scraping the gunwale part to see if perhaps might not be producing the best stroke with least yaw.

I have instinctively found myself doing somewhat of what was described above. Not sure what the call that stroke but it seems to work well. I guess that was kind of part of what I was asking…if there is some sort of subtle correction when using a bent shaft other than the J type strokes. I can do the J fine with the bent shaft but it really requires a long glide between strokes and somewhat defeats the purpose of the bent shaft it seems and the speed you may gain.

I guess I am not focused on hit and switch. I really meant that I was focused on using a faster cadence stroke without a J type correction that might slow the boat down.

I also know that you don’t have to have a bent shaft for this. I just figure I will carry two paddles and use the bent shaft for speed with a non-J stroke and the straight shaft when I want more control and want to use the graceful and rewarding J stroke.

Last, I guess I am wondering a bit about the sitting position. At least in my boat it does not feel very efficient. Feels like you are sitting too high above the water and that the stability of the boat decreases thus not allowing you to eek the most power out of your stroke. Perhaps true sit and switch type boats offer higher stability when seated or a lower seat??? A bit stiffer tracking as well for sure. Not that the Osprey tracks poorly, but for me and my new set of skills it does require some correction in my strokes (which does not bother me when using the straight shaft and J stroke / Canadian… Maybe this will change with time and skill.



got to agree with…
kayakmedic. Most folks don’t do a very efficient J and end up doing to much correction, which indeed does slow them down. A correct J has minimal correction and can a very effective forward stroke.