Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle Stroke???

what I tried to describe is the concept that the vector of the stroke is parallel to the centerline of the canoe. and the blade powerface is perpendicular to it. The correct technique for this is counter-intuitive. The blade powerface actually appears to be at a bit of a closed angle of attack and the plant seems to be about 6 or 8 inches from the gunwale and at a 45 degree angle back toward the onside knee. Having said all this, the other counter-intuitive reality is that the paddler actually is pulling himself and his hull along with him, forward toward the paddle. There is no path of the paddle. It is more like a pull-up although less strenuous. If all force vectors are correct the paddle should stay where planted. If this is the case then there exists yet another advantage to kneeling. When kneeling, much more body surface is in contact with the hull and in addition the lower torso can assist in pulling the canoe along toward the paddle. It takes a lot of practice to develop the micro touch required to tweak the most efficient angle and distance for each plant in turn. But when perpendicular and parallel very little correction should be needed and the forward is much more efficient. Also a bent shaft is not necessary if done correctly from a kneel.

Footbrace helps when sitting.
It allows more use of the legs for power in the stroke and control of the boat. Without the footbrace, you’re not paddling as efficiently or as in control as you could be with one when sitting.

Different hulls and outfitting will affect whether a boat feels comfortable for either sitting or kneeling. Just adding a footbrace will help that Osprey feel more comfortable for sitting and paddling.

I usually carry a bent shaft and a straight shaft paddle regardless of the canoe or whether I’m on a lake or a river so that I have an option to vary my stroke, technique and muscle groups. Sometimes, I end up only using one of the paddles for the entire outing.

Often, adjusting your trim just a little can have a big effect on boat handling with either sitting or kneeling. Some boats are more sensitive than others.

Keep experimenting.

ok the thinning one and the silver one
are beginning to read alike…so I am off to alligator etouffe!

Paddle staying where planted is an…
…idealized description. It does slip a fair amount, and the little jet of turbulence you create with each stroke is proof (watch the water after your buddy paddles by and you can watch that jet of turbulence move backward a few feet from the location of the paddle plant. The initial current you see has nearly the same travel speed as the speed of paddle slippage). If the paddle didn’t slip, no water would be set into motion. Also, if the paddle didn’t slip, contacting a rock with the very tip of the blade wouldn’t totally screw-up the motion or effectiveness of that particular stroke, but in a case like this where the paddle grabs the bottom and DOESN’T slip, it throws our muscle memory for a loop.

I agree with your premise that oftentimes you should think about pulling yourself (and your boat) toward the paddle blade, but since the blade doesn’t actually stay where you put it in the “real world”, I find that it is good to be aware of that aspect too, especially during maneuvers.

bent shaft stroke mechanics

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

A bent shaft works fine in an Osprey. You won’t get a lot of strokes per side – plan on 4 or so and be happy if you get more than that.

I’m a bit rusty on my stroke mechanics, but I’ll throw some of what I think I remember out there:
1. Whether you are sitting or kneeling, the torso needs to be straight, but leaning a bit forward. This helps engage the torso muscles, which we all know are stronger than the arm muscles.
2. The paddle shaft is as vertical as possible.
3. The stroke runs parallel to the centerline of the boat.
4. The top arm reaches across on about a 45 degree angle. I don’t think I make it to a full 45 – my arm would probably fall off if I tried, but somewhere in that neighborhood should feel right.
5. The angle on the top arm does not change during the stroke
5.5 The bottom arm is straight or pretty close to it and does not bend during the stroke.
6. Make sure the blade is completely in the water before you apply force.
7. When you apply force, you apply the force _down_ with the top hand. That is the standard explanation. I prefer to think of driving the paddle down (it will naturally move backward) with the shoulder of my top arm. The force is transmitted through the arm and hand, but is actually coming from the torso muscles. You will feel the muscles engage from the shoulder of the top arm down through the waist on the paddle side, or something like that.
8. As the paddle moves back, it will pivot a bit in the _top_ hand. By keeping the pivot point at the top, you keep the paddle vertical or close to it for a higher percentage of the stroke. You can see this for yourself – sit on a chair with the paddle in paddling position. Take a stroke by driving the top hand forward and allowing the paddle to pivot in the bottom hand. Now take another stroke, but this time make sure any pivoting of the paddle shaft takes place in the palm of the top hand. The latter method gives you a longer and more vertical paddle stroke.
9. The recovery phase – there are two primary methods. The first method is to lift the paddle straight up out of the water at the end of the stroke, move it straight forward, plant it, and apply power. The second method is call, if I remember correctly, the D stroke. At the end of the power phase (the straight side of the D), slice the paddle out to the side when you take it out of the water, bring it forward, and slice it back in to the water as it moves toward the boat. The stroke looks like the letter D, hence its name.
10. Where to plant the paddle and how long to make the stroke. I think Charlie has posted before that the bent shaft stroke begins around the ankles and ends around the knees. My apologies to him if I that is a misquote. I have tried that method and found that I get a bit more power out of the stroke if I bring my hand back past the knee a little bit. I use a GPS to check the effectiveness of my technique. At any rate, your stroke should end and your paddle should be moving into the recovery phase by the time the elbow of you bottom hand reaches your side. You may want to make it sooner than that, but definitely no later.
11. The switch. Obviously the hands have to trade positions as the paddle moves from one side of the canoe to the other. This is a rather poor explanation of the technique, but it should be good enough to give you the general idea. As you start to bring the paddle up and across, release the grip with your top hand. Allow the hand that was on the bottom to slide up the shaft. The free hand will grasp the bottom of the shaft and the hand that has been sliding up the shaft will move on to the grip.
12. And last but not least, cadence. You will read over and over again that you have to have a fast cadence with a bent shaft paddle, say 60-70 strokes per minute. Otherwise the paddling police will pull you over and give you a ticket, your canoe will sink, birds will crap on your Tilley, etc., etc., etc. That may work for racers, but it looks like entirely too much work to me. My relaxed touring cadence with a bent shaft is around 45 strokes per minute. I rarely go more than 55 strokes per minute. I can, but my technique falls apart because I am a lazy old fart and the idea of coordinating all of those motions at high speed is just too much for me to handle.

I need to scoot out of here and do some stuff I promised my wife I’d get done this evening, but I’ll check back later and see if I forgot anything important, or if one of the racers called me on anything I said. Like I said, it isn’t the best explanation in the world, but it should get you in the neighborhood of a decent stroke.

edit: Took another look at the explanation and it looks reasonably accurate. Happy paddling.

just play around
Osprey is a wonderfully versatile boat, I loved mine with both straight and bent paddles and I have a lot of odd habits like doing sit/switch while kneeling. You can try taking teeny tiny little strokes…very short ones like 6 inches to see what it does for you…right in the area of the front thwart. I find that you can also control the boat a lot by varying the power you apply…do 5 or 6 very gentle strokes on one side then one big one to get the boat to yaw, then switch and start doing gentle strokes on the other side to “catch” the boat and when it starts to yaw give it one big one and then switch again. You can get 5 or more strokes on one side with any boat that way…even a turny boat like a Fire boat. If 58 is the right length straight then 54 may be quite a long bent for you…52 should be plenty and you may want to try paddles in the 51-52 inch range some time.

Osprey is awesome…does everything well.

No! No! that’s Kneel and Switch
Can’t be SIT and switch if you kneeling :wink:

I do that in my Osprey and Indy too.

I don’t believe there is any advantage to a bent shaft for kneelers but the Zav is so light that I do get higher cadence. I’d so love to get a good straight shaft as light as the Zav.

No problem doing J’s and other strokes with the bent TO A POINT. But for fine control I much prefer a straight shaft.


You can
I believe you can get a Zav in any angle, but have to pay an extra 25 bucks for any custom angle, such as 0.

I have a straight Zav
that I might be willing to sell. Going to be at AFS this year?

i life the boat
i see it in marathon canoes all the time. with a proper power stroke and bent shaft, you will pull the boat slightly upward at the beginning of the stroke.

the boat may only move an eighth of an inch upward, but it does rise, and that decreases wetted surface. i know that’s almost a micro level, but with thousands of strokes that tiny lift adds up.

Kneel and switch it is.

My favorite paddles are straight shaft carbon that can be used for kneel and switch - or anything you want. I’ve got zero angle Zav’s and Black Bart Troublemakers and love 'em.

I used to kneel and switch with a nice light Grey Owl Freestyle in a Blackhawk Zephyr and I could outpace most tandems…one can drive a Zephyr way past it’s hull speed with some encouragement.

if that is really happening,
and I think that it is not unlikely,

it only confirms my doubt about the idea that the bent-shaft paddle is a disadvantage in the beginning of the forward stroke because the blade is not at a 90 degree angle in relation to the water surface. I think the bent-shaft paddle is an advantage for the whole forward stroke. And personally I have no problems at all doing course corrections like the pitch-, J- and ‘canadian’ strokes with a bent-shaft paddle – as long as they are done dynamic and not stationary.

I tried Turtles straight Zav. Not for me
Last summer at AFS Turtle let me try his straight shaft Zav. Lucky for me as I might have bought one otherwise.

The blade is offset flush with one edege of the shaft rather than centered. The way Turtles grip was set the blade was at the rear of the shaft. On a hard stroke that thing wobbled something awful. Reversed it was better but awkward because the grip, a standard Zav grip, is designed to be used in one orientation only. Not great for palm rolls.

So with a dedicated powerface and directional grip it’s not a paddle I would care to use.

It was quite light though.


Good Explanation
However, in the interest of real accuracy in wording, I would modify two statements.

First, keeping the paddle shaft vertical refers to how it is seen from the front or back, not from the side (if the shaft remained vertical as seen from the side, we wouldn’t need a bent shaft). I know you knew that - I’m just saying.

Second, where you said “you apply the force down with the top hand”, I would say you are not actually applying a downward force with the top hand, even though that is its direction of travel. The upper arm is acting like the radius of a circle and the hand and grip are following the curve of that circle, and the direction of that motion is a downward curve. The actual force you apply with your upper arm is directed in a forward direction (as indicated by the fact that the only hand contact that is actually needed during the power stroke is against the part of the palm grip that is facing you, and force against that face of the grip created by a compressive force along your entire upper arm, not a cantilevered force). You really can’t push down very hard at all with an extended arm, but you can push forward extremely hard and with great efficiency if that arm is not bent much at the elbow. As an additional explanation, imagine what would happen if you pulled back on the shaft with your lower hand but did not have your other hand on the top grip. If you did that, the shaft would pivot in your lower hand and the upper grip would fly backward with great speed and whack you in the face. Your upper grip hand is opposing that “kick back” with a forward-directed force.

If you’re kneeling w/ a straight…
There is that Tom Foster uncorrected forward stroke. Start with a couple cross forwards to start the bow carving onside, then bring the blade back onside. If the shaft is vertical, the stroke parallel to the keel line and isolated far enough forward, a reasonable solo will carve a slow arc to onside. Back off a little and she’ll run straight.

The key is that the power of the stroke skids the stern offside enough that no further coeerction is needed.

There are more nuances, or at least more words; contact me by email for the whole verbalization.

Interesting…The straight Zav I have
has the grip is dedicated like you observed, however the shaft/blade transition is pretty much equal and not at all the condition you describe. Also have no paddle flutter.

If the shaft is too long for you, it

– Last Updated: Apr-12-09 9:49 PM EST –

will feel awkward. My straight Zav is too long in some of my boats and doesn't feel right - the shaft is a few inches in the water and the center of pressure is too deep in the water.

I don't notice flutter, but it feels awkward when the blade is too deep.

The grip is definately uni directional on mine and the blade is not symetrical on the shaft - as you describe.

It is my preferred river paddle, though I hate the sound of hitting rocks with it.

54" paddle length in Osprey?

– Last Updated: Sep-18-10 7:14 AM EST –

I am 6', 170 lbs and although that's a bit light for an Osprey, use my 52" bent-shaft paddle successfully in my Swift Osprey.

Tough to do in an Osprey
At least with my lack of form, I find it very difficult to get or maintain the onside carve Charlie describes in my Osprey.

I find it a little easier in my Independence and quite easy in my whitewater boats (Outrage, Atom, Encore, Cascade).


54" for Kneel & Switch
I use a 54" bent in my Osprey. It works pretty well.

I’m 5’8" short legs,long torso and I kneel.