bent shaft canoe paddle


I’ve done a bit of archival work on this topic but most real discussion is from 2005. I’m looking for a bent shaft canoe paddle. Must be light. Must also still allow me to j or c stroke. I’ll probably use it in a tandem but also in my next canoe which could just be a Hemlock solo. ( I have a Flashfire and a Dagger Reflection 15.) So far I’ve gleaned that a ZRE could be the one. If so, which model? I’ll shorten the shaft till it feels right.


There are soooooooo many choices. After some research I choose a Foxworx Guide. No particular reason other than I like the fact that it is a small family owned company, my favorite outfitter sells them, they answer the phone and talked paddles for about 30 minutes with me, and it was designed by the owners son who is a guide in the Adirondacks where I do most of my canoeing. I wanted a wood paddle for under $150. I bought my wife a Wiskey Jack paddle (Wiskey Jill for women or small hands) and it is a work of art.

Zavs are light but one most likely is
not going to meet all your seating requirements. If you get picky you will need a range of shaft lengths to correspond to seat heights. If kneeling you can probably use one length.

Optimum angle for most people biomechanically these days is thought to be 12 degrees. However it can be too severe an angle for a j. Some people opt for a seven for more J stroke ease.

Those folks would have been better served by bringing a 12 for hit and switch and a straight blade for j strokes. Compromise blades don’t do anything well.

ZRE is an excellent choice.
I’d suggest the Medium or light. The Medium is pretty durable and plenty light.

The Black Recreational ZRE feels like a much inferior paddle to me, compared to the medium or light.

I prefer the narrower blades, like the 8" or 8.25" wide, since I’m not real strong.

I have no issues with the C or J strokes with my ZRE paddles.

Good luck.

Shorten the shaft 'til it feels right?
Many bent shaft paddles, including ZRE, use an integral grip which is difficult to remove and re-install after shortening the shaft. I suggest you try to get the length right when you order.

Thanks All!
I appreciate your input. Yes, I may end up with a few different bents. I may choose one for tripping (the ZRE perhaps?) and another one to play around with freestyle. What bent shafts do freestyle canoeists like? BTW, I thought you could order a paddle with the grip not yet glued in and then find your best length before fixing it in place. Does that not apply to ZRE?

Most freestylers do not use
bents as they are unidirectional. Its more awkward to palm roll a dedicated grip and uncomfortable and paddle placements have to sometimes be inverted.

Some tandem teams do use bents. Hardly ever soloists as the bent is not as versatile. Some will argue you can do anything with a bent. But just because I can open a can with a knife does not make a knife equal to a can opener.

Its time to acknowledge that paddle shapes and shafts vary just as tools in a toolkit vary.

Thje ZRE is the easiest shaft of any
canoe paddle to shorten.

The handle has about an inch long tube attached that goes into the shaft. You cut the handle off about an inch and half down from where it goes into the shaft.

Then you file or grind gently until you get a portion of the outer tube off, and the rest comes off real easy, ( on one I did the rest just peeled off).

the secret is to try and not dig into the handle shaft.

Then cut the shaft at your desired length. And epoxy the handle with the inner shaft back on to the outer shaft, making sure your handle is aligned properly.

I have done three or four of them,

Jack L

You can order shafts and handles separately or order one all put together.

jack L

ZRE Powersurge
I’m a kneeling paddler that has always used bent shafts on flatwater. I have lots of bents, but I now use my 48.5" ZRE almost exclusively. Light weight rules.

As the bent is unidirectional, I like the asymmetrical Powersurge blade better than the Z-light symmetrically-faced blade, which I do have on my ZRE straight paddle.

I also prefer the ZRE flex shaft option, as I found the stiffness of the standard shaft to be too punishing. The flex shaft has some linear fiberglass on the inside of the tube, which allows it to flex like wood for a half ounce weight penalty.

I’d get the light weight for flatwater travel. You can get wider widths if you choose the Outrigger blade. Hard to recommend a width. High cadence racers like the narrower blades. Slower cadence cruisers may like a wider blade. Being in the latter category, I use the 8.75" Outrigger light Powersurge blade and like it a lot.

I use that same ZRE bent in all my canoes no matter whether I’m kneeling (usually) or sitting (occasionally). I easily adapt to the slight length changes in different canoes and seat heights. I always carry a straight also, which I prefer for whitewater and twisty streams, and my straight of choice is now also a ZRE.

Buying an uncut shaft with an unattached grip makes sense if you don’t know what length you want. I found I use a shorter shaft on the ZRE than my other bents.

The 12" bend is now pretty much standard for sit 'n switch canoe paddlers. Whether you can J stroke with it is a matter of technique. I have no problem. You can also do any freestyle move with a bent, though it’s preferable to invert the blade for some moves. Mike Galt began freestyle exhibitions exclusively with big bladed bent shaft paddles, primarily the Blackburn Lutras and Honey Islands.


– Last Updated: Jun-11-13 1:45 PM EST –

I agree with everyhting said already.

I have had 4 different ZRE's and by far prefer the Power surge light. I greatly prefer the power surge blade to the regular one. Also, I prefer a skinnier paddle (7.75 or 8") over a wider one. I am 28, and a 'strong young guy' and I can not overpower my 8" wide PS light.

I guess I can see if you're doing white water paddling that you might need a lot of 'grip'/surface area on the blade, but for flat water, touring, fitness paddling, or racing I prefer smaller blades.

Ordering the shaft uncut and unglued works fine too. Just tape the grip in place, paddle with it, decide if you like it, then cut some off or glue it in.

Also, the 8.5oz 'Light' has broken me. My WW 11oz now feels like a club after Ive been paddling with the light. If you're going to cover a lot of ground the extra $20-$50 is really worth it.

Over the past weekend there was
a class in paddle shapes and sizes. A friend of mine has amassed a collection of paddles (he brought some three dozen) had half a dozen Zavs.

Two of the paddles were virtually the same. One a Power Surge and one not.

I don’t have a Power Surge bent. Now I need one…want…need…need for my Monarch. Sit and switch and power needed on the ocean.

Of course I will also have to work on that POW er stroke as Harry Rock taught me ( he is not just a poler!). Wind up and pow down and forward with the top hand

Thanks, JackL, makes me more likely
to buy one. Though as I kneel nearly all the time, a five degree custom would be plenty.

The “Z Whitewater” in a 5 degree
… is a really nice paddle. I tried one. Holy cow!

I just don’t know how it would do chomping down on rocks.

I’ve been using a ZRE whitewater bent shaft for many years. It has held up very well with a lot of river miles. I use it kneeling and sitting, and find it very comfortable to J or C, and hit and switch. I, like some of the other just adjust to the size in any given position. I always have a straight shaft along as well. I prefer a straight shaft in class II or better WW. When I switch paddles I am always amazed at how heavy my 18oz straight shaft paddle feels compared to the ZRE. If I want to cover distance I always take the ZRE.

I have a ZRE Whitewater
and I love it. I use it for tripping up to class 2. Mine is 12 degree. I have used it extensively on hard trips and it has held up very well. The edges of the blade are just now starting to show some dings and I may try to smooth the edges some how. But this is after years and years of hard use. I do not baby it. You do have to be careful at night to secure it so it does not blow away.

Other Bent Shaft paddles
I paddle ZRE Flat water “Z” and Powersurge paddles when I flatwater race. I am now training with QuickBlade Outrigger paddle and a Kialoa Nehu Wacky Shaft bent paddles. I like both of these paddles. The QuickBlade is very stiff and had a ABS edge around the blade which makes it very durable. The Kialoa Wacky shaft Nehu has a"T" handle and a double bend. The Kialoa take a little bit to get used to. The Wacky shaft make a very interesting j stroke. It works very well when you rudder, you can steer both directions easily because of the offset blade. Gillespie Paddles also make some very nice bent paddles

I only use my home made 5 degree
bent shaft on flatter sections, because as soon as the need for ww maneuvering picks up, the somewhat peculiar behavior of the bent shaft sends me back to my Mitchell slalom paddle.

I also prefer a blade around 7.75" wide and perhaps a bit longer than the ZRE for crossing and compound strokes. But if a paddler is a kneeler, I think a 5 degree bent shaft is the best solution for flattish water.

Powersurge & Gillespie
The ZRE powersurge blade is a carbon fiber rendition of the curved lip that Brad Gillespie has used on his wooden bent shaft paddles for over 30 years. Quiet entry, no splash, great catch.


Lost in the above is that the Zavs have blades sized for use by fit paddlers at 60 stroke per minute or higher stroke rates.

Also lost is that a 12 dg bent is pretty near Winter’s +/- 15 dg Window and will not J well, and that this is of no concern because the intent of the paddle designer is to keep the blade within that knee to mid-thigh range and switch sides for steerage.

I have several Zavs myself, but fine entry bents are available from Fox Worx, more up-scale recreational bents from Bending Branches, Grey Owl etc and nicer yet bents from Cricket among others. BB’s Black Perl and Cricket offer larger blades that work and J better at the slower cadences indicated in much of the above prose.