Bent shaft paddle technique question

Paddling a solo canoe in a very large river upstream I was using a lot of heavy J strokes to stay on course. I was out of the main current but there was enough to want to turn the bow, especially if I tried going too fast. I was wishing I had some ballast to try to weigh the bow down but all I had was a 12 oz water and a bottle of bug spray. I was doing OK, had to switch more than I like to do but that was only on the upstream leg of the trip. Once out of the current into a lake and then on the downstream I didn’t have to switch as much but since I was in a large gaggle of yaks I had to do frequent course adjustments.

My problems arose when I switched to a bent shaft paddle. I could not do a proper J as the angle of the blade would cause me to way oversteer and recovery with the angled blade would cause me to drag. I could not hold a course on the upstream leg with the bent shaft paddle and I I thought it might be just a matter of not being used to the angled blade. But on the return portion of the paddle I was thinking their must be a different technique required when using the angled blade as the geometry is all different.

Is the bent shaft paddle only meant for the power paddler in a tandem? Any advice on the difference in a J stroke between bent shaft and straight?

J stroke with bent shaft paddles
First, lets make sure we are talking about the same thing when you refer to a J stroke. Using proper terminology, the J stroke is done by turning the grip hand thumb down towards the water at the completion of the power phase and pressing or hooking outward somewhat with the power face of the blade before the recovery.

I am a bit mystified as to why you found yourself over correcting with the J stroke using a bent shaft paddle as the shaft angle with a bent tends to place the blade more in line with the keel line of the canoe than it does with a straight shaft paddle. I assume you were not using the paddle backwards.

Or were you possibly doing a “thumbs up J” also called a “modern J”, “river J” or “goon stroke” in which the grip hand thumb is rotated up and outward pressure is applied with the non-power face?

I do the J stroke with a bent shaft paddle the same way I do it with a straight shaft, although the angulation of the blade will result in a different position of the hands during the correction phase. I know a lot of people who find J strokes somewhat more difficult with bent shaft paddles. Cliff Jacobson claims they are easier with bent shaft paddles but I think he is in the minority. I find the J stroke and the recovery phase neither easier nor harder with a bent shaft than a straight shaft, just different.

No difference at all in the J
with a straight vs a bent assuming two things… that you aren’t holding the paddle backwards to start with… with the shaft vertical in front of you the blade should point at an angle away from you.

The other thing is that as pointed out you are doing a thumbs down J. Otherwise with thumb up you have a mighty brake that is going to stop you more than necessary and over correct.

Good to know it’s possible

– Last Updated: Jun-14-14 1:28 PM EST –

Ever since I got some decent paddles with a proper contour palm grip I do the proper thumbs down J. I admit to the goon stroke when all I had was the wal mart feather lites, but that was not the case.
I hold the paddle so the tip is angled to the front or so that if the shaft is held vertical the power face is towards the ground.

I just tried standing in the yard using a chair back to compare the angle of the blades. I see what you mean about being more in line with the keel and I guess that is part of the problem. With a straight shaft the correction starts as soon as I roll my thumb and sometimes just the briefest pause is all I need for correction or the adjustment is made by pulling the upper hand in closer. With the bent shaft this wasn't the case and I would have to push out with the lower hand and also the recovery would cause a lot more drag than the clean lift I can get with the straight shaft.
With the straight shaft I also sometimes do the Canadian stroke I think it's called where you never lift the paddle out of the water. Couldn't do that with the bent shaft without causing drag but that is probably just practice.
When I do the J, I use the same hand position with either paddle throw the power stroke and rolling the thumb. From there I had to push forward more with the lower hand to start a correction unless I just let paddle drag bring the bow around which causes a greater loss of forward motion. Is this was you mean by "different position of the hands" ? If not, could you please elaborate on that.

well you are doing it correctly
You are using the paddle right and doing the J stroke correctly.

The biggest difference in hand position between a straight shaft paddle and bent shaft paddle is that the grip hand winds up further inboard during the correction phase which is necessary to load the power face of the blade because of the shaft angle. There is a difference in the shaft hand as well but it is more subtle. I find that my wrist winds up canted a bit more and I think this is why some folks find the J stroke more stressful on the wrist using a bent shaft paddle.

The Canadian stroke works fine with a bent shaft paddle as well (in fact, I found that I could often do it better with a bent shaft) but you have to get used to the blade angle.

Stick with it and I’m sure you will get it dialed in pretty soon.

try to increase the shaft hand oomph
another issue is that if you have a bent with a short blade there is a tendency not to immerse all of it at the correction J. Air J’s are simply rotten and sometimes unnoticed by the paddler.

I don’t crank my wrist at all in the J… I hold it very loosely with the shaft hand and let the paddle shaft rotate…

Keep at it… While its possible to J with a bent, its not my favorite either. I spent a fortune on a CF bent shaft so I could lift it out of the water for hit and switch.

Agree with pblanc’s analysis
I think you just need more practice and experimenting with the bent.

The J recovery with a bent may be a little weaker, but you can compensate for that with more of bow draw at the beginning of the stroke and by using a Canadian loaded slice forward right after the J – sort of C stroke capped off by a Canadian recovery.

Also, you can have problems if your bent is too long. I use a bent that is at least five inches shorter than my straight. Bent paddling uses more of a stomach crunch and pushing down with your grip hand. The stroke can be quite short.

BTW, I’m talking primarily about using a single-sided correction stroke with a bent from the kneeling posture. I can do it while sitting, but I’ll be somewhat more likely to switch paddle when sitting with a bent.

BB rep
I spoke to at the NJ Paddlefest was adamant that you cant J stroke with a bent shaft paddle…huh.

well then
disregard anything else the rep told you.

NJ rep
Who would believe a NJ rep about a stroke designed to help you go straight. NJ streams don’t go straight for more than a canoe length and what they call rivers would be called a brook anywhere else. He was probably mentally scarred by the sight of FatElmo and the grey thing at Paddlesport.

On the serious side; with a good bent shaft paddle, sized for you and the canoe; the J-stroke can be done, but it is a bit different from using a long straight blade. I paddle a bit differently depending on which of my paddles I am using. With the wooden Gillespie at 14 degrees, the end of the J gets less of a thumbs down than with the Zaveral at 10 degrees. The thinner carbon fiber blade of the Zaveral and its slighter bend makes for a good in-water recovery. Not what I use for speed, but its quiet and the blade sounds neat slicing forward thru the water. Thicker wooden blades like a Bending Branches with a reinforced tip would be quite different.


I do it
When I want to stay on one side with the bent I generally do what I believe is referred to as the Canadian stroke with an in water recovery (removed from the water towards the front of the recovery stroke just before replanting) that incorporates the necessary correction. I’m pretty comfortable with it using the bent but whenever I switch back to a straight I struggle until my muscles get used to the slight differences.

What were you paddling? I paddle upstream all the time and can’t imagine trying to do it with a correction stroke. Kills too much momentum IMHO. But I’m paddling a fairly straight tracking boat (Bell Magic) where I can get half a dozen strokes per side or better. With my Osprey it’s only a couple per side if I turn on the gas and that gets pretty old pretty fast. I don’t bother trying to paddle it upstream as it’s too annoying to either use correction strokes that slow me down or else switch sides constantly.


Correction need not kill momentum

– Last Updated: Jun-15-14 2:46 PM EST –

I'm not sure what your style of "correction" is, but but the momentum-killing aspect is highly variable from one person to the next, and need not be significant at all. Most people do a J-stroke by dragging the paddle for a second or two, but that's not necessary. Instead, you can do a little flip at the end of the stroke that causes an almost imperceptible delay in the time needed for the recovery stroke, and since the correction is applied in a straight-sideways direction rather than by dragging an angled blade, there is no component of the correction which impedes the boat's progress in any way. A correction done in that way neither helps nor hinders your progress, but the key point is that there is no added drag. It's true that a person doing no correction at all can do a slightly faster cadence than a person who does apply correction in this way, and that makes a difference, but the difference isn't huge. So, anytime I hear people talking about the drag associated with correction strokes, I figure they simply haven't honed their technique to achieve quick correction applied in manner that is neutral, but instead, do the momentary drag of the blade that is typical of most paddlers.

By the way, I don't own any boats suitable for sit-and-switch paddling, and I paddle upstream a lot too, sometimes in pretty swift conditions. One trick that helps when going upstream is that when rounding curves, paddle on the side of the boat that faces the outside of the curve. The water on that side of the boat is swifter than that on the side toward the inside of the curve, so that water is passing by the hull of the boat more quickly, and that in turn sets up a situation that is hydrodynamically identical to getting turned toward the slower current (on the side toward the inside of the bend) when traveling downstream. When paddling upstream, paddling on the side of the boat that faces the outside of the curve will make correction strokes a lot less necessary, even completely unnecessary, just as is the case when going downstream and paddling on the side of the boat that faces the inside of the curve, and for the same reason (the reason is the same in terms of the relative speed of water passage along opposite sides of the hull).

I use a bent shaft all the time and
never have problem with any strokes.

Just paddle all the time with one and you won’t go back to a straight shaft.

jack L

I have no doubt that my correction technique could be greatly improved and that’s likely part of the problem. I also can’t help but think it’s dependent on the boat and the speed at which it’s being paddled, or attempted to be paddled at.

If I’m just cruising along up to around 4mph (or a little over in my Magic) then I don’t have much trouble keeping a straight course with correction strokes and they don’t feel like they’re hindering forward progress much. But if I want to bump that up to 5mph (or a good deal over that in the Magic) it takes a high cadence and a lot more horsepower. Especially in the Osprey (Kite, actually) those higher effort strokes really make the hull want to turn and, at least for me, it takes extra effort to make the correction with the J and really holds the speed down as compared to a high cadence hit and switch. Even in the Magic the slower cadence has a big impact on top speed, as does any added drag.

I’m also using a pretty short bent shaft (48-49") so the blade never gets very far behind me at the end of the stroke when doing corrections (never gets behind me for hit and switch). I think this also contributes to the feel that it takes more effort to make the correction. If I’m using my long straight shaft (56") the blade gets farther to the stern and a little flick has a lot more effect.

Also, on straight tracking hulls against the current, if it starts going where you don’t want it to go it takes a pretty hard J to bring it back and kills your speed. Whereas switching sides and paddling hard, maybe with a draw component towards the end, will bring it back on track while providing forward momentum at the same time.

As the saying goes…different strokes for different folks.


Yes it does

– Last Updated: Jun-15-14 9:16 PM EST –

Zero flatwater racers use a correction stroke. They all switch. Why?

It can't be because switching allows faster stroking. The switch itself causes a delay. You could generate more strokes per minute if you didn't switch. But you would be going around in circles unless you correct. The correction slows your stroke rate below that of your switch stroke rate -- because of the very correction.

So you can say the correction causes drag, or it slows overall stroke rate and power, but in either case the boat goes slower upstream or down.

I've averaged about 2.8 mph per cruising trip over all my solo canoes since I got my GPS 10 years ago. So 4 mph would be fast for me, and over 5 mph unsustainable in my open CanAm canoes, which are all primarily kneeling canoes. 90% of my canoeing is single sided correction stroking from a kneel, and 90% of that is with a bent shaft -- and has been so for 30 years. Seated paddling is mostly switch paddling.

Going upstream, which I do all the time as a solo paddler with no shuttle, there is no doubt that my fastest and most powerful method is switch paddling with a bent.

I average a little over 3 mph on my outrigger, which I've had up to 7.5 mph for a brief distance. That was when I was 59, not in the best shape, and at an altitude of 8,563 feet. If I were 20 years old at sea level, I probably could drive the outrigger over 10 mph for longer sprint distances.

Don’t take the meaning too far

– Last Updated: Jun-15-14 11:34 PM EST –

At no time have I said it's not more efficient to use sit-and-switch. However, at the speeds most people would call "fast enough", I believe that the efficiency loss from correction strokes can be very small indeed, and if the stroke is done properly, drag of the paddle blade need not be anything to worry about. On the other hand, I really don't think sit-and-switch is a viable technique on boats that yaw substantially as a result of just one non-corrected forward stroke (let alone doing five or six of those strokes per side). On such boats, I think one has to accept that there's a practical upper limit on cruising speed which is slower than what the sit-and-switchers attain pretty easily in their harder-tracking boats. To take that a step further, when paddling such a boat, there's more value in developing a really efficient correction stroke than resorting to a very zig-zag sit-and-switch.

As to your comments on stroke rate, I agree with one comment and disagree with the other, as the two are a bit contradictory. One statement was that the stroke rate when sit-and-switching is faster, and with that I agree. I also believe it's a significant factor in attaining a faster speed. Your statement that the delay in correcting can't be a factor in the faster speed of sit-and-switch because the switch itself causes a delay is taking that idea too far, since it's a delay that only happens about every 5th or 6th stroke, not on every stroke, and that too should make a real difference at the kinds of speeds sit-and-switchers and racers attain. Simply shortening the correction phase of a J-stroke increases speed a noticeable amount too, so it makes sense that completely eliminating that bit of delay from most strokes would accomplish even more. Also, the effort expended on correction, even if done in a way that causes minimal drag (or even no drag, if in fact that's possible) is energy that you could have applied toward making the boat go forward, and though that may not make much difference at speeds requiring little effort, it's going to be a big deal at high speeds, since the paddling effort it takes to go faster rises exponentially with each incremental increase in speed. So, there's no need to go overboard trying to counteract things I'm not trying to say. I get it.

I'll stand by what I said about paddle drag and the average J-stroking solo paddler though. Most people just drag the blade like a rudder at the end of every stroke, and that's the practice that can be avoided if you set your mind to learning how. I can only think of two paddlers that I know who routinely paddle without doing that rudder thing, one of whom is a frequent poster here, and the other is someone I met recently on a group trip. I'm sure I know a couple others who can J-stroke without ruddering, but just choose not to when at a leisurely pace. In any case, it's certainly not hard to see that most people drag their paddles.

I agree with Cliff Jacobson.
For me, the thumbs down J stroke is easier with the bent shaft.

I rarely use the thumbs up J stroke.

Full disclosure - I rarely use a straight shaft because the blades are usually larger than the Zaveral bent shaft paddles and I prefer smaller blades. I do he the straight shaft when I want more control over the solo canoe for a while.

Same Here
With using not only single, but double, triple and quad bends.

The trick is to let the paddle drag you.

carving and switching
I have found that for boats that want to turn more easily than you would like using so-called North American touring technique the frequency of switches can usually be diminished by heeling the boat a bit and getting the hull to engage a carving, arcing turn of large radius. This might allow you to get in a half dozen strokes before your “inside circle” falls off to the opposite side. When it does, you heel the boat the opposite way, switch sides and carve an arc on the other side.

I have used this technique even in very short, very highly rockered whitewater canoes when cruising through long pools in order to even out the stress on my arms and shoulders and it can work quite well.