Bent vs straight paddle: can't make up my mind

I’ve never used a bent shaft paddle before. In the two articles I’ve linked, their merits are discussed. The first one leans toward the bent shaft. The second one has opinions from both sides that seem well-reasoned. I’m not knowledgeable enough to tease out the arguments. In the end, does it just come down to “six of one, half a dozen of the other”?

Link 1:

Link 2:

I’d suggest that you start with a straight. The more nuanced strokes all work best with a straight paddle, and the nature and details of many of your questions suggests to me that you’d do well to work on such nuances. Later, when you have better skills, you can make up your mind which you prefer, and, importantly, under what conditions.

As much as I respect Cliff Jacobson, his do-it-this-way mentality often comes through in the absence of details, and also often overlooks the fact that not everyone thinks in the same way and won’t necessarily agree with what to him is “irrefutable evidence”. For example, the very first thing he says is that four days of C-stroking wrecked the nerves in one hand because he couldn’t tolerate twisting his wrist all that time. Well, first, plenty of people have no trouble with the wrist motion (maybe when I’m older than dirt like C.J. is, I’ll think differently), but more to the point, he never did get around to explaining why the bent-shaft solved that problem (in fact, his solution to the problem had nothing to do with what kind of paddle he used). When you try C- or J-stroking with both paddle types, I think you’ll see that the wrist action for both is virtually the same (only the angle of the shaft itself, relative to the boat, due to gunwale-clearance issues, ends up being different during correction, NOT the degrees of rotation of the shaft, and thus, NOT the amount that you twist your wrist. In short, it takes the same amount of twist to rotate the orientation of the blade of bent-shaft paddle 90 degrees as it does with a straight shaft!). Second, I don’t see his explanation for the bent-shaft running closer to the keel line making any sense except in very special circumstances (that’s why I mentioned the differences in shaft angle relative to the boat for the two paddle types during correction, above, but I’d rather not try to explain that all the way right now).

All that is nothing against bent-shaft paddles, as they do have special advantages, especially for easy, straight cruising. One thing, and this was vaguely alluded to in one of those articles, is that a paddling motion that involves keeping the upper arm mostly straight and simply letting that arm drop downward while applying forward power, is very easy on your body, and the bent-shaft really shines with that method (it’s much more efficient in that situation). Sit-and-switchers will obviously find the bent-shaft better, but those who do correction strokes have a bigger learning curve and a bigger “awkward factor” to deal with when using a bent-shaft. Lots of people have, with practice, gotten really good at correction strokes with bent-shaft paddles, but learning those strokes with a straight-shaft is easier. And again, dabbling in the great variety of strokes that are possible, often just for the satisfaction of playing around with such things, works best with, and sometimes actually requires, a straight-shaft.

So the answer is that either type of paddle might be fine for you, but not because either is fine in every instance, but because one is better in certain ways and the other is better in certain other ways. Again, I think you’d do well to start with the basics (straight), then branch out.

I carry both.
Very generally speaking: Bent work best when seated. If you kneel a straight is more efficient.
I feel I have more control with a straight but that is probably more me than the paddle. What I do could be learned with a bent but at this point it’s what I am used too. The bent is kinder to old joints.

You’ll want a spare, may as well get one of each. And a pole, that’s next.

Straight shaft paddles are more effective for most pry strokes and some find them more effective for braces. Straight shaft paddles with symmetrical grips do not have a dedicated power face. This is important for those who like to palm roll the grip and switch power faces during an in water recovery.

Bent shaft paddles allow the paddle stroke excursion to be moved further back toward the paddler’s body while still maintaining a relatively efficient angle of the paddle blade to the water. This makes the forward stroke more comfortable, especially for seated paddlers. Bent shafts work fine for J strokes and draws IMO once you get used to them. Bent shafts tend to be the choice of paddlers who sit and switch. The angle of the shaft to the blade makes the paddle a little easier to swing across the gunwales without hitting them.

No reason to agonize over the decision. As pirateoverforty suggests, just get both. You might find the bent preferable for straight ahead cruising. The straight will work better if you have to do tight maneuvering with a lot of draws and pries.

I bring both. Bent shaft for straight ahead open water and flat water streams. Straight for narrow or windng streams and rapids. Solo I much prefer a straight paddle.
They both have their place.

I’ve been paddling a bent since the mid-80s & find that I can do most everything I need to do with one. I kneel more than I sit when paddling sole which I do much more than tandem these days, and, being a bit of a sloppy paddler, I’ll vary between j-stroking on one side to switching. I find that I can perform in-water returns with a bent if I’m in the mood. If I know if I’m heading for fast rocky water or whitewater, I’ll bring along my old Perception Horizonline WW paddle. Otherwise my spare is one of the old wood bents. I am giving some thought to looking for a good straight shaft to start messing around with some of the freestyle strokes.

Depends on what kind of canoeing you are going to do. To cover water with the least effort in the least amount of time use a bent shaft and hit and switch. This works best for open water, going upstream, being efficient for a long trip or racing. There is a reason racers use these and hit and switch. If you need a lot of control use a straight shaft. They work best for free style, white water and if you are limited to paddling on one side of a canoe.

Been using a bent shaft since the early 80’s. We make through a lot of black water creeks here in Florida with that require a lot of control to get around obstructions . We use white water strokes (draw, pry, etc) and hit and switch with our bent shafts a strange style that uses less energy to get us were we wish to be. Do not be caught up in this idea that yon need to have this precise stroke/style to go canoeing and have fun. My straight shaft sits in the closet gathering dust while the bents go places and cover miles.

Thanks for all of the advice. One (I hope) final question: should the length of a paddle err on being too long, or too short? I find that I’m between sizes.

@music321 said:
Thanks for all of the advice. One (I hope) final question: should the length of a paddle err on being too long, or too short? I find that I’m between sizes.
I actually asked you this question on your other post. I’m 5’10", kneel most of the time and use a 57" to 58" straight shaft paddle. Really, the only way to accurately size a paddle is to get in the boat and use it. For me, my grip hand during a forward stroke is about at my eyeballs. In that position, the throat of the paddle (where the shaft meets the blade) should be just submerged. Too short and the blade is not in the water and you are losing power. To long and the blade is too deeply submerged causing you extra work. I think many beginners start with a paddle that is too short (I know I did). As my stroke improved I ended up with a longer paddle. Sit and switch paddlers using bent shafts usually end up with shorter paddles because they are sitting lower in the boat, but the process is the same.

On the straight vs. bent shaft paddle question, I come down side of straight shaft paddles. I’m primarily a river paddler, so most of my boats are set up to kneel and paddle with a straight paddle. I do have one boat, a Wenonah Spirit II that is set up with bucket seats and foot braces. Bent shaft paddles work better in that boat.

I learned with a bent and had no problems learning corrective strokes. Its different, but not too much harder. I do mostly fitness paddling on lakes and large rivers. No whitewater or small creeks.
If you’re traveling a long distance or want maximum efficiency, go with a bent.
If you’re doing freestyle, small creeks, whitewater, or want to paddle Canadian style (rarely switch sides), a straight may be better.

Personally, I hate straight shafts, but thats just me. Dragon boat paddling with a straight shaft was painful (but very fun)

As they say on TV, “You can have it all!” When I go solo canoeing I usually carry four paddles: a modern wooden straight shaft, a traditional (long, skinny, indian-style), a bent shaft (either carbon or wooden), and a double for when the wind picks up (usually carbon).

It’s great to have a choice of paddles handy for varying water and wind conditions, but also just for variety’s sake.