Canoe Paddle Question(s)

MY wife and I purchased a OT Disco 158 used. It came with two caviness plastic paddles(60") that we both hate to use(seem heavy). A 54" Bending Branch Bent (has a 8" wide blade) and a Caviness straight-also 54" (only has a 6" wide blade)…

Anyways the questions are as follows:

  1. If we use the two wooden paddles would bow or stern use the bent? At this point the wife is on the bow using the bent and I am in the back with the straight. I am a stronger paddler so we go pretty straight this way…when we switched i was overpowering her and we werent going very straight.

  2. Should you have TWO bent paddles together? or does that matter?

  3. What about just using straight paddles? If we go this route would you suggest a little wider blade for her in the front?

  4. Been reading all kinds of suggestions on lenghts. Personally we both seem to like shorter paddles when compared to the longer plastic ones…plus the wife had a bad break in one shoulder and its not that comfortable to raise her arms up to high.

    Any suggestions would be appreciatted.

    INFO: One other note…the canoe has cane seats that are lowered from the gunwales 4". We will mostly be doing flatwater lakes and some Floating type streams that may have class I maybe II at the most…but mostly just floating downstream type things. We are not out for ultimate speed or anything. Just having fun.

Whatever works.
As for the bent/straight thing, people have individual preferences. Generally, it is more efficient to paddle in unison, and generally the bent paddle stroke will be a bit shorter (just a moment less time), so that is difficult. If you are in no hurry, though, this doesn’t matter.

Either paddle works fine bow or stern, but if you only have one, I would put it in the bow.

As for length, bent paddles are usually a few inches shorter.

More on length - use what you have, then try a few longer and shorter until you find what feels right. Wait a bit before buying new ones, as you will likely change your preferences a bit with time.

You may find that just as your car has gears, you have a couple of different paddles for different conditions. I like a narrow, traditional paddle for moving a loaded canoe (especially into the wind), but a wider, stiffer blade for whitewater and empty canoe cruising.

Straights are for sitting or hit and
switch and you need to be in the bow as the engine. Give the wife a break and let her take training to do the J stroke. Due to hydrophysics both ends of the canoe do not respond the same with equal force.

The J is a whole lot easier to do with a straight symmetrical grip paddle.

Take a lesson: its worth it.

Its not you vs wife…you are a team. Make the most of your team.

Couple of Points

– Last Updated: Jun-27-08 11:15 PM EST –

Lessons are a good thing - we found we benefited from instruction after we'd already been paddling for over a decade. A two-day session gave us skills we've since been using for twenty years; we would likely never have developed these on our own.

Re the type of paddle - that's absolutely a personal thing. We use ash otter tail paddles, straight shaft - find them great for our flatwater paddling. I prefer mine a little shorter than the recommended length; my wife likes hers a little longer.

Re positions in the canoe - like most folks, we started out with me astern, her in the bow. Some years ago, a dose of tennis elbow made J-stroking very painful for me, so we switched seats. We've never gone back - she holds a better course than I do, the power is better balanced, and I'm up front to handle the scrambley bits when launching and landing...

Re height of hands - good bow stroke mechanics should never see the hands come higher than the chin. At the stroke's end (no further back than the hip), rotate the top hand 90 degrees away from the side you are paddling on; this brings the blade out parallel to the water's surface - then push the lower hand forward, catch water, stroke, rotate top, push lower forward, and so on. The resulting stroke looks kinda like a D.

Finally, the bow power stroke - a canoeing clinic a few years ago taught me a different approach than the fairly long, strong strokes I had been using. The instructor suggested using a shorter, lighter stroke with a quicker cadence - works wonders for me - I can paddle all day without tiring, and it helps keep the power balanced and avoid too much course correction.

You're lucky to have a live-in paddling partner - no worries about finding a friend to paddle with, or clearing your yardarm with "the missus" when you want to hit the water. Been working for us for close to 30 years now, and I wouldn't have it any other way...

Whatever works – for you

– Last Updated: Jun-28-08 5:49 AM EST –

but indeed try to match the paddles to be able to paddle in good sync.
Generally this means using paddles that are about the same
but preferably the stronger paddler with a little bigger blade.
Bent or straight should not matter much, as a bent is 'only' more efficient,
although for people who do a very stationary version of the so called J-stroke,
the bent-shaft does not work well.
Learn to paddle with a pitch stroke before the J-stroke,
and a bent-shaft paddle will work as well, sitting or kneeling.

My two cents:
My wife and I paddle tandem and love it.

We have been doing it for years and we paddle in perfect sync.

We paddle for pleasure and we also race which is another form of pleasure for us.

Whatever paddle is most comfortable for you guys is the one to use, but before you start trying to figure out if you like a bent shaft over a straight, or vice versa, make sure your paddles are the CORRECT LENGTH. That is more important!

Someone above stated that “straights are for sitting or hit and switch”, which is wrong. I don’t believe there is a marathon racer around that doesn’t use a bent.

“Sit and switch” is with each of you paddling on opposite sides and in synch, (that is our preferred method). You as the stern paddler call a “hut” if the boat starts to turn or about after every eight strokes if it is maintaing a straight course, and you both simultaneously change sides.

You are probably a stronger paddler than she is, and it will probably start to turn after three or four strokes.

If there is a strong quartering wind, you might want to have her “hut” to the same side as you for short periods to off set the power of the wind.

On the front and back positions: for years and years, my wife was in the bow and I was in the stern, and we were happy paddlers. Then when we started racing, we were informed by the books that the power paddler should be in the bow, and since I was more powerful than her we switched places. That turned out terrible, and all we did was argue. We came close to giving up tandem paddling. After about a year of not enjoying paddling we went back to our old positions and for many years now have been happy paddlers and happy racers.

We used straights for the many years prior to racing, and then when we got into racing we switched to bents. If you want to go fast, (race) a bent is a must.

After getting used to a bent, we would never go back to a straight, and when we are just lilly dipping we now prefer the bents over the straights and can do every stroke and or correction with the bent equally as well as with the straight.

It is your job in the stern to keep in sync with her in the bow, since she can’t see you, but you can see her.

It is also your job in the stern to pick and maintain the course with minor corrections such as sweep strokes and J’s, (rudder strokes), or call for sweeps with both of you on the same side.

After you guys get proficient, get a book or talk with someone who has been paddling tandem for many moons and she as the bow paddler can learn how to make major corrections, such as “cross bow rudders”, “draws” and “Posts”, etc.

I know I have written a lot, but the main thing is for both of you to be HAPPY PADDLERS, and whatever paddle is the most comfortable is the one you should be using



Some general comments…

60 inches is very long for a straight paddle, 54 is on the long side for a bent (I’m 6’1" and a 52 is plenty long) and 54 is quite short for a straight so first I’d say give you wife a break and let her use the 54 straight!

If you are stronger you can always back off a bit, or switch sides to keep the boat going straight.

In general a straight shaft is good for learning basic strokes, and bents come later…mostly for effortless cruising, but they work fine for turning once you have some experience.

You can pick up a couple of very very nice straight shaft paddles that fit you for maybe $60 for a pair. Look st the Grey Owl Scout or Bending Branches Loon…both great paddles. If you are 6 feet tall then a 58 (or 57) inch straight should fit well…if you are 5’6" to 5’8" then one size down (54 inch) should fit. Does your wife like the fit of the 54 inch straight? Do you? If you are 6’4" to 6’6" or more then I’d guess that the 54 inch bent fits you well.

You can mix bent and straight…no issue. Your wife does not need a bigger blade in the front…small blades work fine if you know what to do with them…and they don’t wear you out as quickly. Boats turn with finesse, not strength. Boats go fast with high stroke cadence…not big blades.

Just my two cents.

I like bent-shaft paddles. My wife
and I will use them unless in rapids when we need to do eddy turns, etc. Your stroke is a lot more relaxed than when using a straight paddle. Also, using the sit-and-switch method is much more efficient than using corrective strokes since you always use your power stroke. I watch my wife and when she switches I switch. If the canoe needs corrections I switch sides to correct and then switch back again.

However, you do need to learn to paddle with a straight shaft if you want to paddle on fast moving water and rapids.

Its a personal preference.

No right or wrong…BUT there is a “better/worse more or less effiecient etc”

If your proficient and experienced both can use bent comfortably and effiecient…just look at canoe racers etc…both are using bent shaft on flatwater/class 1 etc

You dont reallly need a wide blade. Eight inches i think is standard, I wouldnt go less or wider for that matter. Get something that feel comfy for you.

Not too heavy, not too light, not too combersome etc. Start with that, then down the road experiment with lighter and/or different paddles

I use an 8 oz bent shaft carbon fiber. I am 6 feet 1 inches tall and my paddle is a 52 inch…have used 48 inch especially for speed and upstream paddling… the SHORTER the quicker and easier “return” of the paddle since there is LESS to swing forward. Too big and its more to swing and more to push throught the headwinds if you encounter them.

Up to you
However, On rivers in our DAGGER my wife uses a 50 inch with a short, wide blade and I use a 54 wide bladed paddle. We do this because oon the river we are steering the canoe more than propelling it. On flat water she uses a 50 bent shaft ( I want to get a 48 or 49 for her to try) and I use a 51.

I use longer paddles when i solo. Bent shaft is a 52 for flat water- sometimes I use a 60 inch beaver tail. On the river I will use a 56 inch. I am 5-7 and my wife is 5 foot even.

Really, use what is comfortable. Find a paddling club or go to a demo day to try various paddles so you do not have to sink a bunch of money in finding one you like.

My wife uses a BB bent at the bow and I use a BB straight in the stern. These are the paddles we prefer to use and the paddles both have similar blade shapes. We usually switch sides at a given command, er “suggestion” more so to go easy on my bad shoulder. Some days I need to switch after 10 strokes and other days no need to count strokes.