Steering with bent shaft paddle

I paddle mostly with straight shaft paddles right now–I do have a bent shaft, and it’s a really nice paddle, but I don’t use it much. Reason is, I can’t seem to steer as effectively? I am used to doing a J-stroke, pry, draw, sweep, etc.–and it just feels more awkward with the bent shaft paddle.

I have heard the bent-shafts are more “ergonomically” correct, providing better power, so I would like to become more proficient. Is there a trick to this, or do I just need to practice more?

If your paddling solo it can be a challenge. They work really well if tandem and you communicate with the other paddler and do ALL your corrective strokes be switching sides or paddling the same side etc. You dont really use it to rudder or pry as much although you can by doing it the same way. It will feel more awkward but there will me a little more power due to the blade being perpendicular to the water moreso than a straightblade.

I know a lot of solo paddles use bent shafts and they love it. They seem to keep the blade in the water withour taking it out. They turn the blade so it is at is narrowest when bringing it forward as if slicing a knife through the water.

This is difficult for me to describe by typing so sorry if im not helping.

If you paddling more fast or class 1+ you may want to use the straight shaft. The bent was designed for flatwater and speed with the least amount of wear and tear on the body.

Some say you can’t do those strokes properly with a bent shaft, but it’s just a matter of practice, practice, practice. I can’t tell you HOW it works, it just does. I have a couple bent shaft Zaveral’s that work very well, they’re also very light. Good luck. WW

Steering with a bent shaft
does take some getting used to. I paddle mostly by myself in my solo plus with a bent shaft. The j-stroke can be done effectively with a bent shaft and i’m just a beginner so If I can do it being as green as I am i’m sure with a little patience you’ll get the hang of it.

you can J with a bent shaft?
it must take a serious crank of the wrist to get the blade into the pry phase. does it cause your wrist any discomfort?

on a completely diff note… Canucklehead. hmmmm…

thought i was the only one who used that; you a Canadian in Georgia?

Hey Jbv
It is awkward at first but I read that a j can be done with a bent shaft and I was determined

to make it work .I don’t feel any discomfort

in my wrist at the pry part of the stroke. I think i will have a better idea when I have logged more hours on the water but for now it’s all right.

To answer your question I have been living in Georgia for almost 13 years now.


solo with a bent shaft
Depending on the canoe and weather conditions this can be a joy or a drag. In a canoe that has some tracking and a correctly positioned seat, there is little need to do a complete J-stroke. In my Wenonah Mocassin which was designed for kneeling and corrective strokes, I can stay on one side all day as long as my pace is relaxed. Pushing the speed button requires switching sides as too much speed is wiped off with the drag of even an easy J-stroke.

With a bent shaft the correction at the end of each stroke does not require the turning and pushing away of the J-stroke. At the end of the power phase of the stroke when the blade hand comes even with your hip, just point the thumb of your knob hand down towards the water and sweep the paddle outwards just a tick as you go into your recovery. The slight outward sweep of the blade gets it out from under the gunwale and gives enough sideways thrust to make the correction. Keep sighting ahead as you paddle and vary the amount of correction by adjusting the angle of the knob hand and the amount of sweep you put into the end of the stroke.

This is much easier demonstrated than explained in text.

With a thin-bladed bentshaft such as a Zaveral or Gillespie, you can point your knob hand thumb down at the water and turn the blade parallel to the canoe and make a clean underwater recovery. Not as elegant as a Northwoods style stroke with a long ottertail or willowblade paddle, but very effective and low effort.

Paddle one day with the Baldpaddler in solo boats and he will dispell any notion that the J-stroke is required at all. But bring a bailing sponge, switching sides hundreds of times an hour drips a bit of water into the boat.


on the boat I switch sides every 4 to 15 strokes. I did the General Clinton regatta in 2003. In the seventy mile race I only J stroked twice.Once a proboat yelled at me to J stroke (so I would not track into the line they wanted to take) The other time was coming into a pit and I was so fatigued I did not go to sides. Then My pretty and blessed pit crew gave me a cup of high test coffee and I was thinking clearly and did not J stroke again!

What boat are you using? Bent shafts
work best with sit-and-switch technique in a no-rocker, longish, narrow, boat that wants to go straight and has to be forced to turn. The assumption is that you’ll take a dozen or so strokes on one side and then switch to the other side when the boat has veered enough to require it. If you’re not using that kind of boat, then you might order a ZRE with quite a bit less bend in the shaft. I use a home-made 5 degree bent shaft in my highly rockered Mad River Synergy. By keeping my stroke well forward and knowing the “sweet spot” of the boat, I can take most strokes without any correction.

Thanks for all of the suggestions, people! I can understand a lot of the descriptions you are offering, and appreciate the efforts to put it into words…

As for the type of boat, I have a solo Mohawk Odyssey, and a Mad River Explorer tandem. I paddle solo and tandem, flat water, and white water (up to Class II).

I am actually thinking about a Zaveral paddle, which is why I brought this up. They are expensive, so I would only be purchasing one, and would like it to be as multi-purpose as possible. Maybe I should order one with a less than 12-degree angle…?

stick with the 12
I have used a Zav for the past 5 years in my solo canoes. It just takes a littlepractice and getting used to the bent shaft “J”. Try using more of a “C” stroke to initiate the corrective action early.

I also pry off the gunnels with my Zav. Not recommended, but haven’t broken the shaft ot the gunnels yet…

Hey Emily
Ironically, yesterday morning I did a “Review” on Zaveral paddles. Here’s the link. And BTW, that’s the FIRST “10” I’ve ever given! WW

bent shafts

Welcome to the world of bentshafts & solo paddling. It was about 20-25 years ago Ted Bell told me to go bent shaft. He said that anything you can do witha straight, you can do with a bent. I said that precise control needs a straight.

Now all these years later I paddle mainly solo, but some tandem…and all of it with a bent. Over 90% of all of our paddling is done in a relatively safe environment, so I paddle with a loose grip most of the time and will do whatever needs to be done to get the boat moved. That means if I am just lilly dipping on a lake, I’ll roll my pladdle over and will use the non-power face to finish my j-stroke. Though I have found the Canadian stroke is a much better stroke for me , and a bent does that stroke very easily. Low braces are much easier for me w/ a bent also.

As for kneeling or sitting: try both and find what works for you. Kneeling gives you a lower center of gravity, a more powerful stroke, and better flexibilty in your lower back. But don’t dispair of you have troubles kneeling. I can’t kneel, so I sit and still paddle II’s & III’s. So, find what works for you! Sorry to ramble…have fun. Oh, Ted Bell was right.

Just practice
It’s just a matter of getting used to it. No real tricks involved.

must be tricks

– Last Updated: Feb-02-05 6:06 PM EST –

Dave, Paddling class III whitewater with a bent-shaft paddle and sitting up on seat? There must be at least some tricks involved.


Looks like I missed something
Dang, I’ve got to learn to read those posts a bit closer. I paddle flatwater. I read right past Emily’s second post where she mentioned using it in whitewater.

I think it was DaveT that mentioned paddling II and III seated. The closest I’ve ever been to II and III is walking along the river.

low brace with bent shaft??
is easier? the blade would be angled sharply into the water providing little brace affect.

i remain sceptical- i wish i could paddle with some of you to see good style in action in action. whenever i see bents being used it is almost exclusively novices with poor technique or American fishermen in Quetico with rentals and no technique.

for versatility in all the strokes and style i prefer, i think i will always be a straight shafter. not to mention i have a lifetime to get the use out of my 7 current blades…

sitting in whitewater
I learned to paddle whitewater in an 18 1/2 for Whitewater Cruiser by Wabash Valley Canoes. It had tractor seats and footbraces. All my canoes have footbraces.

low brace
power face of a bent shaft flat on the water will have the shaft 15 degrees (or the amount of the bend)upward toward you. Really comfortable as a running brace in wave trains.

Bentshaft and Hand Position
This will most likely make no sense unless you see in person but I’ll give it a try with words. I’ve been using this “hand position” for about 5 yrs now and it works for me, in flatwater as well as WW, although I’m still working on this. Take it for what you will.

Ok, grip the paddle on the shaft where you normally do, then on the grip at the top you want to grip it with the back of your hand looking you in the face with your thumb pointed down. This will feel unnatural at first but with practice it will become a natural feel. As you finish your paddle stroke your grip hand, the one with the back of your hand facing you, will roll over the top of the grip to help finish the stroke.

I’ve been using this method for a while now and have switched from using a straight blade in WW to a bentshaft excusivily(sp?) and have had a lot of luck with it enough so that I have no fondness for a straight blade again.

Good luck and I hope this makes some sense.