The Wildfire and the bent shaft

I’ve just purchased my first bent shaft paddle, a ZRE rec with 12 degree bend, to go with my new Wildfire (actually it says Yellowstone Solo, but it’s Wildfire to me). I’ve noticed that some folks tend to say that it shouldn’t be paddled empty with a bent shaft. The Bell owner’s manual even says that kneeling boats are best paddled with a straight shaft. Are these just preferences, or age old wisdom. In all my years of paddling I haven’t used a bent shaft paddle yet, but I can’t imagine what difference kneeling would make. I suppose you would need to pry a bit more on a j-stroke. It would be interesting to hear other people’s opinion/experience on this.


Not a bentshaft expert, but I use a 5
degree homemade bentshaft when cruising the flats in my 15’ high-rockered ww boat. I could certainly use it in my MR Guide, which is similar to, but slower than, your Yellowstone.

I think the point about 10, 12, and 14 degree bent shaft paddles is that you DON’T use a j-stroke or other correction, but rely on a low rocker, sharp-ended, long, very-inlined-to-track-straight boat to go in the intended direction. When the boat has veered to a certain extent, you quickly switch sides and paddle on the other side for 10 to 12 strokes. Kneeling is not inconsistent, but a legs-out sitting position is somewhat more favorable to the high-rate, short stroke style of sit-and-switch with a bent shaft.

mmmm wildfire…
I paddle a mohawk 14’ Odessey. I started with a straight shaft, but switched to a Camp bent when the tendonutis flared up. I still paddle with both (and a double) but I like the bent best. It should not be a problem.

I have a Vagabond. I paddle with both straight and bent shaft paddles. Obvoiusly for rivers the straight is the way to go for the controll aspect. On flat water I use a bent shaft a good deal of the time-especially when I have a bunch of ground to cover. They are simply more efficient for striaght line paddling. However many people like straight shaft paddles in solo canoes because you are the propulsion(sp) and the steering. That is easier with the straight shaft. On various occasions I will use my 52inch bent, 54 straight(rivers/creeks), 56 straight(fast or flat water), or a 60 inch beavertail(flat water).

I have a Royalex Wildfire (now marketed as the Yellowstone Solo) that I’ve paddled with bent shafts, but I prefer straights. I have a few bents lying around, but I think of them as lake cruising paddles. I rarely even mess around with ‘em for that anymore. Bents are just not much fun to dance with… (for me anyway).

As to that sit or kneel thing in regards to a bent shaft: Many canoe racers and long distance paddlers seem to use bents while sitting with their feet braced – a better position for doing a “Hit and Switch” (alternating strokes from side to side) than kneeling.

It really comes down to personal preference as far as I’m concerned. I’ve read of people (on this board) who use bents and even double-bladed paddles in Wildfires and seem to enjoy themselves. I don’t get it, but hey, whatta I know… ;^)

kneeling with a bent shaft paddle
In my solo canoe, a Wenonah Mocassin, my normal paddle is a bent shaft. And I have paddled hundreds of miles on my knees in this boat, even the 90 Mile Adirodack Classic in 1997.

For speed the best technique, even kneeling, is switching sides. For easy touring i will stay on my left side for miles and just make a small correction at the end of the paddle stroke. Not a big J, but just a small twist of the blade at the end of the stroke. Just point your the thumb of your knob hand down towards the water as you finish the stroke. Your Yellowstone/Wildfire is similiar enough that this technique will work. You will learn to adjust the amount of correctioni to suit your load, trim, wind, etc.

With the thin blade of the Zaverel, you can make an underwater recovery and develop an unorthodox Northwoods stroke.

On my first NJ Pine Barrens trip,I was told by the trip leader that i needed a long straight shafted paddle to perform the intricate strokes needed to maneuver the tight bends of the stream we were paddling. I did not have a straight paddle and did the whole trip with the Zaverel Carbon Rec. We have paddled together many times now, and he no longer makes the straight shaft comment.

Lots of old beliefs keep being passed on by those who have never used the implements they disdain. Cliff Jacobsen was strongly against the frail, expensive, carbon fiber paddlein all his writings, till Zaverel sent him one. Now he extolls the virtues of the lightweight paddle.

The ACA may never embrace the bent shaft because of their heavy whitewater background. And lots of basic canoe instruction is done by ACA certified instructors. So thousands of people are told that ‘the bent shaft paddle is

a special use implement for expert paddlers, paddling racing canoes on calm water.’ And that is from a test i took at an ACA Flatwater Canoeing Instructors Course, where incidentally my partner and i were the first two people to paddle and pass the course using bent shaft paddles, which we were strongly encouraged by the instructor to leave home.


I switched to a bent shaft many moons
ago, and have never gone back to a straight shaft.

you can do a “J” with a bent shaft if you so desire.

I think you will love your new ZRE.



Bent shafts with short boats
No argument, bent shafts were developed for racing. Most racing is done by hit & switch paddling. The problem with this type of paddling with short maneuverable boats is you can’t get very many hits before you need to switch, and it seems that you spend more time switching than hitting. So I think the hit & switch method is better suited for longer straighter tracking boats. However, there is great efficiency to be had by a bent shaft paddle, regardless of paddling method. So even if you don’t switch sides, you can do a J-stoke and still reap the benefits of a lightweight efficient paddle.

I will brake out the bent shaft ZRE when I need to put some miles behind me, need to catch someone, or I know I will be paddling all day. Another thing is for sure, when you paddle with a 12oz paddle for any amount of time when you switch back to your 20oz straight shaft wood paddle it feels like it is made of lead.


Paddle a Wildfire…
I paddle a Wildfire & alternate between a straight shaft, and a bent shaft. Usually use the bent shaft on long, slow, deep water sections of rivers.


People size, paddle size, boat size
There are so many variables when it comes to this canoe. A larger or average size person 180 to 220 lbs. in the wildfire makes a completly different setup than say someone that’s 5’+ and 100 to 145 lbs. I’m about 205 and 5’11" tall and I would never consider a bent shaft for this boat because of it’s rocker and ability to turn on a dime. It’s not a fast boat and no matter how hard you paddle it will only go so fast before it starts plowing water. But that said, a small person will find it to be a totally different conoe than what I see…and a composite Wildfire (different boat all together kind of like a small Merlin ) would actually make a good flatwater canoe with nice glide for a small person and would probably move out and track well with a bent shaft.

Love my Zaveral’s
Don’t own a Wildfire, but paddle primarily canoes solo on primarily twisty Ozark streams with a bent-shaft Zaveral. Also have done major rock-bashing here and on the Buffalo River with the flimsy looking little things. They are neither fragile nor difficult to use on moving water or flat. Only thing I can’t do with the bent is an underwater recovery, anything else works just fine. ww

Use Both Straight & Bent …
in my Wildfire- Indian/Canadian stroke with a straight 57"Mitchell Surreal mostly, but on bigger water, windy conditions or when I need to make time I switch to a bentshaft 50" Mitchell Leader & switch sides every 3-5 strokes. I find either technique has its time and place for my mix of rivers and lakes.


Wildfire and Bent Shaft

– Last Updated: Nov-16-04 12:19 PM EST –

When I bought my Royalex Wildfire a couple of years ago, the seller tossed in a fairly nice bent shaft wooden paddle. I didn't care at the time, but I have since found it to be a very efficient way to power my Wildfire (which I have since upgraded to kevlar composite). I mainly use it going straight on big water, when I am in a sit and switch frame of mind. I generally get 3 (sometimes 4) strokes per side.

There are some things I don't particularly love about this 'freebie' bent shaft paddle, namely it's weight and thick shaft. So, I am thinking of upgrading to a nice ZRE paddle.

Do most people who do this kind of paddling opt for the standard 8.25 width, or wider (9 inches or so). Just curious, thanks.