What is the advantage

of a beaver tail paddle vs. a square edge paddle? A bent paddle vs. a straight paddle?

You want a bent shaft beavertail.
68". Definitely.

i’ll take a stab
Shaft: straight vs. bent

A straight shaft is good for making a lot of steering and corrective moves like J strokes, C strokes, etc. They do tend to lift water at the end of the stroke. Bent shafts are not so good at steering and corrective strokes but they enter the water further forward than a straight shaft and they exit almost vertical, avoiding the water lifting exit problem. Bent shafts are good for go-straight-go-fast paddling like racing or long straight hauls across really big lakes. They are typically used in the sit-and-switch style. Straight shafts are good for people who like to use their strokes to maneuver the canoe.

Blade shape:

Wide blades grab more water on each stroke. Longer blades like beavertail (otter tail) require less effort to move through the water and allow for an efficient rhythm.

It’s all about the style of paddling you want to do. If you see yourself doing short strokes and switching sides often then a bent shaft squared blade will work. If you see yourself sticking longer on one side and doing sweeps, J-strokes, and the like, then a straight shaft beavertail would be a better fit.

And then there’s shaft shape, grip shape, wood vs. carbon, etc etc.

That’s good. Another issue is that
learning the broad range of canoe paddle skills is not easily done with a bent shaft paddle. Once you have the skills, it is easier to get everything out of a bent shaft that it can deliver, besides straight line speed.

Another point, somewhat controversial
Some bent shaft aficianados will use them for any kind of hull, and in any kind of position. But they work best for sharp-ended, fast canoes that have a strong tendency to coast in a straight line. Bent shafts were developed by sitting paddlers (marathon competitors) for the sitting position. They are not as effective for kneeling, and my own experience suggests the bent shaft angle should be much lower, 5 degrees or so, than is preferred for sitting (10 to 15 degrees).

I use long paddles in a kneeling position, at a relatively low cadence when cruising. My one beavertail paddle feels really nice, but is no more effective in any way than my 20", square-end, curved blade slalom paddles.

Beavertail vs Square-edged
It was mentioned that a wider blade “grabs more water” but that is only true in shallow water where a long-bladed paddle can’t be inserted to its full depth. If you compare paddles in deep enough water that the blade of either type can be fully submerged, a beavertail paddle will grab water just as well as a wide, short blade. I’ve found that a beavertail feels like it grabs the water even better than a wide, short blade, but that is probably due to the longer blade causing a substantial portion of the “water grabbing” to occur farther from your point of grip, essentially making you work against a longer lever arm. I believe that is why racing paddle blades are so much shorter (but also wider to maintain the needed surface area) - to keep the length of the lever beyond your grip hand short, so that less effort is needed for a given amount of propulsive force.

Beaver vs. square
The one unalterable truth I have learned from PNet is that NOTHING in canoeing is definite.

Generally, the beavertail/ottertail allows the paddler to get greater mechanical advantage (leverage) on each stroke. Look at the distance of the tip of the blade from the throat hand (fulcrum) on the beaver/otter versus the square edge. This added length gives advantage in the power portion of the stroke as well as the corrrection. The challenge, obviously, is that the beaver/otter requires deep enough water for the blade to be fully submerged.

With a beaver/ottertail you should be able to comfortably paddle all day, very efficiently - but no great speed

The square blade can have the same surface area as a beavertail, but it doesn’t have the mechanical advantage. In shallow water it’s much more effective than the beaver/ottertail becsuse the blade surface is fully submerged. Because of its width, the square edged blade can be more challenging for finess type correcting strokes and recoveries.

The overall shortness of the square edged paddle makes it easier to recover and can allow higher stroke cadence - thus you should be able to go faster.

Basic Lever Principle
It’s true that a short blade allows a quicker cadence. It’s also true that having a longer reach with a longer blade allows more effective correction strokes, and that is because the blade is getting a grip on water farther from the boat, but “more power” is not really available (assuming that by “power” you mean propulsive force, even though that’s really not the right term). With that longer reach, you pay the price in having to exert more force with your arms (yes you use your body to, but your arms make the connection between your body and paddle shaft, and they are the weakest link so they are what counts here). The longer the working part of the blade is in proportion to the distance between your two hands, the harder you have to work your muscles to get exert the same amount of force at the point of contact between the blade and the water. You can demonstrate this for yourself by picking up a load with a long-handle shovel (or heck, use your canoe paddles!) with your hands placed at various positions. The wider the spacing between your hands, and the closer your lower hand is to the load (whether that load is weight on the blade of a shovel or force exerted by a paddle blade against the water), the more force you can exert.

One other factor that has not come up yet is the surface area of the paddle. If the surface area of the blade is equal between the square and the beavertail what everyone else has said is true.

I presently have two types of paddles, both basically square and the same blade length, but one is a third wider than the other. Using the narrow blade makes me feel like I’m paddling with a dowel rod. My wife on the other hand likes it since she tires moving that much water.

In the mid 70’s, when I raced flatwater, our team had a pair of Old Town paddles whose style was called Banjo [pronounced bonjo]. They were wood, and were shaped similar to the musical instrument spelled the same way. Due to its large surface area, when paddling solo with it had to be careful at the start not to pull too hard or I would pull myself out of the canoe.

Ask anyone who’s tried their hand at freestyling and the beavertail wins hands down.

Don’t really know why, but I think the oval bottom makes for smoother transitions while the square paddle tends to grab too much …

Diamond Blade

– Last Updated: Jun-21-07 6:56 PM EST –

I have found that the beaver tail is less likely to catch an edge than a square paddle, although that is admittedly a technique issue. Nevertheless, i find it to be a quieter, smoother paddle than my square blade.

But nothing is quieter than the diamond-shaped blade on my favorite paddle. It was commonly used by native-american hunters to sneak up on prey. very quiet, and IMHO a beautiful paddle:


The beavertail and its close relative the ottertail are also ideal for in-water recoveries. I love these style paddles for solo use unless I am racing for all the reason previoulsy mentioned.

My guess is that square edged paddles were developed as better adhesives made laminated paddles possible. I would guess that a square edge single piece paddle would be prone to splitting and maybe warping.


– Last Updated: Jun-22-07 7:50 AM EST –

Did you mean to contrast a beaver tail or a rounded tip w/ a straight tipped paddle?

Concept from John Winters: Paddles are most effective when the blade is within 10dg of square to whatever stroke is being applied.

Straight paddles work best when kneeling. We can reach farther forward, and the blade squares up from ~16 inches forward of the knee to the knee. After that, we should take the blade out of the water and hit another stroke. We select longish straights because our stance in the boat allows cross strokes and wse need a longer paddle to reach the water past the offside rail.

For course correction, we can let the blade drift aft for a thumbs up pry or the preferred thumbs down J, but with enough practice in a well fitting boat we can learn to go in a straight line or even turn onside in an inside circle with an uncorrected forward stroke.

When we sit with legs outstretched on a medium height seat, forward reach is limited. We're pivoting from our Ishial Spines, [fanny], not our knees. It becomes difficult to keep the blade square to the stroke at all. Bending the blade 12-14 dg allows it to square up from our knees to mid thigh; a range of motion we can easily reach sitting. Shorter strokes match to higher cadense and we adjust paddle bend to make it all work. Shaft length shortens; we're closer to the water, it's hard to reach across the offside rail and the dysfunctional blade angle obviates cross strokes anyway.

Bent correction can be effected with a J, but it's easier to switch sides every 5- 10 strokes.

Tips, paddlewidth and flex: Olympic sprint canoeists use square tipped paddleblades. Their fannies stick out one side of their boats, both hands and one shoulder across the other raiul. The paddleshaft is straight vertical, and they are paddling in deep water for a hundredth of a second margin over a thousand yards.

Everyone else needs rounded tips cause every catch isn't perfect and we often scrape bottom. Note mostly cheaper padddles have square tipped blades. Cool; they'll wear rounded; sand and seal when they get symmetrical.

Width: Voyageurs made their own paddles. They cut down a tree; started with an axe and finished with a crooked knife. Limits of materials and workability dictated 5-6 in widths. Wider required lots more work, and often warped and cracked.

Then came waterproof glue and, later, composites. Every racer I know, Olympic Sprint or Whitewater or Marathon uses a blade between 8 and 9 inches wide. Every serious FreeStyler I know uses a blade between 8 and 9 inches wide.
Those usually have Quimby, Dog Paddle or Moore on the shaft.

With width set, we adjust blade length to cadense and use. FreeStylers and whitewater paddlers, both of whom play where one stroke makes a difference, use 22-24 inch long blades, just like Olympic sprinters. For all three groups, it's usually over in a few minutes.

Marathon guys and gals use ~18 inch long blades because they run a higher cadense which they may need to mauntain for several hours. Experience has shown the most effective blade width to be ~ 8.5 inches. Narrower tends to run deep and scratch bottom, wider requires too much extension across the rail.

Those who use old timey beavertails/ ottertails/ whatever tails are in love with an era, not paddle effectiveness. That's OK too.

Flex: When was the last time anyone turned a 1X4 flat to lever a piano unto a dolly? Paddles are levers: They need to be as stiff as possible. If experiencing shock to the wrists, elbows or shoulders; start a weight lifting program or get a shorter blade. Flexible shafts compromise control, the thing that sets single blades folks apart from the double blade crowd.

Some thoughts on paddles
Traditional patterns are as useful today as they’ve ever been. Personally I find a very wide paddle too tiring for all-day use. I often use a modified beavertail and also carry a FreeStyle stick for play-along-the-way. There are times I enjoy a narrow ottertail. Sure, many paddlers who use traditional paddles are into the era – but I contend that what worked “way back when” also works today.

As regards the voyageurs and their narrow blades: Charlie’s explanation seems plausible since paddles were often made en route as needed. However do note that narrow blades are quite traditional for many people in the North – even when they had the time to season the paddles they made. Also note that the voyageurs were physically small men. By HBC policy large men were not hired to man the canoes – they weighed down the boats too much and took up too much space. Narrow blades also allowed for the fast cadence used by the “express” and cargo canoes of the fur trade era – and were easier on the small paddlers who plied the blades. For further information also see the epic historical book by Peter C. Newman: “Empire of the Bay”. It’s a 650+ page book that details the incredible 350 year history of the “Company of Adventurers”. Quite a read! - Randall

Different strokes
I agree with almost everything Mr. Wilson says, though the part about being in love with an era was an overgeneralization.

In any case, when he mentions what racers or freestyle paddlers use (in superlight boats with no cargo), you have to recognize that your needs may differ. I like a paddle with less blade area and a bit of flex in the blade when pushing a heavy tripping canoe into a stiff breeze. I also take a larger paddle for moving water.

I like to use the bicycle analogy - pushing a touring bike up a hill is easier with different gearing than racing on a track.

If I was in love with an era, my boats wouldn’t all be derived from petroleum, and my whitewater paddles wouldn’t be all black. I like to select things that work well for my intended use.