How to Properly Use a Bent-Shaft Canoe Paddle [Video]

Bent shaft canoe paddles have been around for a long time now, but many novice and recreational canoeists don’t know how their performance is different from a straight shaft paddle, or how to use one properly.

bent shaft canoe paddle laying across a canoe in calm water

(Photo courtesy of Jonathan Laxen)

First, let’s talk about the various scenarios you may be in and which type of paddle is best for each:

Bent Shaft or Straight Shaft Canoe Paddle?

Here are some questions to ask yourself when considering a choice between a bent shaft or straight shaft model:

Do You Need a lot of Technical Control?

If you often paddle technical water that requires a lot of control and responsiveness—whitewater, for example—you’ll likely need to use both sides of the paddle face. In that case, a straight shaft paddle is a better choice. It’ll serve you well in those tight corners and around obstructions.

Bent shaft paddles work best on flatwater and slow-moving rivers.

Are You New to Canoeing?

If you’re just starting out canoeing, or if you’ll be sharing your paddle with beginners or young canoeists, a straight shaft is a bit more versatile than a bent shaft. You won’t have to think about which way the blade should face.

Will You Take Long Touring and/or Wilderness Expeditions?

Expedition trips are what the bent shaft paddle is designed for. That slight degree of bend in the shaft provides more efficient paddling. You use less energy because there’s less drag in the water as you raise your paddle at the end of each stroke.

This makes long days on the water less fatiguing.

Many fans of bent shaft paddles like them because they find these models to be easier on their body, especially their shoulders.

The Best of Both Worlds is…Both!

Chances are that over the course of your canoeing adventures you’ll find yourself in situations where both types of paddles can be used. So, why not invest in both?

Have a straight shaft paddle available for whitewater and technical paddling. Have a bent shaft paddle ready to take on your next multi-day trip. Expedition and technical canoeists know it’s always wise to have an extra paddle along anyway.

How to Use a Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle

Now we’ll get to how to use a bent shaft paddle:

The Most Common Error

The most common error when using a bent shaft paddle is facing it the wrong direction. That essentially cancels out any benefits the paddle offers!

The front face of your paddle’s blade is the face that has our logo on it. With a bent shaft paddle, that front face needs to face forward, so the angle is away from you. It seems more intuitive to have it angle toward you, but that’s incorrect.

man using a bent shaft canoe paddle in the stern

The correct way to hold a bent shaft canoe paddle (photo courtesy of @silverydustin)

If your paddle is backwards (with the logo and angle toward you), you’ll be lifting water for most of your paddle stroke, especially towards the end of it. That’ll cause more fatigue, not less!

When your paddle is in the correct position—logo and angle facing the front—you’ll push the water back and lift the paddle effortlessly at the end of every stroke.

How to Size a Bend Shaft Canoe Paddle

A bent shaft paddle is typically four inches shorter than a straight shaft paddle for the same person. So if you normally use a 56-inch straight shaft, you’ll be most comfortable with a 52-inch bent shaft.

Learn more about both types of paddles and see our sizing chart here.

Bending Branches’ Bent Shaft Canoe Paddles

We make several bent shaft canoe paddle models:

BB Special, Cruiser Plus 11 and Java 11 are all-wood paddles ranging from $139.95 to $189.95 (2023 prices). Viper is an all-wood paddle with a double bent shaft—our most ergonomic option ($194.95)

Sunburst 11 is a wood/carbon combination for a very beautiful yet light paddle ($269.95). Black Pearl II is our top performance bent shaft canoe paddle. It’s 100% carbon from tip-to-tip ($279.95).

You can get more details on these bent shaft paddles here.

Do you have paddle questions our friendly Customer Service Team can help you with today? Contact them: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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