Why is my paddle bent?

Explaining the difference between a Straight Shaft and Bent Shaft Paddle.

By Dave Gillen

Purists insist that to truly enjoy the paddling experience you need a straight shaft paddle. But what is that weird looking bent paddle for and how does it really work?

Paddling a canoe involves more than just pulling your paddle through the water. There is a bit of physics that needs to be looked at to truly appreciate the bent shaft paddle.

The Paddle Stroke

The average paddler places the most force on the paddle during the last part of the stroke. This is because both the arms and the upper body are in the best position to allow the greatest force to be applied. This is the power portion of the paddle stroke.

Unfortunately, a straight shaft paddle is not at the best angle with respect to the canoe to efficiently transfer this energy into forward motion.

The Straight Shaft Paddle

Using a straight shaft paddle during the power portion of the stroke forces the canoe slightly down into the water. This happens because the paddle is not perpendicular with the canoe. The resistance of the water keeping the canoe afloat acts against force of the power stroke while the remaining energy moves the canoe forward.


The Bent Shaft Paddle

When using a bent shaft paddle the blade face is perpendicular to the canoe during the power portion of the stroke. Because of this, the force applied is efficiently directed to the forward motion of the canoe. This results in less effort to move the canoe in a forward direction.



So Which Type of Paddle is Best?

Although the bent shaft paddle is more efficient than a straight shaft in propelling a canoe forward there are some things that should be noted. 

Bent shaft paddles were born from racing canoes. They deliver the most forward force for the energy expended. Their one disadvantage is the lack of canoe maneuverability in fast water. They work well when your main goal is to go forward but when maneuverability counts the straight blade paddle is better suited to the task. 

This is because a straight blade paddle reacts the same way regardless of which way you use it. If you are doing a draw and suddenly need to pry, the straight blade paddle acts the same in both directions. Do the same with a bent shaft paddle, and it becomes a different animal depending on the orientation of the paddle face. Because of the bend, it will not react the same way in both directions and could mean the difference between running up a rock or hitting that perfect eddy. 

When paddling lakes I always use my bent shaft. (It's a 12-degree bend for those that want to know.) It allows me to shorten the length of my paddle stroke and reduce the physical stress of paddling for long distances. 

When river running I trust my straight shaft paddle to get me through. It lets me maneuver through the currents in a way that a bent shaft would never allow. 

Try both in differing situations. You'll be the final judge on this debate but whether bent shaft or straight is your favorite I'm sure you will learn to love both for their different properties if you give them a chance.

Dave Gillen has been a canoeist and camper for over 20 years.  He has paddled the Temagami area, Algonquin, the Missinaibi and many Southern Ontario Rivers.  He was the webmaster of the Canadian Outdoor Page.  This article was originally a featured link on HowStuffWorks.com