As you may remember from the summer of 2010, I wrote a couple of articles entitled “My favorite questions as an outfitter.” And while the above question may have been in contention for inclusion in that list, it might be a good inquiry. My first reaction was to think this guy was some kind of gear geek, and had been reading too many canoe forum paddle posts. But in reality it is a question that should be answered.
Let’s start with the basic, bent-shaft canoe paddles vs. straight-shaft canoe paddles.
In the early 1980’s canoe racers discovered that they could increase their stroke efficiency by bending the shaft of the paddle between 12 and 14 degrees. The bend changes the mechanics, and creates a stroke where the blade of the paddle stays virtually upright through the arc. The transfer of power from the paddle to the water is almost entirely horizontal.
Through the arc of a straight shaft paddle motion you have three transfers of power. As the paddle enters the water much of the effort is pushing down on the water. In the middle of the stroke you are pulling horizontally. And at the end of the stroke you are lifting up on the water. Mimic the motion sitting on a chair and you can visualize the arc and see the transfer of power.
Therefore, when somebody asks about the degree of bend in a paddle they are really asking, “is this the most efficient paddle you have?”
How do I measure for a bent-shaft paddle?
All other variables being equal, the bent-shaft will be about four inches shorter than the straight shaft paddle. The quick and dirty method is to sit on a bench, turn the paddle upside down, and shoot to get your nose right to the bend in the paddle. Other factors like seat height will affect the length, but this is the best place to start.
Which paddle is right for me?
Bent-shaft paddles work well for a canoe team that is going to paddle with the hit and switch method. Which is taking four to six strokes on one side of the boat and then switching to take four to six strokes on the other side of the boat.
If you are a j-stroker, like myself you may prefer the straight shaft paddle. I have found the twist of the j-stroke with a bent-shaft paddle to be a bit too cumbersome. Yeah, yeah, I know. All you bent-shaft converts have no problem with the j-stroke, I am just stating this old guy likes to j-stroke with the straight-shaft paddle.
What if I was to suggest this? How about a 12 degree bend for the bowman and a seven-degree bend for the sternman?
In the end it is a personal choice. And who really cares how you propel your boat, just get out on the water!
Photo and Article By: Brad Putney. “Captain” Brad Putney considers himself an inland waters guru after spending 40 years on the lakes of Minnesota. The Captain likes to say he has been at the helm of everything from a ten-foot inflatable to an America’s Cup yacht. Mr. Putney can be found at the Duluth Pack Store, helpfully dispensing free advice. He has degrees from Gustavus Adolphus College and the University of Minnesota. Please contact at: email@example.com.