Adapting to bent shaft paddle

Feb 29, 2012
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Schenectady, NY
Into my 40s, I was still a fool who thought pushing through pain and adversity, and taking the craziest, bumpiest, twistiest, most challenging road possible, was a mark of honor and valor and the only way to live. Among loads of other stupidities, I developed severe elbow tendonitis and ulnar nerve damage, which disrupted most everything in my life.

The point is that light, bent shaft, smallish-blade paddles, seem to be, for me anyway, much less stressful on my joints, nerves and tendons, especially on a long day on flat water. Something to think about, especially as one gets older. (I can still act foolish from time to time but I am much less crazy nowadays. I think.)

I specifically avoid any carbon fiber shafted paddles for just that reason. The stiffer shafts (sorry) tend to exacerbate any tendonitis tendencies (seriously).
I have found that the more flexible wooden shafts are much better for my joints. And to those that will complain about the lost energy to shaft flex, just remember that as your effort reduces at the end of the stroke, the paddle shaft deflection also reduces to zero. So that "lost" energy isn't lost at all, only slightly purloined.
Nov 23, 2012
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Western Adirondacks
I think it is much about technique and ergonomics. When I started training and racing in a voyageur canoe, three on my team suffered from occasional wrist tendonitis that was quite painful and would persist for days after a long hard workout. Then I started watching my arms and wrists during the stroke. I noticed that I was putting a bend in my wrist as I gripped the shaft during strong strokes. Experimenting, (using a stiff carbon racing paddle) I soon found that if I kept my wrist aligned straight with my forearm I did not develop the tendonitis pain. In thousands of miles of racing since then, I have not suffered any of the wrist pain problem again. My paddling partners noticed the same thing. I am not a kayaker, but I suspect there is a similar or worse effect when using an offset blade kayak paddle. Maybe it is even harder to control the wrist torque problem.

I do enjoy my thin blade wood straight paddles for recreational paddling. Flexible, yes, and I can feel it flexing during certain strokes, but I am not convinced there is an overall positive effect to paddle flexibility. Like when you climb a hill and descend down the other side, physics says you do not gain back 100% of the energy on the way down that you put in on the way up. A friend tells of the time he showed his expensive wood paddle to a stranger, who promptly held it angled with blade on the ground, testing the "fexibility" almost to the point of breaking. I would have shot him.
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Aug 22, 2020
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Tallahassee, Fl
I do enjoy my thin blade wood straight paddles for recreational paddling. Flexible, yes, and I can feel it flexing during certain strokes, but I am not convinced there is an overall positive effect to paddle flexibility. Like when you climb a hill and descend down the other side, physics says you do not gain back 100% of the energy on the way down that you put in on the way up.

I figure there will always be some loss. You just don't get it all back on the way down, but maybe the positive effect is something entirely different than efficiency. I always thought the advantage of having some flex was as much or more about less stress on joints and connective tissue and probably came at the cost of at least a little efficiency.

I also have to wonder about how much the differences come into play at different levels of effort. As an older paddler I now take it pretty easy most of the time. I am not sure I pull hard enough that how the paddle flexes matters nearly as much as it did a few decades ago. Paddle weight and blade angle may matter more. Or not?

I am back to paddling after a couple decades off and coming from a whitewater background am new to this kind of boating, so my assumptions may be wrong. That said I want to enjoy paddling and would like to make my worn out shoulders last as long as possible without joint replacement. I figure a shortish bent shaft is the way to go, but am less sure whether to go as light as possible (carbon fiber) or to put a priority on more flexibility (wood).
Sep 2, 2011
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Raymond, ME
My partner (bow) and I (stern) are recreational flatwater paddlers. With a loaded canoe we often travel 25-30 km per day. Our longest day unloaded was 49 km in 8 hours of paddling. We're not in a hurry. I have a fairly narrow beaver tail blade and she has a smaller otter tail.

One thing that sets us apart is that we always paddle in sync, at about 45-49 strokes per minute, and I do my correction stroke at that pace (at least in calm water). I do a modified flick J beside me, not behind me, and then I recover a bit quicker than her. As headwinds pickup or when we have lots of boat wake, which is typical where we often paddle, I might drop a few strokes here and there as I need deeper corrections.

We do not want to adopt sit and switch, though we do switch every few minutes or so just to keep our muscles fresh, but generally not for corrections.

if we had bent shaft paddles, would I be able to do my corrections in pace with my partner as I do now?

Would we be able to keep the same paddle pace or are bent shaft blades a bit bigger?

Here's a video of me in the stern doing my J

BS are a little wider. You can do a standard correction stroke with them.. Not a river J ( goon stroke) as the brakes will be applied harshly but a standard J or CDN yes, The bow paddler sets the pace and it is up to you to suggest that she go faster or slower. It is a two way discussion.

Sitting the blade in a bent is at an optimal angle to engage the water at catch and the chances of pulling up water at the end of the stroke are minimized.

As far as the bigger paddles affecting cadence they may but the bigger surface area applies more power per stroke, You can look for a narrower BS paddle say around 7.5 inches

Sync. yes
Nov 22, 2016
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Relocated to Peterborough Ontario, Canada
Following on Yellow canoes comments...

I have a number of bent shafts and use them almost exclusively on Voyageur canoes and for Voyageur racing. In that configuration they are brilliant; I highly recommend them.

For recreational paddling and tripping- no way! Cherry Ottertails and Beavertails everytime!
I have tried- Oh, I have tried!- to use a bent shaft in solo and tandems but they are not as efficient to my paddling style.
Solo, I paddle traditionally, canoe leaned and paddle sliding silently through the water. While the large blade gives propulsion. the bent shaft causes excess turbulence as you try to slip it through water. J or Canadian stroke are not efficient. And if you paddle traditionally, sit and switch isn't an option.

Different tools for different applications.
Sorry, but that's my 2 cents!


Glenn MacGrady

Staff member
Oct 24, 2012
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ZRE offers a flex shaft option, which is more flexible than the standard stiff racing shaft and akin to wood flex.

I returned my first ZRE bent shaft because it was too inflexible and too long. Both my ZRE's have flex shafts because it's easier on my joints, I'm not a racer, I don't care about speed, and I prefer the softer feel of a slight shaft flex.

At 5-9, my paddle kit for more than ten years has been a flex shaft ZRE 48.5", 12 degree bent with an 8.75' Power Surge light outrigger blade, which I use 90+% of the time on flat water, and a flex shaft ZRE 57.0", 0 degree straight with an 8.75" Z Whitewater symmetrical blade and symmetrical grip, which I use on whitewater, twisty rivers, and in stiff quartering winds when I need big sweep strokes, and which I can palm roll. (I got one of ZRE's last symmetrical grips.)

I paddle 90+% of the time with all paddles from my knees with a correction stroke, and have never had a problem doing so with any bent paddle of any degree of angle -- other than that I paddled from age 8 to age 40, including class 4 whitewater with river goon strokes, before I learned how to execute proper J, C, pitch, Canadian, and palm-rolled correction strokes.

When I was in my mid-60's I learned from freestyle classes how to improve my post turns, side slips and wedges (bow jam pries). I can do all freestyle maneuvers with a bent shaft, but some not as effectively.
Aug 29, 2020
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For my purposes, it is hard to beat the Bending Branches Black Pearl. Nice handle, sugar-island-ish blade shape (not racing shape), and the current version 2 is 11 degrees bend.

Wood is satisfying to the eye and to the touch. Maybe the flex of a wood shaft would offset the weight gain. My tendonitis troubles early on might have been mitigated by better technique (not only in paddling), but I have never been good at taking lessons from anyone. Have to learn everything the hard way. A leadership coach once told me I was uncoachable. I did not disagree with her.