How To Hold and Row a Bent Shaft Canoe Paddle (Explained)

Bent shaft canoe paddles are a widely sought-after alternative by canoers navigating in slower-moving rivers. Their design features a 5-20 degree angle on the paddle that allows its user to extend their stroke and ease the strain put on their bodies. However, knowing how to properly hold and row with a bent canoe paddle is essential in being able to reap the benefits it offers.

Here’s how to hold and row with a bent canoe paddle:

  1. Learn how to hold the paddle.
  2. Control the paddle.
  3. Make sure you’re rowing the right way around.
  4. Nail down the motions.
  5. Pick the right paddle size.
  6. Take some time to adjust.

In this article, I’ll take you through every step you’ll need to take to master canoeing with a bent paddle. The process may take some time and effort, especially for those who aren’t used to the shape and aerodynamic features of the equipment, but in the end, you’ll be able to gain a significant technical advantage over your opponents and relieve some of the strain on your body.

BENDING BRANCHES BB Special Performance Wood Canoe Paddle for Everyday Canoers, 54 in

You can find the Bending Branches Canoe Paddle shown above at

1. Learn How To Hold a Bent Shaft Paddle

The way you hold your paddle can make or break your canoeing performance, which is why it’s important to perfect the basics for a new piece of equipment, even if you’re an experienced canoer.

You’ll want to place your bottom hand (which will be your dominant hand) around 7 inches (17.8 cm) above the bend. Afterward, grab the neck of the paddle with your non-dominant hand, ensuring you have a solid grip.

This positioning will allow for proper spacing of your limbs, which will provide a wide range of motion that could give you a significant advantage while paddling. 

If you’re used to performing with a standard paddle, this hold might feel a bit unnatural at first, which is why I’d recommend starting your learning process by adjusting your stance and spending time getting used to it until it feels natural for you.

2. How to Control a Bent Canoe Paddle

Now that you’ve mastered holding the paddle, it’s time to learn how to control it. This step is crucial, as the whole draw of a bent canoe paddle is the superior level of reach and control it provides.

Additionally, mastering a bent paddle will allow you to achieve more stable and powerful cross-draws while exerting less power, making the process much more efficient.

You’ll want to steer using a C, J, or pitch stroke, which is often ideal for implementing in this instance as it allows the blade to run closer to the keel line. 

As many experienced canoers know, running close to the keel line is one of the highest indicators of technically sound performance, as it leads to better directional control over your vessel. 

Through the use of this technique, you’ll be able to cover a larger distance with a single paddle. Not only will you achieve a better time, but it will also become much easier for you to reach and maintain the desired direction.

BENDING BRANCHES BB Special Performance Wood Canoe Paddle for Everyday Canoers, 54 in

You can find the Bending Branches Canoe Paddle shown above at

3. Make Sure You’re Rowing the Right Way Around

Given the paddle’s unorthodox shape, many canoers (no matter their experience level) can find it difficult to operate it the right way. One of the most common mistakes people make when trying out a bent canoe paddle for the first time is that they turn it around and use it in a scooping motion. 

In this instance, a good amount of the force exerted would go to waste as you’re scooping water up and throwing it away, leaving very little power to go towards actually moving the vessel. 

Doing so will defeat the whole purpose of using a bent paddle in the first place, which is why you’ll want to have your equipment facing in a way that puts the bend forward, allowing it to cut through the water’s surface tension much better. Check it out in the video below:

Paddling your canoe with a bent shaft paddle.

Furthermore, the bend will provide momentum until the very end of your stroke, which you wouldn’t be able to achieve using its straight-bladed counterpart.

4. Nail Down the Motions of Using a Bent Paddle

Knowing the way your paddle should be facing while canoeing is just the first building block of your bent-paddling skills. The orientation of your equipment can never make up for a poor technique, which is why you’ll want to take the necessary time to practice and nail down the motions first.

While canoeing with a bent paddle, your movements should follow a pattern that feels like pushing down rather than pulling back. You want to break the water’s surface tension as forcefully as possible to gain momentum, which will allow you to cover a longer distance with a single stroke.

Additionally, while your grip does need to be firm, you won’t need to hold this paddle as firmly as you would its straight counterpart. The push-down motion along with the paddle’s angle will provide a higher level of efficiency overall, as the strain put on your body for a more explosive movement will decrease.

5. Pick the Right Bent Paddle Size

After nailing down the technique, it’s time to pay attention to the more practical aspects of your paddle. When sizing yourself for a bent shaft paddle, you’ll want to be conservative and choose a paddle around 3 inches (7.62 cm) shorter than you would with a standard piece of equipment.

The table below will help you to choose the correct length of a bent shaft paddle in comparison to a straight shaft paddle:

Torso Size
of Paddler
Straight PaddleBent Shaft Paddle
26″51″ to 52″48″
30″56″ to 57″52″
32″57″ to 58″54″
(Choosing the correct paddle length for a bent paddle)

However, this is a general rule of thumb, and the ideal paddle size for you can widely vary depending on your own height and previous experiences. For this reason, I’d recommend following the previously mentioned tip as a starting point and trying out a paddle that fits it. Afterward, you can adjust as you go.

Bending Branches Sunburst 11 Canoe Paddle

You can find the Bending Branches Sunburst 11 Paddle shown above at

6. Take Some Time To Adjust

Speaking of adjustment, mastering a new type of paddle will require effort and commitment no matter how experienced you are. For this reason, patience and time are the two most essential components of a successful learning process.

You may have been paddling with a straight shaft all your life, and learning to use an alternative that requires completely different motions, techniques, and even hand placements might be challenging, to say the least. However, with enough time and practice, I assure you you’ll be able to master a bent canoe paddle in no time. 

Even though your mileage might suffer at first, the benefits you’ll quickly reap from using this type of paddle will make you appreciate the shape’s ergonomic qualities.

Straight shaft vs. Bent shaft canoe paddle.


Learning how to hold and row with a bent canoe paddle can be challenging and time-consuming; however, it’s safe to say that the technique’s advantages make the effort worthwhile. With enough time, patience, and practice, everyone can learn how to efficiently handle a bent canoe paddle.

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