Red Rock’s Excellence in Paddling


Red Rock’s Excellence in Paddling
You may have noticed that on this sight, I have a tendency to “toot my own horn” a little here and there about Red Rock’s Excellence in Paddling-related Subjects.   It’s either with our superior quality Souris River Canoes, or our common sense approach to canoe handling, tie-downs, eating northern pike, crating canoes for shipment, etc.    Well the bravado never ends and I’m now going to show you the absolute BEST bent shaft paddle combination for moving any canoe.    As of April 14, 2005, there is absolutely no other canoe shop on the planet who recommends this paddle combination and I’m pretty sure they’ve never even considered this before, ever. So, here goes – this is the very best you can get to move your canoe faster if you are a recreational paddler.

If you’ve ever used a bentshaft paddle, (and you held it properly) you undoubtedly noticed that the canoe moves faster forward than with the use of straight shaft paddles. That’s because a 14 degree (most common bend) paddle is all about “push” in the water.

How a bentshaft paddle works
How a bentshaft paddle works

In a bent shaft paddle, because the handle is bent forward, it clears the paddler’s upper torso as it’s drawn through the water. The bend allows this paddle to be pulled through the water with BOTH arms for a shorter, but powerful stroke. (“A” represents the water being pushed (or “pulled through” resulting in push “C” to the canoe) That’s all a bent shaft it really does well. Because of the bend, more blade pushes water more effectively without lifting water as you’ll see on the next page. Doing a J-stroke with a 14 deg. paddle requires that you really do a swing-over-with-the-top-of-the-paddle-handle-maneuver to make a J in the water with the paddle on it’s side in rudder position. It’s clumsy and inefficient so a lot of what you gained in a powerful stroke, you give up while paddle wrestling.

Bent shaft paddles are really made to paddle using the sit-and-switch racing technique which means that two paddlers are located on opposite sides of the canoe. They paddle with short, fast, synchronized strokes, usually three each, and then one paddler says HUT and they switch simultaneously to the other side without breaking stride. I can paddle like this for about a mile and then my shoulders start to ask what the heck I’m doing that for, anyway? If you like marathon paddling, that’s one thing. Otherwise, marathon stroking is kinda dumb for BWCA travel for regular folks. Instead of blowing out all of your ooompf on a race down the lake, my paddle combination will help you improve your present paddling power so you may not be as tired when you finally get there.

The Straight-shaft Paddle
It’s been around since the dawn of canoe time and the straight shaft canoe paddle isn’t ever going to leave. There’s nothing wrong with straight shaft paddles but there’s nothing wrong with improving either.

Straight shaft paddle stroke
Straight shaft paddle stroke

Because the straight shaft paddle does not clear the body of a paddler like a bent shaft paddle does, the paddle-swinging dynamics change. The paddle gets lifted higher into the air before it’s dunked in the water. Then, as it is pulled through the water by the blue arm, the green arm ends up actually pushing forward. This makes the blue arm point of contact act like a fulcrum or the “pivot point on a see-saw”. As the paddle is being pulled through the water, the shoulders of the paddler drop with is and pull it through the water. The result in this stroke is that in the Total Stroke length, only about 1/3 or 33% of the entire stroke is “push”. Starting at stroke-point “E” above, the paddle is not pushing water back but instead lifting water. Instead of effectively pushing the canoe forward, the lifting force of the paddle is actually pushing the paddler’s butt (and the canoe) down into the water.

But, this paddle does a J-stroke beautifully. Just by dropping the shoulders at the end of the stroke and rotating the shaft downward by the top of the paddle (thumb on the hand of the green arm turns down thereby standing the following-through paddle blade into a rudder at the back of the canoe). The end result is that a straight-shaft paddle is more about steering than about push.

14 degree bendtshaft paddle
14 degree bendtshaft paddle

The 7 Degree Bent shaft Paddle
This is the compromise paddle. As I type, I hear the drums beating in the distance by the “experts” on both sides as they eschew the sins of compromise, but to them I say “beat it”. Yes, a combination paddle (called a combi paddle) doesn’t do it’s best in either world.   It doesn’t give maximum push and it doesn’t give maximum steering.   But, just like combi skis for cross country skiing which do a pretty good job of skating AND classical skiing, the 7 degree bent shaft offers two great improvements in power and steering over both of it’s brethren paddles.  If you’re not a racer and not a slacker, you’ll probably really love this combi paddle!  We have many, many, many paddlers who would agree.

7 degree bentshaft paddle
7 degree bentshaft paddle

The 7 degree paddle does a great job because it gives more push from it’s total stroke than the straight shaft paddle. Yet, because it’s flatter (in the amount of bend) than the 14 degree, you can effectively make a good J Stroke with it. The result is about 1/3 more power per stroke over a straight shaft paddle. This allows the guy in the back to really kick it down if he needs to do so when maneuvering the canoe especially in the wind. And, if he needs to do a draw stroke, there’s less accommodation of the larger bend of the 14 deg. paddle.

I feel that this is by far the best combination of paddles for any “not-being-raced” canoe. Put a 14 deg. bent shaft in the bow and a 7 degree bent shaft in the stern. You’ll notice that your canoe’s speed will increase yet your effort will remain the same. Short of attaching a rocket engine to the stern, there’s not much more you can do to kick up your speed for a small investment. It works very well. Note: If you are paddling a heavy, floppy, plastic canoe made by a company that makes camp stoves and coolers, use of this paddle combo will elicit stares. You really need to upgrade your canoe before the paddles.

We have our 7 degree bent shafts custom built for us by Mitchell See them Here

How to size a 7 Degree Bent shaft Paddle: Over 6′ Tall = 56″ Under 6′ tall = 54″  More refined: Long torso shorter legs, use the 56″.  Shorter torso, longer legs, use the 54″.  Torso height is what determines paddle length. All that crap about putting the paddle on you toe and sticking the end under your armpit, or up to your nose, or up to your eyebrow – that’s all BS.  From the bottom of your butt, how high the seat is in the canoe, how low the canoe sinks into the water, and your shoulder height, and whether or not you are seated in the bow or stern,  pretty much determines the paddle length.  I’ve seen so many wives tale, made-up, ridiculous ways to measure a paddle, and then they want to argue with me after asking “What size?”.    If you know the answer, why bother to ask?

2 thoughts on “Red Rock’s Excellence in Paddling

  1. bob brunda April 28, 2015 / 10:01 pm

    You make sense… very first paddle back in ’89 was a pre-owned Camp…8 or 10* bend ?????? What about these double bends ???? I have a low degree early Zav that does well… BUT nothing “feels” like Wood !!


    • rrwselymn April 28, 2015 / 10:09 pm

      I’ve paddled dbl-bends and can’t really see the advantage. J-strokes with them becomes fairly difficult. Gimmick that is harmless for sit & switch paddling style, I think.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s