BLOG 39. BENT BLADES ARE BEST
By Cliff Jacobson
Straight paddles have their place—and that place is in whitewater, where palms-up braces and thumbs-up rudders are part of the game. And also, in show-off FreeStyle where everyone smiles and listens to music but no one goes anywhere.
But for flat-water cruising, bent-paddles rule, and that’s why every racer uses them. The diagram shows why bent-blades are more efficient (figure 3-1).
C-1 speed racers are the exception to this rule. They use long, straight paddles and a sky-scraper kneeling position. How long do you think you can paddle this way and still retain your sanity?
Here, in no particular order are why bent blades are best for cruising:
· You need less effort to keep the canoe on course with a “pitch” or “J” stroke. Why? Because the bent-blade runs partly under the canoe during the stroke, wheras a straight blade runs along side it. It’s a canoeing axiom that the closer to the keel-line you paddle, the less directional correction is needed.
· Bent-blades are better for your body. There’s less twisting of the shaft and your hand during the stroke so carpal-tunnel and tennis-elbow aches are minimized. This is a huge advantage if you will paddle a solo canoe for hours at a time.
· You can use the “sit’n switch” stroke which big time racers prefer. Yes, you can switch sides with a long, straight paddle, but it’s not fast or pretty.
· Paddling with a bent-shaft is best described as more “push down than pull back”. With a straight paddle it’s more “pull back”. This saves your arms and back.
· Cross-bow draws are more efficient because the blade has more reach.
· Bow-draws in the solo canoe are more efficient because the blade has more reach.
· The “rolled-ever” directional grip of the bent-paddle encourages a more comfortable hold. You don’t have to clutch the grip as firmly as with a straight paddle.
|Cliff, with bent-shaft paddle--standing on a "lump of coal": Teddy Roosevelt National Park, North Dakota|
The best bent-shaft paddles are made of carbon-fiber and have twelve-degree bends. Fourteen’s feel awkward to me. Most racers prefer 12 degrees. The slightly shallower 12-degree bend encourages a more upright paddling position. Heft a 14-degree paddle and "paddle through the air a few times". The paddle feels unbalanced and "bent", doesn't it? Try the same with a 12-degree shaft. Note the improvement in balance and precision.
Tip: the “pitch” and “J” strokes are easier if you use a longer paddle than the typical length used for racing. Fifty-six inches works well in both my Bell Yellowstone solo canoe and in my Dagger Venture tandem canoe.
|Cliff: BWCA, portaging with two 12-degree bent paddles|