Bent vs. Straight Shaft Kayak Paddles

A common question we get as we’re helping people find the right paddle for them is: What’s the difference between straight shaft and bent shaft kayak paddles? Why should you choose one over the other?

aqua-bound's bent vs. straight shaft kayak paddle

by Andrew Stern

We’re going to help solve this dilemma for you…

The Advantages of a Straight Shaft Kayak Paddle

To get started, most paddlers start with regular straight shaft paddles. Whether that be an aluminum starter paddle or a composite sea kayak paddle, straight shaft paddles work perfectly fine and don’t overcomplicate the buying process.

Never let a salesperson intimidate you into buying a paddle you don’t need, regardless of the paddle brand or the kayaking you plan to do.

girl using a straight shaft kayak paddle
Straight shaft paddles work very well for most kayakers (photo courtesy of @happypaddlin)

Most kayakers continue to use straight paddles as their primary paddle because:

  • Straight shaft paddles are less expensive than bent shaft paddles ($100-150 USD less, depending on the manufacturer).
  • They’re lighter than bent shafts, by 2-3 ounces on average (60-85 grams). The shape of a bent shaft makes it inherently weaker in design, so paddle brands are required to beef-up the shaft which results in adding weight.
  • They allow hand location movement, so depending on your physical structure, your hands can be closer or further apart as you wish. Bent shaft hand locations are fixed.
  • Bent shaft paddles make the wrist position more strenuous when backing up or low bracing for stability, whereas with straight shaft paddles this is not an issue.
  • When offsetting your ferrule to reduce wind resistance, the two angles on bent shaft work against each other and become cumbersome, whereas straights don’t have this issue and offer more flexibility.

Finally—and this is very important—many paddlers can accomplish the similar wrist/elbow relief value of the bent shaft with their straight shaft by simply loosening their grip and only holding the shaft with their pointer finger and thumb. This allows the remaining three fingers on each hand to be strain-free.

It takes some time to get used to, but once you do you’ll almost immediately feel a relief of muscle/joint strain.

how to hold a straight shaft kayak paddle
how to grip a straight shaft kayak paddle

The Advantages of a Bent Shaft Kayak Paddle

Bent shaft kayak paddles, known by some as crank shafts or ergo shafts, offer natural bends on each half of the shaft that look almost like a sports car engine.

These paddles are ideal for long-distance kayaking, whitewater boaters and paddlers with chronic wrist or elbow issues.

paddlers with a bent shaft kayak paddle

Some kayakers prefer a bent shaft paddle both for performance and comfort

Here are the main reasons paddlers upgrade to a bent shaft kayak paddle:

  • With a natural curvature in the shaft to align the wrists in a more natural position, a bent shaft is less fatiguing overall to the upper-body and puts substantially less strain on movable joints.
  • Because of the fixed hand location, a bent shaft paddle usually requires more of a technical forward stroke, requiring the use of your core/abs and less-so your arms. It almost forces you to use better, less-fatiguing technique.
  • Bent shaft paddles allow your forward stroke to be more efficient and produce more control/torque with every stroke—specifically the inclination of the paddle blade—making turning strokes easier.
  • The bend in the shaft provides more indication of the blade orientation, making it easier to position the paddle properly in uncertain paddling conditions or when conducting the kayak roll and other more technical movements.
  • The bend in the shaft makes it easier to find your hand placement and minimize hand grab movement, which is convenient in windy, rough or whitewater paddling conditions.

As with straight shaft paddles, it’s equally important with bent shaft paddles that you loosen your grip on the shaft to relieve (even more) tension in your arms and tendons.

how to hold a bent shaft kayak paddle
how to grip a bent shaft kayak paddle

Summing It Up

Regardless of which option you select, always remember to focus on using your core and not your arms. Your core is much stronger and your arms are simply the tool connecting you to the water.

In conclusion, straight shafts are ideal for most flatwater kayakers who want flatwater performance without the premium price tag, and for those who don’t want to overcomplicate the kayaking process.

Bent shafts are for those looking for wrist/elbow relief, perform more technical kayaking movements, or plan to paddle through more challenging waters.

  • To see all our straight shaft kayak paddles click here.
  • To see all our bent shaft kayak paddles click here.

Thanks for checking out our site and to learn more about paddling! All Aqua-Bound paddles are hand-built in Osceola, Wisconsin, USA, by our staff of 40+ paddlers.

Let our friendly Customer Service team help you choose your new paddle! Contact them today: 715-755-3405 • [email protected]

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