Normally, kayak paddles are straight because they work perfectly fine and don’t over complicate the buying process. Here are few of the benefits associated with the straight paddles:

  • Straight shaft paddles are less expensive than bent shaft paddles.
  • 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 are more flexible.

Bent Shaft or Curved Paddles?

Despite of all the benefits mentioned above, some of the kayakers like to use bent or curved paddles. 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.

Benefits of 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.

When paddling, remember…

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. They are more suited to advance kayakers and those who look to kayak in a challenging environment.