I have always used the following pitch when someone asks about a bent shaft paddle:

  • If you have wrist/joint issues use a bent shaft
  • If you have an extra $100 to spend, a bent shaft is for you
  • If it feels good in your hands when you pick it up, definitely buy one.

Having neither wrist issues, nor an extra $100 burning a hole in my pocket, I just never really even gave second thought to my own personal paddle. I survived the drama of switching from a wooden paddle to a synthetic. That was enough “modern” for me…until I made the mistake of testing out one of our AT bent shaft paddles…..

We brought in AT last year after being sold on AT by so many of our paddling friends (as well as noticing the number of luminaries out there using AT).  Last month my curiosity got the best of me and on a play day on the Ocoee I decided to take one of our AT’s to try out (I did stop long enough to get Steve’s guarantee that switching to a bent shaft would not be so weird that I might end up needing a bow rescue! He promised).

Verdict: It felt good in my hands.  I am a strong proponent of an indexed paddle (oval shaft at the control hand) and the AT is nicely indexed.  Going from 45-degree to 30-degree took about ten minutes of fussing to get used to (we are talking a mere 15-degrees). And whether it was the bent shaft or the off-set, bow draw combo strokes felt smoother.  I went home and consulted with Steve on which paddle was best for me.  He steered me towards the AT2 flexi because of my history with wooden shafts (and because he wanted to see my store tab more than his for once!).

One of the struggles we have always had with folks going to bent shaft was that they did not know how to correctly hold the paddle to take advantage of the ergonomic benefits of the shaft.  So I went to Craig and asked him to help put into words some do’s and don’ts about how to hold a paddle—straight or bent.

Following is some help from Craig on holding your paddle……

“When people are out whitewater kayaking they tend to focus on reading water and balance and sometimes miss the subtleties that can also affect their paddling. Your grip on your paddle is one of the small things that deserves some attention and is easy to overlook.

Regardless of whether you use a bent shaft or a straight shaft paddle there is one correct hand position. It is the position at which your palms are flush with the shaft when you are holding the paddle. Hold the paddle at shoulder level with your elbows and hands at the same (shoulder) level. Slide your hands on the shaft until you roughly form a rectangle, or a 90 degree bend at the elbows and where you wrists meet the shaft.

Grip Too Wide

This grip is a little wide, and you feel the paddle in the web of your thumb and index finger. Now slide your hands in just a bit, until your palms are flush with the shaft. If you are still holding elbows and wrists at shoulder level, it appears that your pinkie is lined up to your elbow, more or less. This is the correct grip, which is apparent because the entire palm and fingers have even contact with the shaft.

The two other options for an incorrect grip can cause some problems. If you hold up your hands holding the paddle and form a bit of a “V,” it is a wide grip. Take some strokes. It shortens them up and you lose power because the paddle can’t hit the water as far ahead of you.

the V Grip
If you sweep out to roll with the “V” grip, think of the relationship between the hands and paddle angle. With a hand on the bottom of boat, the sweeping hand must be further under water with a wide grip. This is the opposite of a good sweep on or above the surface.

In the late nineties I noticed a lot of North Georgia boaters passing around a “diamond” grip, paddling with hands a little too close. Bad technique can be infectious, but I haven’t noticed “Georgia diamond” as much in the last few years so hopefully it is correcting itself.

Georgia Diamond Grip

Folks liked the close grip because it caused more leverage between the arms, and felt like it made power. What is really happening is stress to the muscles and ligature of the outer-forearm; they are not working in concert with inner arm muscles.

Close Grip Stresses Arms

This causes fatigue and could lead to symptoms of tennis elbow.

Bent Shaft Paddle Specifics
“V” or wide grip is a more common mistake these days because of bent shaft paddles. Boaters often switch to a bent shaft paddle and then hold the straight part of the shaft outside of the bends. I notice this with too many paddlers lately. If you are a recent convert, take a moment to check and be sure you have your palms flush with the shaft at the bends. And your hands should appear to be just inside of your elbows when you hold the paddle in front of you.

If you are considering a bent shaft paddle, choose a length that allows for your correct grip at the bends, rather than buying a length you used with a straight shaft or that you think you need.

Palm Placement

Your palms should be flush with the shaft without turning your hands, meaning that the paddle has a correct bend. A bent shaft for years that is too bent causes irritation because you twist your hands outward to hold it. You want to make sure of proper hand placement in order to take advantage of the ergonomics.

Hands on a Bent Shaft

Final Comment: We feel good recommending AT bent shaft paddles because they have a correct bend and are wonderfully indexed. A well indexed paddle shaft has an oval-shape grip-area so that you know the blade angle (for strokes and roll sweeping) when you hold either end of the shaft. You find this with more expensive paddles, and it is worth paying for it.