Monday, May 13, 2013

Bent Shaft and HIgh Angle

The student that bought the Cetus HV was of course also shopping for a paddle. When he went down to Charleston he was very focused on the boat, and thought very little about the paddle, though he did use a Werner Kalliste. He had been debating bent shaft versus straight shaft, but when he was talking with the people in Charleston they were telling him that he should be doing a high angle stroke in a boat like that. I should point out for clarity that this particular student is planning an expedition on the Yukon, which I am advising him on as well. But the Bent versus straight and High angle versus low are the two topics that I think confuse people the most. So that is todays topic.

First, high angle versus low angle:

This is from Werner Paddles site:

Low Angle

Low Angle is the most common paddling style. It is a more relaxed touring style and relaxed cadence. Our Low Angle designs have longer and narrower blades designed to pull through each stroke with the right amount of surface area for good power while maintaining a smooth forward stroke.  
High Angle

High Angle paddling is typically a more aggressive style of paddling with a faster cadence and a larger variety of strokes being used on each paddle outing. Our high angle designs have short wide blades for a powerful catch and stroke with a slight dihedral for smooth linking strokes.
When I read that some key phrases stick with me for Low angle: relaxed, relaxed, smooth. 

And here is what sticks with me for High angle: Aggressive, Faster, powerful. 

If you were paddling 600 miles of the yukon, or 350 miles of coast, which of those do you think would be better? I teach a low angle style, which is not to say that there aren't times that I work into a high angle style for a couple of strokes at a time. Breaking through an eddy for instance, or getting out of the surf zone. High angle style calls for a shorter paddle, low angle slightly longer. It is easier to use a low angle paddle length doing a couple of high angle strokes than the other way around. Low angle generally calls for a smaller blade, larger for high angle. Here is another way to think about the two. High angle equals fewer strokes and more effort for explosive speed. Low angle equals more strokes but easier work for a smoother, more continuous speed. High angle is a more whitewater/racing style of stroke. The blade will move down the side of the boat in a straighter line so you can focus all of your energy on speed. Low angle means the paddle is doing more of an arc, so you will be working less, but correcting direction more often. 

So here is how I break it down. Touring, or recreational paddling you probably want to or are, a low angle paddler. Whitewater, racing, rock gardening or playing in surf and you are probably, or should be a high angle paddler. As to why the people helping my student in Charleston thought he should be using a high angle style? I have no idea. 

Bent shaft vs Straight shaft

Back in the dark ages when I learned to paddle (okay, 1996 is when I got serious) I went to a kayak festival/symposium in New Jersey. I went to each manufacturer and said "I am a narrow hipped person who wants a boat for long distance touring, what do you have that will work" and each time I was shown a high end touring kayak, generally the top of that particular manufacturers line. I went to the Werner rep and said "long distance touring, fit me for a paddle" what I ended up with was a werner camano with carbon shaft and carbon blades at the 220 length. I asked - what? no bent shaft? and the rep said 'nope'. In 1996 bent shaft was strictly a white water paddle, and really only slalom racing. I guess in the early 2000's bent shaft paddles started sliding into touring. We were then told that the bend in the shaft would prevent injuries to wrists and elbows. 

In my opinion - and this is horribly negative of me - I think this is a way to sell a higher priced product to people that don't need it. I know a number of people who say the bent shaft is easier on pre-existing injuries in their wrists. So like I have said on many topics, if it works for you do it, but if you are paddling correctly there should be little or no movement of your wrists or elbows anyway. For me, these are the deal breakers on bent shaft. The bend makes the shaft weaker, so to get the same strength you need a heavier shaft. By adding a bend to get the same 220 length you have to make the shaft longer, which is also going to make it heavier. The Werner Kalliste bent shaft weighs 3 ounces more than the straight shaft. Three ounces doesn't sound like a lot, but over four hours of paddling that is about 3000 pounds you don't have to lift. At the end of the day weight wins over everything else. 

Werner does say that the bent shaft gives you more contact with the paddle, which can give you a more relaxed grip. they also say it is easier to tell the proper orientation of your paddle without looking. Both excellent points, and as I said before, if it works for you, go for it. 

I should also point out that I only paddle with Werner paddles. I have used just about every other euro blade, and I don't think anything compares to both the quality, and feel of their paddles in the water. I also love that Werner is independently owned, and not part of a conglomeration of companies. I should also point out that I am not sponsored by Werner, but would be thrilled to talk to them on the subject if they were interested. Here are a couple of links that I used preparing this post:

Werner paddles offers a great fit guide on their website - that today would put me in a 215 cm paddle versus a 220 that the rep put me in 21 years ago! I think paddle lengths are like skirt lengths (women's skirts, not spray skirts) and they change with the times. 

Epic paddles offers the history of the bent shaft, which is a fascinating read. 

If you want to see how to do a high angle stroke, the lesson is here


  1. I disagree that high angle means fewer but more powerful strokes. I learned from Doug Alderson that it's entirely possible to maintain a high cadence and use low-effort strokes but still paddle at a high angle. I actually find it a lot easier to do than with a low-angle stroke. I'm 6'1" and paddle with a 215 camano.

  2. Kamil, I was speaking in general terms. the quotes above are from werners site, I didn't write them. I am not going to say it isn't possible to do what you say - clearly, you are doing it, it's possible. But for most people high angle is going to be " typically a more aggressive style of paddling with a faster cadence" and again I am quoting werner. When I originally wrote about High angle vs low angle I had a video of olympic kayak sprinters and they use a very high angle style to generate a lot of speed. But I say all the time when I am teaching, this isn't dogma - and if you have a teacher that is telling you it is, stop using that teacher - if something works for you, great. go with it. But in general terms I stand by my, and werners description. Thanks for the comment.