What kind of paddle should I buy?
For starters, you need to figure out what you are going to use your proposed paddle for. Are you interested in white water paddling or flatwater touring. Some paddles made today can be used for about anything, but after you know more of what you're doing, you'll discover that certain paddles are better for specific uses. It's sort of like buying a car. A Jeep will go about anywhere, and do about anything. But, a dragster or Indy car will dust a Jeep at the track, a compact car will be much cheaper for commuting, and a semi-truck will haul lots more cargo. You won't want to take the dragster or Indy car off-road, though, or pull your tandem axle travel trailer with the compact, or drive the kids to school in the semi -- okay, you get the idea....
It should be fairly obvious that, in general, if you are buying a canoe, get canoe paddles, and, of course, kayak paddles work better for kayaks. The choices do get a bit tougher after that, though. If in doubt, I'd recommend a "white water strength" paddle.
In general, white water paddles are more robust than flat water paddles. They're stronger, more durable, usually heavier, and most of them will take tremendous amounts of beating. You can use a white water paddle for flat water touring, but I don't recommend many good touring paddles for use in white water.
White water canoe paddles are generally a bit longer than those used for flat water canoeing, mainly because of the reach required for positive boat control during maneuvers. Flat water touring seldom requires much boat maneuvering. White water kayak paddles, on the other hand, are generally shorter than flat water kayak paddles. This is usually a paddle stroke style issue. There are some exceptions for kayaking, though. The newer sit-on-top and inflatable kayaks for whitewater use usually require longer paddles than regular, closed cockpit, hard-shell kayaks.
Blade sizes are usually slightly larger on white water paddles than for flat water paddles for both kayak and canoe. Right now, most flat water kayak paddle blades are asymmetrical in shape, and most white water kayak paddle blades are symmetrical. Asymmetrical shapes for whitewater are rapidly becoming more popular, however. Aside from Greenland style kayak paddles (which are always symmetrical) you'll see few symmetrical sea kayak blades in use. Excepting short lived fads, or even localized ones of longer duration, I do not expect this to change anytime soon, if ever.
What Should A Paddle Be Made Of
Traditionally, all paddles were made of wood. It is still a good material, and wooden paddles are available in every price range for almost any paddling discipline. The biggest advantage of wood is it's visual appeal, and it's biggest disadvantage is that some regular maintenance is required. As a paddle making material, wood is still hanging in there, and will continue to do so.
Plastics have arrived, and probably the majority of medium to higher quality paddles are now reinforced plastic composites. Fiberglass, Kevlar, and graphite (carbon fiber), saturated with a plastic resin, are used in both shaft and blade construction. Probably the biggest advantage of composite construction is utility -- high strength and low weight. The biggest disadvantage is the lack of beauty, warmth, and "soul" that wood can provide. Obviously, from the number of paddles sold, those who buy composites think the trade-off is worth it.
You will also find paddles made by attaching plastic or fiberglass blades to an aluminum or low grade fiberglass shaft. These are generally lower to mid price range paddles, though some may be of high enough performance and quality to demand a distinctly higher price. The biggest advantages to this construction are low price and high durability. For example, the lower priced versions of these are what the majority of places that rent canoes and kayaks supply with their boats. The disadvantage of this construction is the lack of "liveliness" and feel that wood and composites can give.
If you want a paddle for white water, strength and durability are your main concerns. A composite paddle, or an aluminum / plastic / composite mixture would be a good choice, especially for a beginning white water paddler.
For flat water touring, less strength is required. This means that much lighter, more comfortable paddles will suffice, and are highly recommended. I would tend to avoid the less expensive paddles, except as a spare.
Above all, remember that you want to buy a paddle, not a material. Buy the paddle for you, and the specific use(s) you have in mind. Do not buy just a material -- even if it is new, and "cool", and in, and all that stuff. It could be the wrong material for the use for which you have in mind and not last you long enough to enjoy it properly, even if it does look "cool".
For any kayak paddle, the shorter the better (within limits) is most efficient. The lower limit for the best paddle length for you is dependant on several different variables. The width of the boat you paddle is probably the single most important factor. Paddling style would be second, and then your body size would be third.
Narrower boats like most conventional "hard-shell" "sit-in" kayaks require the least paddle length. Most inflatable kayaks are pretty wide and require a significantly longer paddle. The width of folding boats and "sit-on-tops" is usually somewhere between wide inflatables and narrow hardshells. There is an obvious width range within each style boat, probably enough to require some overlap between the different styles. For example, a really wide folder might require a longer paddle than a narrow inflatable.
The seat height of your boat might cause minor length changes, too. A higher seat would mean your hands are farther from the water for a given paddling style, dictating a paddle longer by approximately twice the seat height (half for each side of the boat). For instance, if you sat on a foot-high stool, you'd need a paddle two feet longer than you would if you sat on the bottom. (That's a gross exaggeration, but it should make you more easily understand my point.)
Paddling style also makes a difference in paddle length. "High angle" paddlers, those who hold their upper hand farther above the boat deck and paddle with a closer to vertical shaft angle, can use a shorter paddle than a "low angle" paddler, one who holds his upper hand low, closer to the boat deck. I know, it sounds like it should be the opposite of that because both hands are closer to the water. However, a more horizontal shaft angle and a wide boat means that the shaft meets the water much farther from the boat, so it takes a longer shaft to get the blade into the water. Low angle paddling is a common sea touring style, but not found much in white water because of the basic inefficiency problems it causes in that paddling discipline.
High Angle Style
Low Angle Style
The illustrations above show this. See that the high angle paddler has his upper hand above shoulder level and the low angle paddlers hand is below the shoulder. The terms high angle and low angle come from the angle of the shaft in relation to the water surface. The high angle shaft is steeper, resulting from the higher upper hand position. The lower hand of both paddlers is about the same position, but the shaft length between the hand and the blade must be longer to get the whole blade under water. The blade is farther from the boat which turns the boat a little with every stroke and therefore requires more work in steering compensation.
A paddlers body dimensions actually have only a minor bearing on paddle length. A tall paddler sitting on the floor can reach it with his hands just as well as a short person. The only reason a taller paddler might want a little longer paddle is because a narrow handspread is awkward for them, and that doesn't require much additional length -- maybe eight inches from the shortest to the tallest in adults. Most paddles sold are actually within about a four inch range (but, so are most people).
The seats in a kayak are usually pretty low, but they can vary. Just an inch or two can make a noticable difference in stroke mechanics with the wrong paddle length.
The above tells us that someone paddling a wide inflatable using a low angle paddling style needs a longer paddle than a high angle paddler in a narrow little hardshell whitewater boat. Paddlers in other boats would be somewhere in between the two extremes. Varying seat heights just add a little complexity. You would be better off choosing a required paddle SHAFT length than an overall paddle length because blade lengths vary as much as 8 inches between brands and models. Given a blade length of around 17-18 inches, the next paragraph will give you some quick and dirty rules of thumb for overall paddle length.
I would recommend the average paddler using high angle style in a relatively narrow hard shell sea kayak try a paddle about 218-220 cm (86 inches) long, for starters. Taller or smaller paddlers go an inch or two longer or shorter, but don't be afraid to try even shorter than that. Average paddlers in wider boats, including most single folders, might want to try a 225 cm (88 inches) or so paddle. Wider doubles and inflatables might try a 230 cm (90 inches) or so. Those using a low angle paddling style will probably need to up their paddle length some. Try about 10 to 15 cm (2 to 3 inches) longer on each of the above categories as a start. I can't imagine the boat / style / person combination that would require anything longer than 245 cm (96 inches).
The typical sea kayaker uses a paddle that is much too long for decent efficiency. Don't make work for yourself. Learn efficient technique using properly designed and sized paddles, and your boating fun will increase enormously. You will be much less tired at the end of a long day's paddle, especially into the wind.
What Feather Angle?
Feather angle refers to the blade plane configuration of a kayak paddle (you canoeists can skip this). When the two blades are in the same plane as indicated by being able to lay it with both blades flat on the floor at the same time, it is unfeathered, (also called no-feather or zero feather). A feathered paddle is indicated when the blades are at any angle away from the same plane, and only one blade will lay flat on the floor at a time.
It can be right or left feather (see next topic), and at any angle up to 90°. The typical range of feather angles found is from a low of about 45° to 90° as the highest. I've heard of angles below 45°, but not seen any.
(UPDATE, 25 June, 1998: We've now made a few 30° and 15° angle paddles.)
The feather versus no-feather issue is probably THE most hotly debated topic in the sea kayaking community, approaching that of religious war fervor. It is much less so among white water paddlers. Feathered paddles provide better forward speed, mainly through better ergonomics and body dynamics. Kayakers who will be paddling a lot, especially those who think they might worry about boat speed, should use a feathered paddle. If someone wants to make learning to paddle a kayak easy, and then not worry much about speed and performance, unfeathered is okay. It's okay even if paddling more than a little bit, as long as it's nothing real strenuous. Though unfeathered is easier to learn, and therefore seems easier to do, it's probably not quite as efficient as feathered in many ways.
If you do go feathered, for starters, choose a paddle in the 60° feather range for best body dynamics efficiency. You can always change the angle when purchasing a future paddle, if necessary. Some authorities think using a feathered paddle might increase a paddler's chances of developing tendinitis. My informal research, as well as that of others, indicates that improper paddling technique is probably the biggest cause of wrist problems. I recommend trying feathered at first, and switch later if you have to. You will probably never have to.
Which Control Hand?
The "control hand" on a kayak paddle refers only to feathered paddles, and how the angle difference between the plane of the blades is configured. Grip the shaft of a feathered paddle normally, and you can easily take a stroke with one hand, but the shaft must be twisted one direction or the other for the stroke with the opposite blade. The hand that accomplishes the shaft twist to correct the OPPOSITE blade's orientation most comfortably (by dropping the wrist) is the control hand. Except with a two piece paddle, you do not determine right or left control, the one who makes the paddle does. You dictate that a right control paddle be made for, or sold to you. You'll hear kayakers refer to paddles as using "right control," right "feather," right "rotation" or right "twist" paddles.
Right Control Paddle
Left Control Paddle
The above two paddles indicate the control hand, the blade closest to you is flat to the floor, the one away from you is angled one direction or the other.
An easy way to tell if a paddle is left or right control is to place the paddle vertically with one blade surface facing your feet, like you were going to use the paddle. If the like surface of the other blade is angled towards your right, it is right control, and a lefty would face left. Just take the above pictures and stand the blade closest to you on the floor. The blade that was farther away from you in the above picture is now up in the air, and the same face that is towards your feet would be facing the direction of feather, either to your right or to your left. If the blade label faces your feet the blade label faces right or left. Simple.
Making it easy on yourself and going unfeathered is one option, but again, you lose some paddling efficiency. Kayakers who do choose to go with a feathered paddle must make the choice of which hand controls the paddle. Joining the crowd and going right feather makes it easy to buy a paddle, as that is what most stores stock, exclusively. It is also easier to borrow a paddle if you forget to take, or lose, or break your own on a trip. All three scenarios happen occasionally (at least I've heard about them often enough).
Budding competitive paddlers might want to think about left control if they are right handed (and vice versa) as there is informal (unsubstantiated?) anatomical / physiological and kinesthetic evidence that paddling with the "wrong" hand as control hand is most efficient.
If you plan on primarily paddling easy flat water, small blades (junior or even kids sized) might be best, or at least okay, though "standard" sized ones will also work fine. If you paddle white water, and I include ocean rock garden play and ocean surfing here, you will usually want slightly larger blades than used for touring, depending on how strong you are, and what kind of shape you're in. Larger blades grip the water better for the repeated boat acceleration and deceleration done in white water and surfing. Flat water cruising is more efficient with smaller blades, as this allows a faster stroke rate, and you can rest even more by just slowing the pace some.
I would recommend 100 to 105 square inches of blade surface for a white water kayak paddle within its typical length range. A blade size about 7 inches wide by 16 inches long would be about right, though length / width measurements like these are seldom indicitive of actual blade area. Dedicated racers might want blades slightly larger than that. 95 to 100 square inches would be a good start for a sea kayak paddle, though even smaller sizes might benefit many paddlers. White water sized blades are okay for a shorter white water paddle, but not recommended for longer flat water paddles. The longer length of a sea kayak paddle dictates smaller blades or the paddler starts to get more than a bit overwhelmed with the work they require. 125-135 square inches (8 inches wide by 18 to 20 inches long) is about right for the typical white water canoe paddle.
Okay, there's a lot to cover in this one.
There are three distinct aspects to blade shape:
Blade outline --
Looking at the blade flat on.
Lengthwise curve --
Looking at the blade from the side of the paddle.
Cross section --
As if you cut the tip half of the blade off and looked at the cut edge.
Most flat water (touring) kayak paddle blades are asymmetrical in shape, where most white water kayak paddle blades are symmetrical. White water paddlers are learning, though, and more asymmetrical white water kayak paddles are being developed and marketed all the time.
Draw a line down the center line of the paddle shaft, through the center of a blade. If the blade halves on either side of the line are the same (actually a mirror image of each other), that blade is symmetrical. If the two sides are different, the blade is asymmetrical.
The two blades indicated above are fairly typical shapes. There are lots of different symmetric shapes being made today, as well as many different asymmetric shapes.
For either white water or sea kayaking, asymmetrical blades offer more and better boat control than symmetrical blades, especially for the aggressive paddler. The distinctions between symms and asymms in the physical feel during use might require a bit of acquired expertise for most paddlers to notice much difference. Deep water paddlers will notice the difference more than shallow water paddlers like kayakers into white water "creeking." Properly designed asym blades seem to feather easier than symms for transitional strokes.
Symmetrical blades are usually more forgiving of mistakes than asymmetrical blades for the less aggressive "drifter" type white water paddlers. Very long, skinny blades do not offer as much grip on the water as shorter, wider blades when using a standard modern kayak or canoe stroke. Except for some experimental trials in very specialized racing applications, all canoe paddle blades are symmetrical.
A paddle blade can have either a flat or curved shape when looked at edgewise, from the side of the paddle. Varying amounts of curve are possible, and different places on the blade might have different amounts of curve. The biggest advantage of the flat blade is forgiveness for beginners, and the biggest disadvantage is probably lack of grip on the water that more advanced paddlers prefer. Most kayak paddle blades (midpriced and more expensive paddles) are curved, but there are exceptions. Most canoe paddle blades (every price range) are flat, though many prominent whitewater slalom racers in both open and decked C-1 are now using curved blades.
Blade Flat Lengthwise
Blade Curved Lengthwise
The above two pictures show a flat blade and a curved blade from the side. A blade is either flat or it's curved, and varying amounts of curvature are possible. The above curve is exaggerated greatly.
Blade Cross Section:
Several different cross sections are available on paddle blades. Typical sections are flat, spooned, dihedral, and wing. The ribs indicated below are typical, some blades may have them on one or both sides, and other blades may not have any appreciable ribs. As a general rule (there are always exceptions) ribs on the side of the blade facing the back of the boat (powerface) have a detrimental effect, and ribs on the other side of the blade (non-powerface) don't matter very much.
Flat Blade Above
Dihedral Blade Above
Spoon Blade Above
Wing Blade Above
The above cross sections are typical, not specific. A flat blade is flat, but a given blade might be more spooned or more dihedral than another spoon or dihedral blade. The dihedral, spoon, and wing above are exaggerated a little for clarity. The amounts of spoon or dihedral will probably vary in different parts of the blade surface. There might even be combinations of two or more of each section on the same paddle blade. For instance part of a blade is flat and the rest is dihedral, or there could be a little bit of spoon in an otherwise flat blade. The side of the blade that faces the rear of the boat (power face) points to the top of the screen in the above drawings.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each sectional shape. Both spoons and wings offer a very powerful stroke, but are also very difficult to control during a stroke, especially for beginners. Dihedrals can be very forgiving, but many are so forgiving that they limit the capabilities of the paddler after the beginner learns the basics. Blades that are essentially flat across the face seem to offer the best balance between forgiveness, power, and control. I want to make a distinction between curved and spooned blades here. A true spoon blade is curved across the face, as well as lengthwise, like a soup spoon. Some blades are curved lengthwise, but are flat across the face. A curved blade is not necessarily a spooned blade. In fact, most blades that are called spooned, are not. A true spoon will hold water on the surface, where it will roll off of a flat blade that is curved lengthwise, only.
Break down paddles come in many configurations. The primary design purpose of a breakdown is for ease of transportation and storage when not in use. Most breakdowns are two-piece paddles, but three, and even four-piece paddles are available from some manufacturers.
I would recommend paddling with a one-piece paddle whenever possible. They are lighter, stronger, less expensive, and don't have joints that wear, get wiggly, and require maintenance. There is simply less to go wrong with them, especially out on the water when you probably can't do anything about a malfunction. The easier transportation and storability of a breakdown is a plus, but most people cannot take their boat apart and the boat is usually twice as long as the paddle used with it. If you can paddle a solid boat, you ought to be able to paddle a solid shaft.
A spare paddle should be carried with you, on or in the boat, any time you are on (or even near) the water. A breakdown paddle is about the only reasonable option for this, and my only recommended use for a breakdown paddle is AS A SPARE paddle. The fewer pieces the better because the more pieces, the more there are to go wrong. In my book, Murphy was an optimist!
Those with folding or inflatable boats do have a valid reason for wanting a two or more piece paddle as a primary paddle. They do need to keep all of the problems mentioned here in mind when choosing one. Try to keep it to a two-piece because the joint between the hands is not too much of a problem structurally. A three or more piece paddle puts the joints very close to the hands. Avoid them if possible. Bracing and rolling can place tremendous pressures on paddle shafts. The hands are where stresses concentrate and that's the worst place for a joint. It's usually no problem to carry a bag with one or two (or more) two-piece paddles in it, as either checked or carry-on luggage on the plane with you when traveling. At least I haven't had any problems doing it.
There are advantages and disadvantages to every joint system used in breakdown paddles. Some are infinitely variable, some offer just one or two settings. In reality, you are probably only going to paddle at one setting all the time, or maybe two at the very most. Joint strength on breakdowns can be highly variable. It's probably not true of all of them, but those that are infinitely variable are the ones that seem to have the most problems (Murphy again?). The perfect joint system -- light, strong, solid, easy to use, long lasting, low maintenance, versatile, and inexpensive -- has yet to be discovered. Let me know when you find it.
There have been a couple of new innovations in paddle form recently. The first was wing blades for Olympic sprint style kayak racing, and that was later joined by shafts with weird bends in them for white water slalom racing. Both concepts have gone through design modifications and are now used in upper level recreational flat water and white water paddling.
The "wing" blades found on kayak paddles are so named because they generate lift, like an airplane wing, when used properly. They are very tricky to learn to use properly, because the deep spoon in them makes a high brace and most maneuvering strokes very difficult. These blades were designed about 10 years ago to enhance all-out forward speed in a straight line. The performance advantage is actually not real great, two to four percent, maximum, and it takes a very good paddler to utilize them to any definite advantage, and paddler of close to Olympic caliber to take them to their max.
The cross section drawings above are from the earlier shapes chapter. The top surface is the one that faces the rear of the boat, the power face.
Even though some blade modifications are advertised as suitable for recreational use, wing design is still in it's infancy. Sure they can do it, but I would not advise a new paddler to begin learning to paddle with a wing. After you gain some experience, try one out and see if it makes any difference for your use and paddling style. Some of the "good" recreational sea kayakers now use wings for at least some, if not all of their paddling. My guess is that the subconscious reasoning is that they simply want to be seen using a wing paddle. They only benefit from them when out in good to perfect flat water conditions. Otherwise they spend more time than necessary trying to stay upright in the boat.
Bent shaft canoe paddles have been used extensively on the marathon racing circuit for at least 25 years, and recreational flat water canoeists picked up on them at least 15 years ago. Most bent shaft canoe paddles have a single bend -- a straight shaft with the blade molded or attached at an angle to the shaft. This configuration allows the blade to be kept vertical for a longer portion of the initial part of the stroke, which is where the available power is greatest.
Blade to shaft bend angles vary from about 2.5° for freestyle "flatwater ballet" type paddling, up to about 15° for marathon canoe training and competition events.
Single Canoe Bend
Compound Canoe Bend
Single bend canoe paddles, one bend where the blade attaches, are quite common for flatwater use. Compound canoe shaft bends seem to come and go. Despite manufacturer's claims of "new" or "improved" (or both), I haven't seen any shafts with compound bends yet that the Minnesota marathon racers didn't try in the early 1970s. Almost anyone in a canoe who paddles flat water would benefit by using a bent shaft paddle. A straight shaft spare would be good for some people. Low bracing in white water is dicey with a bent shaft, but can be done and white water techniques using bents is improving. I think that white water slalom racers will be using bent shafts soon and cruisers will soon follow. There are some compound bend canoe paddles starting to be used in white water slalom racing. It's too early to tell yet if there's any advantage to them, but the World Champion C-2 team from France uses some similar to the kayak paddle crank shaft below, which could be an indicator.
Double Torque Shaft Above
Crank Shaft Above
Modified Crank Shaft Above
In the above drawings, the side of the paddle blade facing the top of the screen is the rear facing blade surface, the "power face."
Bent shaft kayak paddles are all compound bends (two or three bends in each hand grip area), and first started appearing around 1990. The theory for kayak paddles is to get the wrists at a more comfortable angle during the forward reach part of the stroke where the power is applied. A "double torque" shaft (where did that name come from?) was developed to alleviate part of this wrist angle problem. However, the double torque shaft also reduced the amount of reach out front, which isn't good.
That lack of reach problem was repaired with a further modification called the "crank" shaft which put the blade back in line with the section of shaft between the hands. Another later adaptation is the modified crank shaft where reach is extended a bit more and the blade is now in front of the shaft. Some think this is just an application of the "more is better" principle that introduces more problems than it solves. Others like them a lot. You might think that the bend might cause problems at the end of the stroke, but as little if any power is applied there, it seems to be okay.
All of these kayak shafts have advantages and disadvantages. For instance, the blade forward of the hands creates low bracing and back paddling problems. Again, all of these design concepts, except possibly the single bend canoe, are in their infancy, and will be changing over the next several years. Bent shafts are much easier to learn to use effectively than a wing paddle. Like wings, any performance advantage is slight, probably not even as great as that of a wing. The modification is meant for paddling comfort which will primarily help long term performance.
Until techniques develop, straight shaft kayak paddles are probably better than bent shafts for all around use, but bents may be better for specific uses. Try one for yours, sometime. A beginner could learn to paddle with a bent, but still might be better off trying one out and possibly switching to bent after they know what use they're putting the paddle to, and developing their initial style with a straight shaft paddle.
Buying New or Used
A used paddle will be less expensive than a new one of the same brand and model. If one for sale is suitable for your use, is sized correctly, and looks to be in good shape, buy it. Sea kayak paddles and flat water canoe paddles seldom take much abuse, so I wouldn't worry too much about lost strength if you are contemplating a paddle for either of those disciplines. Do check the joint system on any breakdown kayak paddle (sea or white water) for wear, indicated by looseness or movement. I wouldn't dismiss such a paddle, but an excessive amount means less life is available, as joint systems are often the first to go on breakdowns. There are just too many "moving parts."
White water paddles can take lots of abuse, and most used ones will look it. Some will look like they were the target on a bombing range. They'll still probably work, however. I would avoid a breakdown as a primary white water paddle unless the price and condition are both so good you can't pass it up. You can always use it as a spare, later on.
I recommend contacting (and joining) a local paddling club. Members often have used equipment for sale listed in their newsletters. Some will be slightly used, and some will probably be very well used. Most paddlers don't mind talking equipment, so expect to get your ear numbed a bit after dialing the phone. You can get either good or bad advice, so I'd try to get several recommendations on what you should look for in a paddle for your use before spending lots of money. Clubs are a good inexpensive source for instruction, too. Take advantage of membership in any club by participating all you can. You can learn a lot, and much more quickly than with little, or no help at all.
As a general rule, paddlers are very honest when selling their unneeded equipment off. They'll be very fair about price, and knowledgeable paddlers will probably refuse to sell the thing to you if they don't think it's what you need -- even if you beg them for it. It's the unknowledgeable ones you have to watch out for. How to tell? Ask around for other opinions, and hope that the consensus is right.
It's harder to go wrong with a new paddle, except that it will cost you more. You do get the satisfaction of knowing you are the first owner. Again, just make sure you are getting the right paddle for the use to which you intend to put it. If your budget only allows a lower priced paddle at first you can always buy a good one later, and either sell the lower quality one, or relegate it to use as a serviceable spare.
Paddles vary a lot in price. A bottom of the line canoe paddle can be bought for probably about $10, new, and a kayak paddle, also new, for about $30. You can also spend $500 or more for a custom, hand carved beauty. One, in my opinion, that is too pretty for anything except hanging above the mantel. Any used paddle will be less money. Of course, like a car, you can spend more money for a good used paddle than for a new one of lesser quality.
I separate paddles into approximate price range categories for comparison. In kayak paddles, an entry level price would be up to about $50, a low price would be up to about $100, a medium price would be up to about $175, and "the good stuff" would be anything above that. Like any kind of merchandise, some paddle brands or models may be under or over priced, and not fit exactly into the above ranges.
Knowledgeable paddlers will spend a minimum of 10% of the cost of their boat for a primary paddle. Most will spend quite a bit more. 20-25% is not at all uncommon, and real officionados will even go up to about 35%. Buying a good boat and saving money on an inexpensive paddle is like ordering a new Mercedes with retread tires on it. Sure, they'll work, but your contact with the road is not a good place to save money.
A new paddler can often tell the performance difference between paddles more easily than he or she can differences between boats. In fact, most knowledgeable dealers will insist that a beginning paddler use a quality paddle when test paddling new boats. They know it is easier to paddle with a good paddle, and you'll be much more likely to buy a boat from them -- any boat, and maybe even the good paddle! (A smart experienced paddler who wants to test new boats will take their own paddle with them, one that they are familiar with to do the testing to reduce the number of equipment variables as much as possible.)
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