Here is an excerpt from my book "Fishing in the Comfort Zone" that gives some background on paddle selection:
"Paddle Selection: If you have a pedal-drive kayak, you should always carry a paddle with you in case of emergency. But it does not need to be an expensive paddle. If you use a paddle-powered kayak, you will use a paddle throughout your trip. Weight does make a difference. The paddle is moved back and forth hundreds of times each trip – a few ounces more of weight contributes to tiredness and soreness by the end of the day. Paddles range in cost from less than $50 to more than $500. The difference in cost relates to the materials (aluminum shafts with plastic blades are inexpensive but heavy; carbon fiber shaft and blades are much lighter and more costly).
Other features to consider when choosing a paddle are the shaft length and surface area of the blade. Shaft length should be determined by the height of the paddler (distance from shoulder to water), the width of the kayak (wider kayaks need longer shafts), and the primary style of stroke used (vertical stroke uses shorter shaft; horizontal stroke uses longer shaft).
The blade surface area is a matter of personal preference. Greater surface area provides more thrust per stroke, but requires more effort to pull the paddle. Typically paddles with larger blade area are used by paddlers preferring a vertical stroke pattern, whereas paddles with smaller blade area are used by those with a horizontal stroke pattern. I am very tall in the sitting position. I prefer a large blade area and a long shaft. I could not find a stock paddle that offered that combination in a lightweight carbon fiber material. My local kayak shop worked with me to special order a longer-than-usual shaft (240 cm) to go with a large blade on my new paddle – a custom Werner Ikelos model."
Earlier this week a post concerning whether to buy low-cost or expensive rods and reels came close to getting cranky and nasty. Clearly there are differences in opinion about whether to spend a lot or a little on anything relating to your kayak. In my 16 years of kayak fishing, I have owned a heavy paddle with aluminum shaft, a moderate weight paddle with a fiberglass shaft, and a very light weight paddle with a graphite shaft. I can tell you that the graphite one does not tire me out as much. Consider the number of times you move your paddle in each trip -- hundreds to thousands. If you are making that motion with several ounces less weight on each stroke, you are doing considerable less work and putting less strain on your muscles and joints. For our younger members, that does not seem like a big deal, but for those of us in our older years, repetitive joint motion leads to soreness and injuries.
Each of us has an actual budget threshold and possibly a separate willingness-to-spend threshold for each type of gear. I may be willing to spend $350 for a graphite paddle but another angler can justify no more than $150 for a paddle. There is nothing wrong with that. There is almost always a difference between "best" and "best value for the money". Most of us will look for the latter.
P.S. Most pedal-powered kayak users do not carry an expensive paddle as back-up. They use the paddle to maneuver in shallow water, move through weeds, or in launching and returning. For those purposes an expensive paddle is not needed. I own both a pedal and a paddle kayak -- I bought the carbon paddle for those trips when I paddle. I carry the same carbon paddle on my pedal kayak. I was sure glad I had a lightweight paddle yesterday when the steering cable broke on my pedal kayak. I paddled 2.5 miles into the wind to get back to the launch. If I had a heavier paddle to use, I would have been even more tired.
Native Watercraft Manta Ray 11 and Slayer Propel 10
Member - Pro Staff team for Native Watercraft
Author - "Fishing in the Comfort Zone" - light tackle fishing techniques for kayaks and small boats