We’ve all been there; standing around the kayak shop in front of the paddles, wondering just how much money to spend on the piece of equipment that enables our kayak to become mobile. You could spend around $50 and get yourself a cheap paddle without much thought put into the design and that has a little more weight to it because quality materials are not being used. Or, you could spend some extra cash and walk away with one of the more expensive designs that has all the new fancy colors, patterns, and options that feels nearly weightless in the palm of your hand. There is one question that runs through most people’s minds while trying to decide which paddle to purchase. Is the more expensive paddle really going to make that big of a difference?
While somewhat costly, a good paddle can make a huge difference for kayak anglers that spend a lot of time on the water. The price of a paddle can range from as a little as $50 to more than $500 depending on your budget. In most cases, a direct connection can be made between the cost of a paddle and the amount of design that goes into it. Design factors in how the paddle moves through the water and the materials chosen to optimize weight and blade stiffness with strength. The more money you are willing to spend, the better your paddle will perform. If properly taken care of, a good paddle will last a long time and, in most cases, will hold good resale value for those who may want to upgrade to a new one every so often. It is an important piece of equipment that can make your time on the water more enjoyable, whether you’re classified as a beginner or consider yourself an old pro. The ease at which a quality paddle moves your kayak through the water, while preventing fatigue and soreness, makes it worth every penny.
I like to look at a paddle the same way a marathon runner might look at a pair of shoes. A pair that’s light, comfortable, and durable would be ideal to wear as you work towards your goal of 26.2 miles. You will probably never see a marathon runner wearing a heavy pair of basketball shoes that were purchased just because they were on sale. A kayaker’s paddle should be no different, yet most of us (including myself) have purchased a $50 paddle at some point in time. A better paddling paddle results in less fatigue while you make several hundred strokes per mile travelled. A paddle that is the correct length, has a comfortable grip, and the right blade for your style of paddling are other important factors to consider as well. I figured this out the hard way, only to look back now and realize what I should have known all along: like most things in life, you get exactly what you pay for.
Similar to other beginners, when I decided to join the sport of kayak fishing, I was a little hesitant about investing a lot of money into a hobby I knew so little about. I had seen kayakers around the Galveston area while wade fishing and spent a lot of time on the local forum reading reports about incredible days on the water while fishing from these little plastic boats. I owned all the basic fishing gear needed to get started, but would still have to purchase a kayak, paddle, and PFD. I purchased a twelve foot kayak for $500, along with the cheapest paddle and PFD I could find, and was on the water for under $600.
I spent about a year in that kayak before upgrading to a Jackson Cuda 14 in the spring of 2012. The Cuda cost more than twice my original kayak, but it was definitely worth it. I was happy with my new kayak but still used the same cheap paddle I had started with. The good thing about this paddle was that it had only cost me $50 and it got me from point A, to point B, and back. The bad part was that the paddle weighed in at thirty-seven ounces and caused my upper body to fatigue quickly on longer trips. The blades were not very strong and I eventually broke one while trying to pole myself through some shallow water and mud. This turn of events forced me to purchase a new paddle. I decided I would spend more money this time in order to obtain a better quality paddle. My primary goal in purchasing this new paddle was to find a paddle that performed better while not sacrificing durability. If I was going to spend a couple hundred dollars, I wanted this one to last.
I started off by borrowing a lighter and slightly more expensive paddle from a friend to determine whether or not I could even tell a difference. He purchased his paddle for around $150 and it weighed in at 31.75 ounces. It was only 5.25 ounces lighter than my original, but the difference it made was incredible. I was able to paddle the same distances as before, maintaining the same speed, all the while not feeling as nearly as fatigued. I know it sounds crazy to say that those few ounces made such a big difference, but they really did. My upper body did not seem to tire as quickly, and as a result, I was able to make more accurate casts throughout the day. When you spend the majority of your time in the shallow Texas marshes sight casting at redfish that spook easily, being able to hit your target is a must. Misfiring by as little as a foot can cause the fish to blow out and not be seen again. Some of these areas require a short paddle to reach, while others could be several miles from the nearest launch. Even after reaching these locations, you will still end up paddling several miles through an area looking for hungry fish. Making a trip that totals more than eight miles is not uncommon on most days.
I was pretty impressed with my friend’s paddle but, at the same time, I wanted something that was even better. I liked the fact that his paddle was much lighter than my original, but the blades were thin and a little too flimsy. Along with weight you must factor in blade stiffness. Weight is part of the story, but it is easy to go lighter simply by making a smaller paddle and using less materials. A stiffer blade means less loss of energy, so fewer strokes are needed to cover the same distance.
I finally chose the Shuna from Werner Paddles new Hooked Series. This line of paddles was specifically designed with the kayak angler in mind, so I was looking forward to getting on the water with it for the first time. When I first received my Shuna, I immediately noticed how well it was designed. Lighter than the previous paddle I was using by 4 ounces, the Shuna weighs in at 27.75 ounces yet it has the perfect combination of power and durability without the added weight. Since I am 6’ 3”, I decided to go with the 250 cm paddle in order to give myself the extra length I would need while sitting in the high position of the Cuda. The paddle allows me to spend all day on the water, covering 8 plus miles without becoming as tired or fatigued as I once did. It is a paddle that will last me for years and I have enjoyed every minute of it.
While most people will try to convince themselves that spending a lot of money on a paddle is unnecessary, the fact of the matter is that comfort and the ability to enjoy your time on the water go hand in hand. I know most people will never spend $500 on a paddle, but at the same time, they should never spend just $50 either. Somewhere in between those two prices is a paddle that is right for you. In my opinion, to fully enjoy the sport of kayak fishing, spending a little extra money on a quality paddle is a great place to start.