Have you ever actually used one of those discount store $29.99 paddles?
I’ll stand by my contention that for a beginning kayaker recommending that they invest in a better paddle is sound advice. When selecting a boat with little or no experience, you don’t know what you don’t know about what size or style of kayak will suit your needs or preference. The majority of us on the forums, and avid paddlers in general, gradually progressed beyond the limitations of our first boats as we became more experienced paddlers and either expanded the range of waters we wanted to explore or found fault with our initial boat’s performance and sought to improve the experience with a different design. The reason we urge beginners to seek a used boat is that there is far less financial loss in selling a used one when you have determined what you would like to upgrade to. So within a certain range of parameters that are immediately quantifiable, like the person’s size and the type of waters they say they want to paddle in to start with, we can give suggestions on what basic style of used boat to seek, with the proviso that they may find it suits them or may quickly decide that there are features of performance or fit with that boat that may suggest they need to move to a different boat. So the less spent at first, the more flexibility they have.
But there are a number of reasons why buying at least a mid range quality paddle is a far better idea than buying a cheap paddle. From a financial aspect, cheap paddles usually don’t yield a good resale – in fact most sellers just throw them in when they sell a used boat (and I politely decline them when they are offered in such sales.) I have always been able to sell a decent paddle ($120 to $200 new models) range for at least 80% of the original price. Just sold two last month in fact, as I have been reducing the fleet.
Also, as a beginner outfitting yourself if you invest in a decent paddle you will be able to keep it to use with subsequent boats. Though I only use it for backup or a lender, I still have the original Werner Skagit fiberglass paddle I bought with my first new kayak in 2002.
And, most importantly, having a heavy, crappy paddle can rapidly put a damper on a kayaking newcomer’s comfort and even their ability to learn effective technique. This is not a guess on my part – I have seen the transformative effect on a novice paddler of offering them a good quality light glass or carbon paddle when I see them struggling with a heavy metal shaft one with large clunky squared-off fat plastic blades. And I used to end up temporarily using the lendee’s crap paddle while they tried mine (and more than once took off with it in a surge of delight at how much easier it was to go fast with it). It always felt like I was trying to paddle in Jell-o when I had to use one of those things, which is why I carry a GP storm or Euro breakdown now (and mostly loan the latter).