Choosing a paddle and correctly sizing it is just as important as choosing a kayak and PFD that will match your needs. Paddles are usually constructed in one of three ways; aluminum shafts with plastic blades, all wood or with various types of composite materials for both the shaft and blades. Most paddles are two piece and can be feathered, which means the blades can be offset between 45° and 90°. Less common are the one piece, un-feathered paddles, which have fixed blades that are inline with each other. The curve, width and length of the blades will vary with each style and manufacturer.
The least expensive choice in paddles are the ones with the aluminum shaft and plastic blades, which can range in price from $40 to $100. These tend to be heavier, colder to handle in the early and late paddling season and can be less durable then wood or composite paddles. If you only plan to paddle short distances during the summer months, these may be the ones for you. If your paddling plans are a little bit more ambitious, then I would recommend going with a wood or composite paddle.
Wood paddles will offer lighter weight, a warmer surface during the colder months, but are slightly heavier then the composite paddles. A quality wood paddle will set you back anywhere from $100 to $300, but the real advantage is the unsurpassed way that they feel in the water. Most wood paddles are made of Basswood, Cherry, Cedar, Ash, Walnut and other strong, but lightweight hardwoods. Stay away from paddles that are made of pine; pine is a very soft wood which can easily be damaged and is far less durable then the hardwood paddles. There is truly only one drawback to owning a wood paddle; it will need maintenance on a regular basis. Any damage to the polyurethane finish can lead to the wood absorbing water, expanding and then cracking as it dries. A light sanding and a fresh coat of spar polyurethane will keep the surface damage from becoming a costly replacement. After using both a wood and composite paddle, I personally prefer the wood because of the way it feels in the water. While using a friends composite paddle, I noticed that the thinner blade tends to draw in air around itself.
Composite paddles are light weight, fairly warm to hold during the colder weather and can withstand the heavy use by the paddler that tours long distances; the drawback is obviously the price. Expect to pay anywhere from $200 to $400 for a top end model. These will probably not be the first choice for the novice or recreational paddler. For many touring kayakers, the light weight and durability of the composite paddle will be the deciding factor.
The last thing I want to mention in this article to make sure the paddle shaft is not to large for your hands. If the shaft diameter is too large for smaller hands, it can quickly add to fatigue and make for an uncomfortable paddle. Many manufacturers will taper the shafts down to an oval or round shaft just a few inches from either side of the ferrule. Most paddlers will find it easier to hold an oval shaft versus a round shaft. Throughout the summer, many of the retailers will sponsor "Demo Days"; take advantage of them. This will not only give you a chance to try out the many different model kayaks that are out there, but also a variety of different paddles.