Unfortunately most paddles under $50 have aluminum shafts and heavy plastic blades. These can really reduce your paddling efficiency and be tiring to use. If you look hard enough you can sometimes find a fiberglass shaft paddle, perhaps not as low as $50, but for under $75. It will make a substantial difference in your enjoyment if you can find one. I've picked up some decent paddles on clearance of used for around $60.
Be wary of the positive reviews you read on Amazon and other sites. Most people posting them have nothing to compare their purchase with, also people tend not to admit they bought something they don't like. There are even reviews of boats and gear here on P.net that are questionable. Everybody thinks their first kayak and paddle are the greatest in the world. But a very high percentage of people change their minds about that entry level gear once they have used it for a while and get a chance to use better equipment.
I always carry a spare paddle when I kayak and many times have loaned one to people struggling with a too short, stiff and heavy aluminum paddle (often from a rental fleet or something they bought at a sporting goods store or Walmart). It has always been a "Eureka" moment for these folks when they feel the difference a light and well designed paddle makes in their kayaking experience. Think about it: the paddle is the "engine" of the kayak. I would rather paddle a cheap lousy kayak with a good paddle than a good kayak with a cheap lousy paddle.
Bending Branches is one good company, others are Harmony and Quest. In fact, Dick's Sporting Goods has a decent Quest fiberglass paddle on sale at the moment for $69.99. I think it would be worth throwing the extra $20 at it.
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