• Happy Eddie Arcaro Wins 2nd Triple Crown (Citation, 1948)! 👑👑👑👑👑👑

Looking for a paddle

It is my opinion that using a well designed good quality paddle will really enhance your paddling enjoyment. I enjoy the look and feel of oiled wood straight paddles (I both kneel and sit- prefer kneeling). Highly recommend paddles from Badger Paddles in Canada. They are within your budget and shipping is only $20 to Florida. I have two- both were shipped to Utah with no problems, and the newest is very light sassafras. Mine are meant for deep water paddling though, and I take a strong ash Shaw & Tenney beaver tail or Mitchell Sugar Island for shallow water.
I'm in the "get whatever and start paddling" camp as well. When I started back into canoeing, I picked up 2 aluminum / plastic cheapies at Bass Pro (one a little shorter than the other as I wasn't sure about the length). I've been using them for a few years now and I'll continue to carry different lengths as the shorter is far better when the water gets thin and the longer gives a better bite in deeper water.

I'm now at the point where I'm feeling that I might be able to discern the subtleties of the different blade shapes so I'm shaping some wooden paddles from rough cut, 1" and 5/4 boards. At $1 to $1.50 per board foot, you could butcher a lot of lumber for $200 and (probably) get quite a few paddles to play around with.
You could also get one of those adjustable length paddles from west marine to figure out the length you want. Then you’ve got a crappy loaner/oyster bar pusher to save your good paddles.
I've bought quite a few canoes in Florida and frequently a paddle or two is thrown in to the bargain. But I rarely see paddles for sale by themselves.

I started out with heavy wooden something like beavertails at Girl Scout camp a billion years ago. I just kept trying and buying different ones until I found the ones I use now. My favorite I've had for 35 years.