There are some good reasons to get a custom paddle and even better reasons to customize a paddle you already own. A custom paddle almost always costs a little more than a standard paddle and you have to wait for it. In the case of a hand carved custom wood paddle you may wait months. In the case of a composite paddle some manufacturers will get it to your door in a week. Still that is a little longer than if you just picked up the standard one at the store.
I think weight of a paddle is over rated but I do have to admit that on long days in the boat I am quite happy I have a light paddle. If I am just paddling for four hours for one day, then the weight matters a whole lot less.
When I'm surfing or river paddling I do not even notice the weight of the paddle, but I do want one that is sturdy. I've broken some really heavy paddles and some light ones so heavy doesn't always equate to strength, but it does often equate to thicker materials that are sometimes more durable..
Durability and Strength
There is no doubt in my mind that a custom paddle maker will give you a paddle with a better strength to weight ratio than a production paddle maker. Most paddles designed for surfing are pretty heavy duty stuff, but a custom maker will give you just the kind of lay up you want. Since the paddles are made one at a time it is easier for them.
Even most custom paddle makers have standard blade shapes they want to use, but often they will be able to tweak one of their standard shapes if you request it. Production paddle makers can only offer what comes out of the mold. Both providers offer a range of styles and sizes to fit most paddlers and I've chopped production blades to make them work better, but it is often better to leave blade shape modifications to the experts. Blade shape makes the most difference to me than any other part of a paddles design. I don't want to push a big surf blade all day on a long windy trip. Nor do I want to use a Greenland paddle or a Werner Little Dipper in the surf. Luckily I have accumulated a few paddles over the years so I have the right tools for the job.
Grip feel can be very important to some paddlers. I want a bigger diameter shaft, because it improves my grip and results in fewer hand cramps at the end of the day. I also like a grip that has indexing under both hands so I can feel the blade angle without having to look. For single blades I like the shape of a ball grip, but it must have an indexed shaft. I also like a rounded T grip at times. With a Greenland paddle I like a wide loom between 22 and 24 inches, this is much wider than most production Greenland paddles I have seen. I also notice when I was first getting my custom Lumpy Paddle from Bill that he let me hold about five paddles with different shaft sizes and transitions from shaft to blade. This resulted in him making the only kayak paddle that has never given me hand cramps.
On a production paddle something as simple as adding tape guides on the shaft or adding indexing to a round shaft can make the paddle better.
This is the very basic part of custom. Custom lengths are easy to order from most anyone and now many paddle makers offer adjustable length paddles so you can change it at will.
Do you deserve a better paddle?
Will a custom paddle make enough difference to justify the cost and the waiting time? I suppose the answer lies in how often you paddle and what kind of paddling you do. However, it also lies in what kind of standard paddles are available. I notice that their are a lot of paddle choices for white water kayakers but far fewer for white water canoers. Wing paddles for flatwater racers and surfski enthusiasts are available in many lengths, but sea kayak touring paddles are only usually available in three or four lengths and most stores only carry two lengths.
If you are taller or shorter than average on you just want something that fits better. If you are having joint problems or cramping with your current paddle, or you paddle quite often for long days, then a custom paddle could be the solution. If you are handy then don't hesitate to modify your current paddle to fit your style better.