Whether you’re a beginner looking to purchase your first-ever pickleball paddle or a “seasoned veteran” searching for that elusive paddle that complements a power game with just the right amount of spin, how to choose a pickleball paddle can, no doubt, be confusing. And frustrating.
Do you prefer heavy or light paddles? Do you desire power or control? Edge or edgeless? What kind of core do you want? What about the paddle face? What does your favorite pro play with? Does pickleball paddle technology really even matter? These are but a sampling of the questions one is confronted with when buying a pickleball paddle.
Before delving into too much pickleball paddle detail, however, I can’t overemphasize enough the fact that what may be the ideal paddle for one person may very likely not be the preferred one for another. We all have different “tastes” and feels as it relates to a pickleball paddle.
Therefore, it is important that you try out a paddle first. Ask your friends in rec play if you can borrow theirs for a few moments or games. The paddle has to “feel” good to you. And by hitting with multiple brands and models you’ll gain a better understanding of your own paddle preferences.
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Pickleball Paddle Purchase Considerations
There are a host of variables to consider when buying a pickleball paddle. It’s so much more than just going online or visiting your favorite retail store and selecting your favorite paddle color and price point. In the following discussion, we’ll address paddle cores, faces, weight, edge guards, handles, and shapes – and why each should matter to you in your quest for selecting the best pickleball paddle for you.
Pickleball paddles are generally made of Nomex, polymer, or aluminum honeycomb core, or – in the case of cheap, entry-level models – a wood core. The pickleball paddle’s core significantly impacts its playability as it relates to power and control.
Nomex is the brand name for a synthetic textile developed by the DuPont Chemical Company in the 1960’s. Nomex has many applications, including use in pickleball paddles. Nomex was one of the first cores developed and used in composite paddles. Nomex is a very hard material with very small cells in its honeycomb structure. This configuration results in a high-density material that yields significant power on impact – as well as a loud “popping” sound.
Arguably the most popular of all paddle cores, polymer is simply a plastic blend that is less deflective than the other cores. As a result of this “increased absorption,” a polymer core results in a “softer” paddle – one which provides greater feel and control. The polymer cores are also the “quietest” of the cores. Shown below is a picture of the polymer honeycomb core from the ProLite Titan after partially peeling back the carbon fiber paddle facing.
Aluminum Paddle Core
Aluminum honeycomb paddle cores are known for being strong and lightweight. They do, however, lack power because of their feather-light weight.
Because this core is made of plywood, it’s by far the heaviest of paddles. It is also the least expensive option. Wood paddles may, indeed, be good options for local rec centers or schools because of the price point. If you’re a beginner, however, I would skip the wood ones, unless, of course, your budget requires it.
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Facing (Surface) Material
In addition to the core material is the paddle’s facing (surface) material. The facing of a pickleball paddle is typically comprised of fiberglass (composite), graphite, or carbon fiber – or, again in the case of cheap, entry-level models – wood.
Fiberglass is a very common material used for pickleball facings. Fiberglass – although not as strong as graphite or carbon fiber – has more power associated with the material.
Graphite is very strong and durable. Graphite sacrifices a bit of power for enhanced control.
Carbon fiber is similar to graphite and offers exceptional ball control. With the exceptional ball control, however, is a loss of power.
The weight of the paddle is arguably the most important consideration when choosing a pickleball paddle. Generally speaking, the lighter the paddle, the greater its maneuverability and control. This increased maneuverability and control, however, comes at a cost – a reduction of power.
The converse is also true. While a heavier paddle will help generate that additional power and depth on serves, returns, and drives, it will be more unwieldy during the quick kitchen exchanges. A heavier one may also result in incremental stress on the elbow and shoulder when playing for extended periods of time.
I would recommend starting playing with a mid-weight paddle – one that’s not too heavy, but not too light. Make sure you try different paddle weights before purchasing so that you know what is comfortable for your body. Remember, you want a paddle that feels good.
Most pickleball paddles have an edge-guard going around the face of the paddle. The edge-guard is intended to protect (guard) the edge of your paddle from potential damage. Obviously, an edge guard takes up a bit of paddle surface area so a ball hit on the edge guard may result in a mishit. The edgeless paddle will provide just a bit more surface area in which to strike the ball.
The grip is another consideration in the purchase of your pickleball paddle. The shape, size, and texture should all be considered. With respect to the grip size – a measure of the circumference of the grip – everyone has their unique preference. Grip sizes are generally between 4″ and 4 ½” in 1/8″ increments.
Generally speaking, it’s better to error on the side of a grip that is too small rather than one that is too large. It’s easy to build up the grip size by applying over-grip. Regardless of the grip that you get with the original purchase, you’ll still likely want to add a layer of over-grip as it helps to preserve the original grip, adds a degree of tackiness, and helps with sweat absorption.
Pickleball paddles come in various shapes and sizes. USA Pickleball, in section #2 of their official rulebook, details the size requirements for pickleball paddles. Specifically, it states that “the combined length and width, including any edge guard and butt cap, shall not exceed 24 inches (60.96 cm). The paddle length cannot exceed 17 inches (43.18 cm).”
A “classic” shape has been a paddle that measures approximately 8″ x 15 ¾.” Manufacturers and brands are beginning to get more creative in their offerings by making more than just a “classic” shape, however.
To provide more hitting surface (larger paddle faces), manufacturers are shortening the length of the handle. This allows the paddle to meet the combined length and width requirements. Table tennis players and those that rest their index finger behind the face of the paddle (you know who you are!), tend to prefer this configuration.
Elongated paddles are also becoming more common-place. Elongated paddles take advantage of the full 17 inches of length permitted. However, they sacrifice face-width to stay within the combined length and width requirement. This means longer reach, but a narrower sweet spot – perhaps perfect for singles where reach is more critical. For the beginner, because of this narrow sweet spot, an elongated paddle is much more challenging.
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Frequently Asked Questions When Choosing a Pickleball Paddle
What is a good pickleball paddle?
Simply stated, a good pickleball paddle is one that “feels good” when you hit with it. A good one will have a good combination of power and control and it will not put undue pressure or stress on your shoulder or elbow. It will feel like an extension of your arm.
What is a composite pickleball paddle?
You’ve likely heard the term, “composite” as you’re searching for the best pickleball paddle. Unfortunately, “composite” doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. It simply refers to a paddle that is made of several different parts – such as the core, face (surface), handle, and edge guard. Most pickleball paddles (that aren’t wood) are composite paddles.
What are the different brands of paddles?
With the explosion of pickleball in recent years, many manufacturers and brands have entered the fray – including:
- Amazin’ Aces
- Rally/Pickleball Central
Which pickleball paddles do the pro use?
That’s an interesting question. Like you, each of the pros has their own preferences that are unique to them. Many, perhaps most, also have financial incentives with their sponsorship deals to play with a certain brand. As you contemplate your purchase, it’s important to remember that, while having the latest-and-greatest pickleball paddle technology certainly helps, it will nevertheless not make up for the skills, instincts, court-positioning, anticipation and strategies that you haven’t yet fully developed and honed.
Having said that, here are the paddle choices for several of the top pickleball professionals.
How long should a pickleball paddle last?
As you can probably guess, how long a pickleball paddle lasts depends on how often you play with it and how you treat it when you do play with it. Generally speaking, it should last between 1-3 years. After that, you’ll notice that it will begin to lose some “pop” and its performance will begin to degrade.
Hopefully, this discussion will help in your selection of a pickleball paddle that is best for you. It’s most important to find one that feels good to you. No amount of marketing hype should persuade you to purchase something that doesn’t feel good in your hands.
See you on the courts.