Let's talk pickleball paddles for a moment. I've been playing pickleball for over four years now and have researched and played with many, many paddles. Some have been good, some not so good. Pickleball has been America's fastest growing paddle sport for nearly 10 years and the paddles I've used have change dramatically over that time span. So, I got to thinking. How could I make the most helpful player guide for pickleball paddles for my readers?
Well, as much as my family and I love pickleball, we're NOT the definitive experts. So, I interviewed three professional pickleball players and the president of one giant pickleball paddle manufacturer and asked them everything you and I would want to know about pickleball paddles. They're the experts, so why not hear from them right?
In this helpful paddle guide, I'll give you my take on things like: paddle weight, price, paddle surfaces and paddle cores, grips, wide body paddle shapes, thin blade shapes and everything in between. But more importantly, you'll get real experts weighing in on ALL these topics and more. We'll even get into where the pickleball paddle industry is headed, so you can stay on top of the trends. By the time you're done reading this, YOU will be expert in everything related to pickleball paddles!
I didn't just go interview the local pro at my YMCA. I reached out to REAL gold medal winning 5.0 Pros who have trophy cases full of awards. Players like the "Yoda" of pickleball Mark Friedenberg, one of the game's premier coaches Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports, current 2018 Senior Doubles National Champion Del Kauss and even the President of one of the most prominent paddle companies around today; Neil Friedenberg of Pro-Lite Sports (he's also a 5.0 level player). Click on their names to read more about their accomplishments and the clinics they offer. These are real pros who "do" pickleball full-time. They either play it, coach it or make the best pickeball equipment - they are the pioneers of pickleball as we know it. They're the trail blazers, taking the game and the paddles we use, to new heights.
The best part is, you and I get to pick their brains and find out what really matters (and what doesn't matter) when it comes to choosing a pickleball paddle. My goal here is to cover every facet related to pickleball paddles as thoroughly as possible, but if you're just interested in a particular section, click that section in the navigation menu below. Let's begin!
As a beginner, I always thought that the path to picking the right paddle was buried somewhere in the specs of the paddle and the technical features found deep inside the paddle's core. I'd analyze factors like paddle weight, length, hitting surface and grip size. Don't get me wrong, those are note worthy specs and can be factors to consider when choosing a pickleball racquet. But to be honest with you, I was putting too much consideration into these specs. It was the old "paralysis by analysis" issue.
But, the question of "how to choose a pickleball paddle" is actually easier to answer than you think. It just took me a while to learn it. And after interviewing my panel of 5.0 Pro players, it finally hit home for me. It's less about the paddle specs, and more about the "feel" of the paddle. You could have a paddle that is perfectly balanced at 7.2 ounces with a polymer core and a state of the art carbon fiber hitting surface, but if it doesn't feel good in your hands, then none of that even matters.
Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports said it best: "I'm a pragmatist at heart, so I'm pretty much in the camp of "if it feels good, use it". I think that needs to be tempered with the thought that you want a paddle that will last -- that's one reason quality counts -- and one that will allow your game to advance."
Pickleball legend himself Mark Friedenberg, who was inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame in 2017 had this to say about how to choose a pickleball paddle: "The most important consideration is how it feels to the individual. All the paddle specs may play a part but it's how it feels and how well you play with the paddle."
Three time US Open Champion Del Kauss chimed in telling me simply: "I think the number one thing in choosing a paddle is how you like the feel."
Neil Friedenberg, President of Pro-Lite Sports, one of the premier paddle companies in all of pickleball had this to say about the 'right fit' for a paddle: "I feel the right fit would be if it feels good in your hands from the beginning. Is the grip comfortable? How does the weight feel? Does it put any strain on your wrist or elbow while swinging? We have many paddles, shapes, surfaces, weights, materials, grip lengths, and grips. It can be overwhelming so I recommend narrowing it down first."
It's easy to see the common theme here isn't it? We'll dive into paddle specs below so we can have a better understanding of how pickleball paddles operate but, the specs are ALL trumped by trying the paddle out and seeing how it FEELS and plays in your hand. All the other paddle tech talk that we're about to get into, is secondary to how the paddle actually feels. It's that simple.
Aside from how a paddle feels in your hand, paddle weight is the next most important factor to consider when choosing a pickleball paddle. In fact, the weight has a lot to do with how the paddle feels in your hand.
Much like in tennis, the weight of the paddle plays a huge role in arm fatigue and potential injury like tennis elbow. But in picklelball, the weight of the paddle can really effect how you play. I've played with all kinds of paddles but some of the most difficult paddles I've played with have been on the lighter side.
Getting the "feel" for the paddle, like we talked about can be really difficult when a paddle is too light. I can't hit the baseline consistently with serves, nor can I return serves deep on a point-in and point-out basis. Essentially, I lose accuracy and consistency. When you're trying to win games, that can be a BIG problem. Any paddle lighter than 7.5 ounces for me, makes it VERY difficult for me to play my regular game. But that's just me.
It's not rocket science. The lighter the paddle, the more control you'll get, especially at the kitchen line for dinking. Lighter paddles also allow for quicker reaction times when volleying. However, lighter paddles force you to sacrifice some power.
Conversely, heavier paddles sacrifice control and touch making it harder to execute effective and consistent third shot drops. However, they'll add plenty of punch to your deep baseline serves, return of serves and passing shot "put aways."
Lightweight Paddles: 6oz to 7.3oz
Midweight Paddles: 7.3oz to 8.0oz
Heavyweight Paddles: 8.0oz and above
So, it's a little give and take. Most experienced players tend to choose paddles somewhere in the middle - they don't like paddles that are light as a feather nor do they select paddles that feel like a battle axe on the court. But if I had to choose between a heavier paddle versus a lighter one, I'd choose heavy every time. They're just easier for me to get a "feel" for.
But, what did my panel of experts have to say?
I asked the head man at Pro-Lite, Neil Friedenberg about paddle weight, specifically for beginners. Here is what he recommended: "Are the beginners new to all sports or new to to pickleball but transitioning from another racquet sport? It does make a difference. The advantage to a heavier paddle is power and how fast the paddle head comes through the ball. It will definitely create more pace on the ball without the necessary swing speed. With lighter paddles comes quicker wrist action, reaction to the ball, and maneuverability. Easier on the shoulders and elbows, but over-swinging can occur and cause issues so finding the right weight for you is integral. We custom fit players from beginners to the seasoned player all of the time."
I asked one of the game's premier coaches and founder of Third Short Sports, Mark Renneson, his advice on paddle weight and what he usually plays with. His take on WHERE he likes to see the paddle weight is unique: "My main advice would be "don't overthink it". If it feels good and you aren't experiencing any soreness after using it for a few days, then you're good! But if you are going to overthink it...the weight of your paddle shouldn't really be about your skill level - it should be about your body type. If you're big and strong then you can get away with something on the heavier end. If you are more petite, lighter is probably a better option. The nice thing about lighter paddles is that they are more maneuverable. The heavier paddles, however, are more stable on off-center hits. Personally, I like a paddle in the low 8s but with weight distributed mostly in the handle."
2018 Senior National Champion Del Kauss talked me about paddle weight but also paddle balance: "I would say balance and feel are more important than just weight. I believe a middle weight paddle gives you the best overall performance provided it has good balance."
Mark Friedenberg has been playing pickleball since 1989 and has a trophy case of medals and awards. When we talked paddle weight, he too spoke about "balance": "I play with a medium weight paddle 7.7-7.8. And once again, the feel is different with every individual. But a medium weight is fine for beginners too. Paddle weight is also related to the balance of a paddle. I prefer a paddle that is head heavy rather than a paddle balanced between head and handle."
You hear that term "head heavy" a lot in tennis, but what does "head heavy" mean in terms of pickleball paddles? So again, I went to paddle guru and the President of Pro-Lite Neil Friedenberg for the answer: "Heady heavy means that the paddle has much of it's weight up on the head or face area of the paddle. Usually you can tell by seeing the size of a paddle's head, but with different manufacturers comes different core beliefs and philosophies. Edge guards on many brands vary, especially in the weights. Many times, there are certain players that enjoy a bit more head weight such as the tennis player convert. Make sure that there is excellent balance, even with a head heavy paddle."
Paddle balance is just as important as paddle weight. Edge guards can impact a paddle's weight and create a "head heavy" feel.
The short answer is yes, you can. The easiest way to do that is with lead tape. You would apply the let tape around the edges of the paddle, or "edge guard." Most paddles have an edge guard but some do not, so just be sure your paddle has an edge guard thick enough to apply another layer.
I did a little research and actually saw the Sarah Ansboury, a 5.0 pro sponsored by HEAD has actually done it before. She explains that by adding lead tape, you're actually adding weight to the head of the paddle...making it more head heavy. This gives the paddle more power, so be ready to experience more "plow through" from your paddle. You can read more about Sarah and this topic at her site here.
Remember, adding weight to your paddle is not common place at this point. It's rare. And there are regulations as to how much weight you can add and how heavy your paddle can be. Be advised. If you're that unhappy with the weight of your paddle, it might be time for a new one anyway.
Any player is allowed to add weight to their paddle using "Lead Tape" around the edge of the paddle face, but there are limits to how heavy you can make it.
Within the last five years, the popularity of pickleball has increased tremendously! Check out this google trends graph from the last five years...
How much has the sport truly grown? Well, back in 2013 there were roughly 10,000 courts. Fast forward to 2018 and there are now an estimated 22,000! That's really big growth in a very short period of time. And with that growth, we saw an explosion of new paddles and paddle makers, all trying to capitalize on this popularity surge...and a problem began to develop.
As the game advanced, so did the technology being put into its equipment; namely the paddles. Pickleball paddle manufacturers began to explore and find new ways to improve the rackets and their performance but in doing so, they began to push boundaries set by the USAPA. Of all the pickleball equipment topics we can discuss, the subject of paddle surfaces and paddle cores is arguably the most controversial and here's way.
Back in 2016, Dennis Dacey, the Rules Chair of the USAPA issued a statement on the new rules that went into effect in May 2016. You can read the statement here but it was clear that the USAPA was taking new paddles and how they played very seriously.
The USAPA began to see paddle performance geared towards power and speed and less about finesse. This may sound like a natural product improvement curve for any new paddle sport but pickleball was built on a different philosophy. From day one, its rules of play and performance methodology were built to even the playing field between an athletic 20 year old and a retired 65 year old. Based on fundamental rules like the two bounce rule and the "no volley zone", the athletic twenty year old wouldn't always have an advantage over an older player. In fact, many would argue that as you improve in pickleball, your game becomes less about power and more about finesse and touch at the kitchen line.
This core philosophy is what makes pickleball so different, so unique. The game's founding fathers intended it to be that way and the USAPA is dedicated to preserving this core philosophy. So, you can imagine the dilema they had when the sport's popularity sky rocketed but the paddles began to favor a younger, more power oriented player.
This became so big of a concern that they had to implement strict paddle regulations and even created the "Pickleball Paddle Deflections Test." More on the test in a moment but what the USAPA was saying, was that with all the advancement in paddle cores and paddle surfaces, they saw a "trampoline effect" from some of these paddles. The balls were virtually leaping off these paddles and creating a competitive advantage. They felt that with these paddles, the game began to favor a particular style of player. The USAPA wants an even playing field, no favoritism what so ever.
And so here we are today, with four paddle surfaces, and three paddle cores to choose from. But all of them highly regulated and monitored to give no one player a competitive advantage. Again, all ages are welcome and no single style of play gets an advantage...thats the way the game was meant to be played.
In 2016, the USAPA began to govern paddle manufacturing and created the Pickleball Paddle Deflection Test to eliminate the "trampoline effect" seen from some paddles.
Like I said, there are four fundamental pickleball paddle surfaces and three main paddle cores. Those seven options make up the bulk of the materials used for a pickleball paddle in today's game.
The four main paddle surfaces are: Carbon Fiber, Composite, Graphite and Wood.
The three main paddle cores are: Polypropylene, Nomex and Aluminum.
Each surface offers its own set of features and benefits as well as their own pros and cons. The same can be said for the paddle cores. Depending on the style of player you are or what you're good at (as in touch while dinking at the net or deep baseline accuracy), the paddle surface and core can negatively or positively affect your game. Because paddle surfaces can actually improve your game, let's start there and break each pickleball paddle surface down a little further. After that, we'll get into how paddle cores can cap it all off and be the difference between a good paddle, and one you'll never want to out down.
Carbon Fiber paddles are the newest kind of paddles to hit the market and they incorporate the latest and greatest paddle technology. But what exactly is carbon fiber and how is it used in pickleball paddles?
I did a little research and saw that many people actually think carbon fiber comes from coal or even oil. But those are all giant misconceptions. Carbon fiber's DNA is comprised of polyacrylonitrile and rayon. Not to get too technical here but when you "weave" these two materials together to form microscopic crystals - you get a very thin, very durable material that's almost as strong as steel. Thin and durable? Sounds like a pickleball paddle just waiting to be made.
I could nerd out all day about paddle technology but I'd rather have an expert weigh in on carbon fiber paddles. That's why I asked Neil Friedenberg, President of Pro-Lite, about their line of carbon fiber paddles, and what makes them so special. Neil told me that carbon fiber paddles have the largest sweet spot, highest durability AND the highest deflection rate...meaning a player can take a hard shot blasted at them and either return a hard hit back or take speed off the ball and deliver a soft shot instead.
It is this versatility that makes carbon fiber paddles so remarkable. Neil described it this way: "The control factor is amazing with this line of paddles. The ball is absorbed, compresses, and then released. It holds onto the ball longer than any other kind of paddles. At slower speeds, specifically dinking, you truly are able to manipulate the ball - rolling it at your opponent's feet."
Carbon fiber paddles are so versatile because the fibers within them are elongated, which allows for compression. It is this compression or "give" that makes carbon fiber paddles ideal for both control and power. In addition, they offer the more seasoned player fantastic spin as well. If you're a player who likes to put spin on the ball, whether it be wicked topspin or a downward chop for backspin at the net, carbon fiber may be the best kind of paddle surface for you. No other paddle surface offers better all-around performance. None.
But this paddle tech comes at a price. These paddles are not cheap but more importantly, they're not cheap to manufacture. Neil went on to say: "The only bad part is, they're very expensive to manufacture, especially ours. Most manufacturers would never touch this material because of the cost. We decided to because we felt it is by far the best technology and material on the market."
Aside from the price, the only other downside to this kind of paddle (and it's a small one), is that it's more geared towards the experienced player. Carbon fiber paddles are typically played by intermediate to expert level players. If you're a complete beginner, you can play with this kind of paddle but you might not be willing to pay the premium price.
Currently both 5.0 Pros Del Kauss and Mark Friedenberg are using the Titan Pro from Pro-Lite. This is their signature paddle and they love it because of how balanced it is when providing both touch and power.
Carbon Fiber paddles have the largest sweet spot of any kind of paddle and the highest legal deflection response.
Let me start by clearing up a misconception. Composite paddles are NOT different than Fiberglass paddles. Years ago, I was thoroughly confused because I thought fiberglass paddles were completely different than composite paddles...but they're not. Many online retailers will list them separately but I'm here to tell you THEY ARE THE SAME.
Composite material is actually a state of the art areospace type of material. Composite paddles are slightly heavier than graphite paddles but provide exceptional strength, durability and power. Composite pickleball paddles can weigh around 6.8 to 9.0 ounces but typically fall in the 7.5 to 8.0 ounce range.
Not to mention, composite paddles tend to have more texture to the paddle face. More texture means more potential ball grip for spin. Don't let the "fiberglass" moniker fool...glass is smooth....fiberglass paddles are not.
More importantly, here is what I learned from Neil Friedenberg of Pro-Lite Sports. Neil told me that composite paddles are the softest kind of paddle (softer than graphite and carbon fiber) and when the ball is hit hard, this allows for the ball to stay on the paddle longer. Perfect for spin!
Neil also said: "Composite paddles are good for beginners to experts. They are the least expensive to manufacture. But, the bad part is the skin is very flexible, meaning this type of paddle lends itself to a higher rate of decay and deteriorates faster than other materials. Also, the sweet spot on the paddle is very small."
Full-time pickleball coach and 5.0 player Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports weighed in on composite paddles because they currently are his favorite kind of paddle. Mark told me that the Fiberflex line of fiberglass paddles from Selkirk have the ability to generate lots of spin! Mark said: "Although it doesn't feel super-rough, it plays like it is. It allows me to create the spin I want when I'm hitting a flick from the kitchen or a drive from 3/4 court."
He went on to say: "I'd love to play with a sandpaper surface but until they chance the rules, I'm going with the fiberflex of the Selkirk amped line of paddles."
Mark currently competes with the Selkirk Amped X5 Invikta because of it's extra length. You can check out more on that paddle here.
Composite paddles are the softest kind of paddle around but, also have the highest rate of material decay.
Editors note: I've played with many top tier composite paddles over the past 4 years and have only experienced one issue with materials decaying.
According to many online retailers I've spoken to, graphite pickleball paddles are the most popular paddles they sell. There is no doubt that when graphite paddles hit the market, they were an instant success. But why?
Well, graphite as a material is thin and light weight. Making it a perfect hitting surface for a pickleball racket. If you were to do a run down of the lightest pickleball paddles around, they'd almost ALL be graphite. Graphite paddles can range from 6.8 to 8.2 oz but typically fall around 7.4 ounces.
Graphite surfaces are extremely stiff and ridged but also very thin. This is a great combination because it allows the paddle to be stiff enough to provide some pop but also light weight to reduce arm fatigue. However, it's the thinness of the graphite surface that provides the real value.
The thin, lightweight layer of graphite on each side of the pickleball racket gives players an exceptional sense of touch and feel. This thinness is what allows graphite paddles to feel like an extension of a players hand. It allows you to feel the ball hit and react off the paddle really well. Combine that with the rigidity you get from a material like graphite and you can have good control as well. It's a "point and shoot" effect because of the stiffness.
Because of this thinness though, they are prone to crack or chip on the edges when dropped. The light weight, thin material of graphite makes them damage easily if dropped, so I always recommend getting a graphite paddle with an edge guard.
But, what do the experts say? What I learned from Neil Friedenberg about graphite paddles surprised me! He said, "depending on the make up of the chemicals and the quality of the materials used, some graphite paddles have smaller sweet spots versus other kinds paddles!"
He even went onto say: "You’ll have a great kill shot when you hit it just right with a graphite paddle, but you could have more miss-hits than any other high-end paddles using high-end materials."
Again, this is going to vary depending on the manufacturer and the materials used but in general, lower to mid tier priced graphite paddles could come with sweet spot and miss-hit issues. So just be mindful.
That's a serious draw back if you ask me. Neil and his team (it's a family run operation actually) have been around since 1984 and have produced all kinds of paddles, including graphites ones so I'll take his word for it.
Graphite paddles are the stiffest and lightest paddle but also sometimes suffer from small sweet spots and more miss-hits.
What about the other 5.0 level Pros that I interviewed? What did they have to say about graphite paddles? Well to be honest with you, they ALL preferred a different paddle surface other than graphite. Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports typically goes with a composite paddle from Selkirk because of the spin these paddles can produce...more on that in a minuet. Del Kauss and Mark Friedenberg both prefer Carbon Fiber over graphite.
When a big-time pickleball paddle maker like Pro-Lite tells you graphite paddles sometimes have small sweet spots and potentially more opportunities for miss-hits AND three Pros prefer other materials over graphite, that should tell you something.
So is graphite a bad pickleball paddle surface? No, not at all. Graphite paddles can be inexpensive and easy to play with. There is a lot of value in that! So, who are graphite paddles for? Graphite paddles can be played with by beginners or experienced players. However, in my opinion, the cheaper ones are simply tailored more towards a beginner level player. The combination of light weight and low price is perfect for a beginner. If you're a beginner but looking to improve and want more performance out of your paddle because you've moved beyond just a recreational style of play, then you'll probably want to upgrade from a graphite paddle somewhat soon.
The very first pickleball paddle was in fact made from plywood. But paddles have come a long way since then. Wooden paddles however, are still very much available. Wooden paddles are cheap and are often found in paddle sets. They're a great, inexpensive option to bundle with a portable net or with a beginner paddle set comprising of four balls and four paddles. Wooden paddles are often bought in bulk by recreation centers or local clubs as an option for brand new players.
Chances are, if you got exposed to pickleball at your local YMCA, your club most likely had some free wooden paddles for you try. A set of four wooden paddles is also a decent option for some drive way pickleball at home. These run anywhere from $12 for the paddle to around $40 for a set of four. They are a cheap option for brand new players but I almost never see them played with anymore at my local rec center. That should tell you something.
Wooden pickleball paddles are by far the heaviest paddles you’ll find. Generally speaking, you’ll find them wright in around 9 to 12 oz...sometimes more if you have a really old one.
My take on wooden pickleball paddles is; don’t bother. They’re far too heavy and price doesn’t matter much when you can find a decent graphite paddle for under $30. Even if its your first time playing, a cheap graphite paddle is going to give you a more enjoyable pickleball experience and give you a better feel for the game. Too many players “try” pickleball with a wooden paddle and never come back.
But, what material is best for a pickleball paddle...wood, graphite, composite or carbon fiber? Based on the paddles I've played with, composite seems to perform really good! But, when I polled our panel of experts, Carbon Fiber was the overall top pick! US Open Silver Medalist Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports chose Composite but Neil Friedenberg, Del Kauss and Mark Friendenberg ALL chose Carbon Fiber!
Del Kauss, three time US Open Champion had this to say about his favorite paddle right now, the carbon fiber Titan Pro by Pro-Lite: "I believe right now, the best surface is the black diamond carbon fiber surface found in the Titan Pro. This is a unique carbon fiber material that results in a supreme combination of touch and power...the surface also allows you to add spin to the ball as it grips well even without texture."
Here is what Mark Renneson, who travels all around the US doing coaching clinics had to say about his favorite, the composite material "fiberflex" from Selkirk: "For most pros, the key feature in today's game is the ability to produce spin. I'd love to play with a sandpaper surface but until they change the rules, I'm going with the composite fiberflex "Amped" series of paddles from Selkirk. Although it doesn't feel super-rough, it plays like it is. It allows me to create the spin I want when I'm playing a flick from the kitchen or a drive from 3/4 court."
Gold Medalist Mark Friedenberg chimed in: "In my opinion, the carbon fiber face is the BEST surface. It provides softness for control and spin, but strong enough for providing power."
Neil Friedenberg's paddle company Pro-Lite has over 30 years of experience with all four paddle surfaces - so I asked him which is best... "This is a very interesting question that cannot be easily answered...but I feel the best material hands down is our Black Diamond Series carbon fiber that we use on the Cypher Pro, Supernova Pro, Titan Pro, and Titan."
5.0 level Pros are choosing composite or carbon fiber paddles more than any other kind of paddle.
Ok, we've covered all four types of paddle surfaces, so let's talk paddle cores for a moment. Aside from your paddle's surface, your paddle's core is the next most influential feature to its performance on the court.
Paddle companies like Pro-Lite, Paddeltek, Prince and Selkirk have all used many types of cores to compliment their paddle's response and feel. When it comes to a paddle's touch and feel, the core has A LOT to do with it. Even the sound a paddle makes and the "pop" you hear (and feel) comes from the core sandwiched between the surface plates.
There are three main paddle cores to choose from: Polymer (aka polypropylene), Nomex, and Aluminum. Each core has something it does well but also has something it doesn't do well or sacrifices. However, one core material is starting to separate itself from the pack; Polymer.
What does a "honeycomb core" mean? When you see the word "honeycomb" in front of the paddle core type; that refers to the hexagonal shape that the core has been cut into. All three paddle cores can be cut into a honeycomb shape and this allows for a less dense paddle with better touch and feel for the player. Some cores are "solid", as in there are no tiny honeycomb shapes built in, it is just a solid piece of Polymer, Nomex or Aluminum. Honeycomb shapes are the preferred design type in today's pickleball market.
For an additional breakdown of each paddle core, check out this article Neil and his team at Pro-Lite put together.
POLYMER CORES: More and more pro level paddles are incorporating this kind of paddle core because it offers the player plenty of power with a quieter, softer feel. Not to mention it's incredibly cheap to manufacture. Way cheaper than Nomex and Aluminum.
I had Neil Friedenberg, the head man at Pro-Lite give me his expert thoughts on Polymer cores. He said: "Polymer cores are popular and tend to have better durability overall. Many are in the half inch thickness range, so this aids in vibration dampening creating a solid sense of feel at impact. Plus being the half inch thickness creates a nice and comfortable circumference for your grip without going too large." It should be noted that ALL of Pro-Lite's premium carbon fiber paddles incorporate a polymer core.
*5.0 Pro Feedback: Pickleball Hall fo Famer Mark Friedenberg likes polymer cores the best because he feels they are stronger and last longer than other cores. If it's good enough for the "Yoda" of pickleball, it's good enough for me!
Polymer cores are the most popular because they are inexpensive, quiet, and provide the best combination of power and touch.
NOMEX CORES: Nomex started as a flame-resistant material made from meta-aramid fibers; used much like Kevlar in protective gear. But it's application on the pickleball court is vastly different. Here is what you need to know - when a paddle has a Nomex core in it - it's going to play with a lot of power and pop. This is largely because Nomex is a stiffer material, so the paddle plays stiffer and repels the ball very quickly. Nomex cores are noticeably louder and paddles with them inside play louder with that signature "pop" upon impact.
Neil Friedenberg told me Nomex is a more expensive core compared to polymer but many players (lots of younger players actually) still prefer it. Younger, or newer players like paddles that provide plenty of power or pop and Nomex cores provide that because of the stiffness. The ball spends little time on the paddle and is rebounded off of it quickly...creating a "blast back effect."
Because of the "pop" that comes with a Nomex core, you may see it coupled with a surface that has some give to it, like Graphite. When you pair a Graphite surface with a Nomex core, you can slow down the Nomex core a little, balancing the power coming from the paddle and add a little control to the paddle's overall performance.
Nomex cores are a great option for power because the ball responds to the paddle aggressively. But, they're LOUD!
ALUMINUM CORES: Aluminum cores are the heaviest paddle core because of their thickness and their density. However, despite this density and weight, Aluminum cores are not designed to add power...they actually excel at adding control. In fact, some pickleball paddle manufacturers will combine aluminum cores with a composite paddle surface to add a little more power component.
There is a draw back to Aluminum cores and sadly its making them going by the way side rather quickly. They are prone to dent too easily. Because of this, you just don't see many new paddles incorporating aluminum cores anymore. The very best paddles from the best paddles companies like Pro-Lite, Selkirk and Paddletek are NOT using Aluminum cores anymore...they're using Polymer.
Neil Friedenberg told me: "We decided to phase out aluminum cores mainly because they have the tendency to dent after awhile. They play well, especially with the indoor ball which is softer."
When a paddle technology is relegated to an indoor game only, the longevity of that paddle tech is going to be severely limited.
Aluminum cores are not being used much anymore because they are prone to dent and only play well for an indoor game.
One of the major components to the regulations and rules put into place by the USAPA back in 2016 centered around the "Pickleball Deflection Test." Even the International Federation of Pickleball got involved. Together, they came up with the Pickleball Paddle Deflection Test. In fact, it is the IFP that actually governs the test.
But what is the Pickleball Deflection Test exactly? Neil Friedenberg of Pro-Lite Sports told me "The deflection test is used by the USAPA to measure the type of trampoline effect certain materials have on the ball. And yes, we do use it."
To get additional clarity, I pulled this directly from the IFP's website. It states:
"The test used to measure the rigidity of a paddle is the Deflection Test. When subjected to the tests, the paddles must meet the following requirements: - 5 thousandths of an inch or less at a test weight of 3 kg. - 10 thousandth of an inch or less at a test weight of 5 kg."
These numbers are not going to mean much to you and I or the average pickleball player. And, it can be easy to lump the terms "rigidity" and "trampoline effect" together when in fact, they are NOT synonymous. The misconception is that a rigid paddle will create a trampoline effect, when in reality, the opposite is true.
Paddles are meant to be stiff, and rigid with very little give. A stringed racquet on the other hand CAN give, and because of the string bed, create a leaping or "trampoline effect."
So, what the Pickleball Paddle Deflections Test does, is measure paddle rigidity to make sure certain paddle cores and paddle surfaces DON'T act like a string bed (like on a tennis racquet). So, rigid is what the USAPA and IFP want. That's a big part in keeping the integrity of the game in tact while the game and the paddles evolve. Paddles that play like a tennis racquet is NOT what the USAPA wants.
The Pickleball Paddle Deflection Test measures how the ball reacts to the materials used in the paddle itself. It is a "pass" or "fail" test where if the paddle has too much trampoline effect, it is NOT a USAPA approved paddle.
For a complete breakdown of what the test looks like, click here.
For more on paddle material specifications and an approved paddle list, click on this helpful link.
I asked the President of Pro-Lite, Neil Friedenberg, a few questions about the lifespan of a pickleball paddle. I asked him...
With more advanced materials, do the paddles last longer? What’s the average lifespan of a pickleball paddle these days?
"Players tend to replace or buy new paddles every 2 years on average. Depending on how someone takes care of their paddle also has a major impact on the longevity of the paddle. I have seen a 10 year old Pro-Lite paddle out there. Certain materials do last longer as well. Without getting too in depth about certain materials we find valuable, I can say that there are many variances in top layers of paddles across carbon fibers, fiberglasses, polycarbonates, etc. and some last longer than others depending on their overall structures."
Neil also mentioned:
"It depends on the athlete and their skill level. PROLITE is constantly researching new core materials to determine this question. The one item we will state is that not all core materials are consistent. Some manufacturers use lesser materials and it becomes very clear that this occurs when a dead spot is felt on the surface. This is a function of inconsistent materials. There are some paddles being produced by known companies that get dead spots in them after just a few weeks of use."
Today's pickleball paddles can come in a wide range of shapes and sizes. Some may seem like marketing "hype" but the reality is, that every shape you see on the market today, has real functionality behind it. Some are even designed for specific types of payers; like advanced players wanting more power or "whip" (see the blade shape if that's you).
Pickleball paddles can vary in length and width all the way down to an eighth of an inch. The USAPA has strict regulations when it comes to total paddle length. The USAPA says: "The combined length and width including any edge guard and butt cap shall not exceed 24 inches."
Paddle Dimension Calculator: Total paddle length + total paddle width = Paddle Size.
So, paddle makers have a defined amount of real estate they have to work with when making their paddles. To maximize the length and width, paddle companies may have to shorten the handle. Conversely, to maximize grip length, they'll have to limit the length of the paddle face a little.
Some companies are even adding a section to the paddle between the neck of the handle and the paddle face. Advanced Recreational Design was the first to do it with their patented "throat design". Their unique throat design connects the neck (top of the handle) to the head (paddle face) using their two piece mold called a "throat." Hey, proper anatomy works even on pickleball paddles! The benefit to you the player is that the throat absorbs mass and reduces vibration, increasing control and overall stability. Better stability, in theory, leads to fewer miss hits.
Some predefined shapes include: Wide Body, Tear Drop or Blade. But paddle shapes can vary so much that they may not necessarily fit into a predefined shape or specification. A general rule of thumb for "Wide Body" paddles is any width 8 inches or wider.
PADDLE SHAPE DIMENSIONS
Standard Paddle Shape: 15 3/4" x 7 7/8"
Wide Body Shape: 16" x 8"
Thin Body Shape: 16 1/2" x 7 1/4"
Blade Shape: 17" x 6 7/8"
Before I get into the feedback from my Professional Panel of experts, let me give you my thoughts on paddle width. I've played with all shapes and sizes but typically play my best with paddles that range from 15 3/4 long (or longer) by 7 7/8 wide (or wider). Anything thinner or longer and my play begins to drop considerably.
For instance, when I played with the longer Invikta Light from Selkirk, I just couldn't get a good feel for it. It was light and long and I lost consistency. I realized very quickly that I wasn't good enough to be playing with the Invikta X5. It was made for a 4.0 or above player that can hit the sweet spot regardless of paddle size. Wider paddles with a bigger sweet spot are more my style.
Let's check in with our Pros. What did they have to say about paddle dimensions?
Let's start with pickleball coach Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports, I got his take on paddle shapes and where people actually hit the ball; including Pros:
"I think it is fascinating to watch how the manufacturers are battling it out and how shape is becoming a frontier in this fight. I know that pros generally don't hit the ball in the middle of the paddle, but actually the upper-middle (just check where their paddles are dirty when you see pictures of them). So it is important that the top end of the paddle is as forgiving as possible. I suspect we are going to see more innovations in this area soon and then some standardization."
I asked Gold Medalist and 5.0 Pro Mark Friendenberg about his take on Blade Shaped Paddles...
"There are several paddle shapes and, it must be left to the individual. But remember that the blade paddle have a smaller sweet spot because it gives away width for length."
Del Kauss, a Pro-Lite sponsored Pro, gave me his take on why "Wide Body" paddles are his favorite shape:
"I think the standard or slightly wider than standard shapes are better than the thin blade shaped paddles. If you do happen to hit the ball just outside the sweet spot it still has a good chance of going where you want it to go. With the thinner paddles the room for error is a lot less and the key to winning pickleball is keeping that ball in play and being consistent."
Finally, I asked Neil Friedenberg, paddle maker and guru at Pro-Lite Sports how his company measures a paddle's sweet spot based on it's shape. Here is what he said:
"Players have an easy time distinguishing if the ball hit the sweet spot on their paddle or not. There tends to be more vibration when a ball hits outside of the sweet spot. The sweet spot is measured where the most energy is transferred to the ball at impact. The sound is different as well. You can hear a much more solid, pure sound in the sweet spot versus an off pitch sound outside of it. The size and shape of the sweet spot is relative to the shape of the paddle along with the paddle's materials, weight and weight distribution. An example of material's influence can be the use of the thicker carbon fiber that dampens impact and vibration, resulting in optimal control."
I also asked him - What makes a Pro-Lite Paddle, a "wide body" shape?
"In our opinion, a wide body paddle has a 8' width or more. This could differentiate from other brands. An example in our lineup would be the Covert and the Supernova Pro of the Black Diamond Series."
Choosing a comfortable paddle that fits well in your hand is going to come down to two variables; the paddle's grip length and the paddle's grip circumference (handle thickness).
Paddle grip lengths will vary across different paddle companies and even paddle head shapes. Typically, if you're going to have a long paddle head, the grip length is going to be compromised and be shorter. Which could be great if you have smaller hands. Shorter handle paddles, like the Bantam TS-5 Pro from Paddletek are 4.75" long. Paddles, like the Prince Spectrum Pro or the HEAD Radical Tour are the standard 5" long. This is the most common pickleball paddle grip length you'll see. However, players coming from a Tennis background might want a longer handle; to mimic the feel of a tennis racquet. Long handled paddles like the Pro-Lite CRUSH Powerspin and the Prince Response Pro both check in with lanky grips of 5.5" long.
Your paddle's grip circumference is going to come down to your hand size. Petite hands are going to want to consider grips around 4" thick. Regular size hands are going to prefer grip thickness somewhere in between 4 1/8 inches to 4 1/4 inches thick. And larger hands will need paddle grips that are 4 1/2 inches or thicker. Remember, you can always add thickness using grip tape or overgrip. I recommend the No-Sweat Diamond Grip by Pro-Lite or the Supreme Overgrip by Gamma. They're both dedicated pickleball grip products made for pickleball paddles.
But how do you find the right paddle grip for your hand? Well, if we're talking about the right length of paddle grip, that's purely an individual preference. It's going to come down to how it feels. The good news is, you'll probably know right away whether you like a shorter handle or a longer handle. Personally, I like the standard 5" long handle.
Grip circumference or thickness is a little different. This can actually be measured and is really easy to do. In fact, measuring paddle grip on a pickleball paddle is virtually the same as getting "fiitted" for a tennis racquet!
Here's how to measure if a grip is too thick or too thin for your hand:
1. With your dominant hand, grab your paddle like your shaking hands with it. This is the "shake hand" grip style and is actually the preferred way to hold a pickleball paddle (or even tennis racquet).
2. Next, take your other hand's index finger and try to slide it in between the fingers gripping the paddle. Pay close attention to your ring finger and your middle finger of the hand holding the paddle.
3. The Result: If the index finger of your other hand simply cannot fit in between the fingers holding the paddle, the grip is too thin. If you can fit your index finger between them but you also still see lots of space and paddle grip not covered up by your fingers, then it's too thick.
4. The Perfect Fit: If you can slide your other hand's index finger in between the ring and middle fingers of the hand holding your paddle, without seeing your paddle's handle come through the spaces in your fingers, you're good to go!
You can actually make a grip shorter by shaving it down and thicker by adding grip tape. This will give you more "whip-like" power!
With so many nuances and subtleties between grip length and grip circumference, how much does it really matter? I asked my panel of experts "How much does grip really matter to you?"
Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports said: "Unlike some people, I'm not super fussy about grip width. I go with the standard 4.25 grip. As far as length goes, coming from a tennis background I'm more comfortable with a longer handle. So the Selkirk Invikta and Selkirk Epic feel the best to me. But I always put an overgrip on it."
US Open Champion Del Kauss talked about how he specially likes to hold his paddle. Surprisingly, Del talked about how his grip changes throughout a match:
"I make my grip size so that it is comfortable to hold the paddle without having to grip the paddle too tight. I like to have a loose grip to have a soft touch on my dinks and 3rd shot drops. And then just a quick squeeze to get a firmer grip to make my power shots pop off the paddle."
Gold Medalist and Pickleball National Champion Mark Friedenberg gave me a hint as to how and why her prefers a shorter grip:
"Grip length is also a personal preference. I like a short handle. I also shave down my handle to create a small grip for more whip action. I believe that grip is very important to your play. It is to mine!"
Re-gripping your pickleball paddle isn't very difficult. It's essentially a 6 step process. Here is the equipment you'll need: your paddle, re-grip tape, re-grip tab and possibly a pair of scissors.
Here is the process to re-grip your pickleball paddle:
1. Remove your worn out paddle grip by simply peeling it off down the handle to the end cap.
2. Unwrap your re-grip tape from its packaging and peel off the adhesive film covering the sticky side of the new grip.
3. Hold your paddle upside down and begin applying the grip tape around the end cap, starting with the front side corner of the cap.
4. Begin going around the the paddle down from the end cap to the paddle face. Keep the grip tape taught using your thumbs to keep the tape firm and wrinkle free.
5. Make sure "the span" between your grip lines are as even as possible to eliminate bumps and gaps. Use ALL the grip supplied as you approach the neck of the paddle.
6. Once the main grip tape is applied grab your grip tab, peel of the adhesive covering and complete the process by wrapping the tab around the neck where the paddle face meets the handle. You're done!
Check out the video below of Neil Friedenberg re-gripping his own paddle. This is a great step-by-step video of how to do it. Obviously Neil has done this before and he makes it look easy. But don't worry, anyone can do it!
Another great video on how to re-grip a paddle comes from Barrett Kincheloe of Pickleballkitchen.com. These are the two best videos on how to apply a new grip to any pickleball paddle.
How do you know if you're holding your pickleball paddle properly? Well, it's easy. Grab your paddle using the "hand shake" grip again and hold it out in front of you. Look at the shape formed by your thumb and your index finger of the hand holding the paddle. You should see a "v" type shape in the space being formed by your index finger and thumb. The direction the "v" is facing will give you a clue as to whether your grip is weak, normal or strong.
For more on how to properly hold your paddle and the difference between a "weak" grip, "normal" grip and a "strong" grip; check out this post from Barrett Kincheloe over at PickleballKitchen.com. This is a great article on all things related to "grip" and how to see if you're holding your pickleball paddle the right way.
Why did I include price as a legit discussion point here? Isn't the price of a paddle...well, just the price? No! I did a little research and found out that the retail price of a pickleball paddle can actually tell you a lot.
First off. Price is obviously good to now because you may have a budget you're trying to stick to. But, what if you're stuck? What if you want to spend around $100 on a new paddle but you're wondering if it's worth spending an extra $30 or even $50 on the more expensive $130 or $150 options?
Well, I'm here to tell you there is a reason paddle companies are charging more. They charge more for their best paddles because typically speaking, you GET more. By that I mean more honeycomb. Yes I said honeycomb, as in the paddle core.
Paddle companies can use a little or a lot of the honeycomb core they're inserting into the center of the paddle. Remember, it's like an accordion that can expand or contract based how much material someone like Pro-Lite or Paddletek is working with. If it's a minimal amount of honeycomb core being used, the accordion is being pulled out or expanded to cover the entire surface area of the paddle.
The more the core is stretched, the more dead spots you'll have on the paddle. Insert large amounts of the desired honeycomb core (polymer, nomex, or aluminum) and the accordion shrinks, creating fewer dead spots and a bigger overall sweet spot. If a paddle claims to have a "big sweet spot", chances are they've used more honeycomb woven material in the core. That's a good thing.
So, a $60 graphite paddle with a polymer honeycomb core may not have a lot of the actual honeycomb shape inside. Meaning, more potential dead spots. Compare that to a premium paddle like the Pro-Lite Titan Pro that retails well over $100 and you know that it's got more polymer honeycomb material inside and way less dead spot potential. It's worth the price.
So, until the USAPA forces manufacturers to publish the volume of honeycomb used in their paddles, the closest indicator right now is; the price.
The cheaper the paddle, the less "honeycomb" core that particular paddle company probably used. As they say - you get what you pay for.
Let me clear up a misconception here. You might have heard rumblings that a yellow paddle or any paddle that matches the color of the ball being used, is illegal. WRONG!
That is simply not true. If you're playing with a yellow or green ball, like many of us do when playing indoors, it is perfectly legal to be using a yellow or green paddle. You can even wear the same colored shirt too!
Would this create a marginal advantage for you or a disadvantage for your opponent? Technically, yes because the ball could get lost in your shirt and be even harder to see when coming off your yellow paddle. This would make it harder for your opponent to judge and anticipate your return shots. But, it's legal!
The rule of "no yellow paddles" was made up by local pickleball communities. It's not enforced by the USAPA.
This rumor was generated by pickleball communities that essentially, made up this rule on the fly. Don't confuse your local park's pickleball rules from the actual rules enforced by the IFP and USAPA. You can play with whatever color paddle you want and wear whatever shirt color you want.
But that doesn't mean you should. It all boils down to good sportsmanship and pickleball etiquette. Just like the unwritten rules in golf where golf etiquette comes into play. It's the same in pickleball. Can you play with a paddle that's the same color as the ball? Yes, but don't. That's a jerk move. Nobody will want to play with you.
Plus, you'll be hard pressed to find a paddle that is just one solid single color that exactly matches the color of the ball you're using.
Pickleball paddles have a signature "pop" when the plastic ball makes contact with the flat hard paddle. If you ask me, this is part of what makes pickleball so unique. That "pop" you hear across crowded pickleball courts gives the game its character. But, as you know that "pop" can be loud, especially if you've got a group of people playing with graphite paddles and nomex cores (put the two together and you've got one thundering paddle).
The noise generated by dozens of pickleball paddles across multiple courts has prompted the need for noise ordinances in many pickleball communities. Just last month the city of Punta Gorda Florida was up in arms over "crowded, noisy pickleball courts."
Even retirement communities, big ones like Sun City, have gone so far as to create an approved list of pickleball paddles that are noise friendly. Other facilities are taking notice and adopting similar rules.
In fact, noise friendly paddles have caught on so much, they've now been rebranded as "Green Zone Pickleball Paddles." Green Zone Paddles are dedicated paddles that meet the proper noise level restrictions set by that particular pickleball facility. For an example list of Sun City Green Zone paddles, click here.
Pickleball courts can reach noise levels of 61 decibels, that's considerably louder than a crowded tennis court.
But how much noise does a pickleball paddle really make? Well, it's actually been studied. In 2012, and many times since, the decibel level of a busy pickleball court has been measured. According to the study, it's about 61 decibels give or take. That's higher than what you'd get from say a busy group of tennis players on a tennis court.
But, what's the point? Who cares? Well some counties have a noise level limit of 60 decibels. Meaning a crowded pickleball court could technically be in violation of city ordinances. Hence the need for Green Zone Paddles.
Well, there you have it! We've covered just about everything there is to cover around pickleball paddles in today's game of pickleball. I'd like to send a huge thank you to my three 5.0 level Professionals who allowed me to get their thoughts - Pickleball Hall of Famer Mark Friedenberg, 2018 Senior Doubles Champion Del Kauss and one of the premier coaches around Mark Renneson of Third Shot Sports! I'd also like to send a special thank you to Pro-Lite President Neil Friedenberg for his expertise around what goes into actually making a great paddle! You guys are the best!
Do you have a question, this article doesn't answer? I want to hear from you! Please post your question in the comments sections below! If I don't know the answer, I'd be happy to reach out to my panel of experts to see what they think. Happy dinking!