There is no doubt that pickleball’s popularity is on the rise! As more people learn how to play pickleball, new paddle companies are getting into the game. At the recent US Open Championships, top player Sarah Ansboury formerly sponsored by ProLite was playing a new paddle from sports industry giant Head. While I haven’t yet tried their pickleball paddles, Head is one of the top manufacturers in the ski industry, and I love my “Total Joys”!
Confronted with the plethora of choices just how does someone who is not a sponsored 5.0 player find the best pickleball paddle for their game?
If professionally fitting golf clubs and skis for many years has taught me anything, it’s that finding the right equipment for any sport is a little bit science and a lot of personal preference.
When I look at my history of pickleball paddles, I’ve gotten more sophisticated in my choosing over time. For me, like many of you, I learned how to play pickleball with a wood paddle. It’s an expensive way to see if you like the game. It didn’t take long to realize the pickleball bug had bitten me or for my arm to start hurting from the weighty paddle.
My next pick was a Paddletek Element. It felt like a feather compared to the wood, but truth be told the graphics and color caught my eye. The color was probably a frivolous reason to choose a paddle, but it inadvertently made clear a couple of features that were important, weight and grip size. Sadly, the grip was too small, and again my arm began hurting.
As I started looking for my next paddle, I realized that in addition to weight and grip how the ball felt coming off the paddle was important. My primary learning style is feeling, and I wasn’t aware of its importance until I tried a friend’s paddle made of a different material on each side, one was great, and the other felt dead.
After some trial and error and a few paddles later here are the top 2 paddle preference factors to help you choose the best pickleball paddle
The weight of the paddle influences your reaction time and swing speed. Paddles tend to range from an airy 6 ounces to a beefy 14 ounces. The following are the most common weight ranges:
Medium Weight 7.3-8.2
Heavy 8.2 >
In general terms, a lighter paddle provides better control, finesse and is easier on the arm. However, a paddle that is too light doesn’t provide enough power and may not have enough stability to dampen the vibration from the ball which could lead to injury. Conversely, a heavier paddle gives more power and drive but may tire or injury a weak arm.
The same paddle is offered in a variety of weights. An ounce may not sound like a lot but tell that to your tired and sore arm a few hours into your next game. Use a food or postal scale to determine the exact paddle weight.
Size really does matter on a pickleball grip. Too big for your hand, the paddle is hard to control and inhibits your ability to spin the ball. Too small and it could lead to an overactive arm resulting in injury.
The most common grip sizes are:
Medium 4 1/4″
Large 4 1/2″
An easy grip test is to hold the paddle and see if you can insert the forefinger of your non-paddle hand between the heel pad and your ring and middle fingertips. If your finger fits snuggly, you’ve found a good grip size.
Still not sure? Try Pickleball Central’s handy dandy grip guide.
If you love everything about the paddle, but the grip isn’t quite right, overgrip tape is an easy and inexpensive way to make a small grip larger. Even someone who has never installed an overgrip could watch this video with Jennifer Lucore and her dad and put it on a paddle in minutes
The length of the grip is the other consideration. If you’re accustomed to a two-handed backhand or like to make adjustments to your grip placement during play a longer grip is a necessity.
My next two paddle preferences
The most common materials used are wood, composite, graphite and aluminum. Paddles must conform to rigidity and deflection tests administered by the IFP, International Federation of Pickleball. Meaning materials contribute to weight, feel, or sound and are largely a matter of personal preference.
However, pickleball paddles can wear out and some materials last longer. On the other hand, if you are like me you have several from which to choose.
4. Hitting surface shape
According to USAPA rules, the combined length and width of a paddle can be no more than 24″ and the length alone cannot exceed 17″. These rules give manufacturers flexibility with the shape. Be that as it may, there has only been a slight shape difference except for blades. Most blades take advantage of the 17″ rule and by adding that extra couple of inches, it provides additional reach and power. Contrarily, the decrease in width requires more precise contact and is less forgiving of off-center hits.
Not intending to complicate things but there may be a couple of other factors to consider when choosing the best pickleball paddle.
To me there is nothing like the sound of the ball coming off the paddle; however, not everyone feels the same way. Some clubs and communities are sensitive to pickleball sound. If you live or play in a community, it’s best to determine if they have a list of conforming paddles. Here’s a noise conforming paddle list from a community that has dealt with this issue.
Since the balls are different, it will likely come off the paddle differently. Several players have one paddle for indoor or one for outdoor. An additional consideration is edge guards or edgeless. Edgeless eliminates the error of hitting the ball between face and side. On the other hand, asphalt courts can quickly ruin a paddle without an edge guard compared to a mishit on a softer gym floor.
Color can be an advantage. I played with a yellow Onyx React for several months. It was difficult for some players to pick up the ball leaving the paddle and in some instances slowed reaction time.
Wood paddles start in the $15 range, and prices for composite paddles can go to over $150 or more. The good news is there are a lot of quality paddles in a variety of price points.
These factors may seem like a lot to consider, especially if you are just learning how to play pickleball so if I could narrow it down. My number one piece of advice for choosing the best pickleball paddle? Try before you buy!
One of the avid players in your group may be a company representative, or you could try a new paddle at a tournament. If that’s not the case, several of the online sites have demo programs or 30-day return policies.
Remember, it’s a little science and a lot of personal preference. Just because your favorite 5.0 player makes it sing like a fiddle doesn’t mean it’s right for you!
Need more help? There are some excellent resources from Pickleball Central and Pickleball.net to answer more detailed questions and help you find the best pickleball paddle for your game.
What’s your favorite pickleball paddle? Post in the comments below.
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