A Guide on Choosing the Right Paddle

In its short life, pickleball has shown remarkable growth. The combination of relatively simple rules, small physical footprint, and minimal required equipment make it a game easily playable by many people. The most complicated piece of equipment is the paddle.

The earliest paddles were solid plywood. The inventors made them from simple materials on hand. Quickly, the demands for something lighter, stronger and where players could generate spin created an entire industry. Today there are many manufacturers using space age materials and new ones are coming on the market regularly.

The Basics

By the official rules of the USA Pickleball Association, the length and width cannot exceed 24 inches combined with the length not exceeding 17 inches. There are no limits on thickness or weight. There are substantial restrictions on the surface so it cannot, by itself, impart spin. Therefore, holes, dimples, rubber, sand or other rough texture are prohibited unlike ping pong or platform tennis for instance . There are no restrictions on materials but you cannot make your own paddle.

Paddle Construction

Typically, there are three main parts: core, surface, and grip (handle). Other than cheap, solid wood paddles, all paddles have some kind of honeycomb construction for the core. This is to manage the weight while still providing the stiffness a paddle needs.

The Core (facing) - made from one of three materials - Nomex, polymer, or aluminum. Each has their own strengths and weaknesses. Polymer has grown to dominate with approximately 81% of the market.

The Surface - made from one of three materials - fiberglass, graphite, or carbon fiber. (A note for you science nerds: graphite and carbon fiber are basically the same material but use two different processes to manufacture. This creates different results on the surface.) Any of these can be applied to any of the core materials listed above.

The Grip (handle) - While the handle’s construction will affect how vibrations are felt, the grip which goes over the handle really impacts players. Getting the right size, like with tennis, is key. But unlike tennis, there are not as many choices. Therefore players may have to apply overgrips or find a thinner grip depending on their hand size. The shape of the grip is a personal preference. Common shapes include ridges or are flat and/or are wrapped.

Does the shape matter?

It might. Most paddles are fairly standard between 15.5 and 16 inches in length and have the standard paddle shape. For some experienced players, a full length, 17 inch paddle that is narrower helps them reach those tougher shots. However, they tend to have smaller sweet spots requiring a higher skill level to use. There are also oblong shapes and some with the corners at the end rounded off or cut off. These help players who struggle to get shorter, lower shots like dinks and drops.

What to Consider when Choosing a Paddle

1. Prices for decent paddles start around $50. Cheap, solid wood paddles are less expensive. However they are typically heavy, noisy, won’t last, and won’t help you build your skills. At the high end, paddles can approach $200.

2. Weight should be your single biggest consideration. An ounce or two can make a big difference in many ways.

  • Lightweight (7.2 oz & under)
    • More control - less power.
    • Better for newer players.
    • Can cause injuries if swing is hard.
    • Good for volleys and dinks.
    • Common for doubles players.
  • Midweight (7.3 oz - 8.4 oz)
    • Balance of power and control.
    • Popular with different styles of play.
    • Used by players with various fitness levels.
    • Can minimize injuries.
    • Largest range of model choices.
    • Best option for players not sure about what to buy.
  • Heavyweight (8.5 oz & up)
    • More power - less control.
    • Popular with singles players.
    • Regular play can injure the elbow or other locations.
    • Good for slams and passing shots.
    • Often used by professionals.

3. Find the right sized grip. You use the same process as for a tennis racquet grip size and our How to Measure Grip Size guide is especially helpful for this. If you can’t quite find the right size, buy one size smaller and follow our guide on Increasing Grip Size.

4. Understand your playing ability and experience. If you are a raw beginner, buying a heavy paddle made for professionals and advanced players will probably have a smaller sweet spot therefore frustrating the rookie. The opposite is also true. An experienced player will not get the results they expect from a lighter paddle due to the lesser power.

5. Understand your general fitness and strength levels.Its important to do a candid reality check. While there isn’t as much running as in tennis or squash, this is still a sport requiring exertion. Buying a paddle that is too heavy could result in injury. The whole objective of pickleball is to have fun and get some exercise.

6. Color and design scheme do not impact the player using the paddle. There are some people who believe that having a color that blends in with the color of the ball and the color of the surroundings will affect the competition’s ability to read your shots.

More quality choices means good news for consumers even if it creates a bit of confusion. New courts are opening up. More and more people are playing regardless of age, size, physical condition, gender, or previous experience in sports of any kind. Adaptive pickleball groups including wheelchair players and groups for veterans are growing in number every day. You too can have fun playing pickleball. And you can start today.

Tennisracquets.com is here to help you whether you are a beginner or an advanced professional or anything in between. Check out our Getting Started with Pickleball guide. Call us with questions. We love to help!