Pickleball Paddle Buying Guide
Choosing a Pickleball Paddle
The really good friend who introduced you to pickleball says it's time for you to get your own paddle but choosing a pickleball paddle seems to have so many options attached. Even if you are an experienced player, figuring out the right pickleball paddle for you can be complicated.
Composite paddle or graphite paddle? Is fiberglass the best? Why not one of those old wooden paddles? Heavy or light? Does the grip size matter? All good questions.
The good news is this Buying Guide will give you the tools and know-how to choose a pickleball paddle that will help your game and help you have even more fun. Now THAT is really good news!
How Did Pickleball Paddles Start Out?
Pickleball is the fastest growing racquet and ball sport in the United States. From very humble beginnings in the Pacific Northwest to today the growth has been explosive.
The pickleball paddle is a very sophisticated piece of gear. The dramatic increase in players has created an entire industry with lots of brands out there from major sporting goods companies to specialty, niche companies.
The founders of the sport made up some all-wood paddles with scrap materials they just happened to have laying around. To this day, wooden paddles exist and are the cheapest pickleball paddles. A wood paddle might make sense if you are having a party and will use them only once but there are so many superior options that are lighter, more durable and quieter to boot.
There are plenty of very affordable paddles that are perfect for a first paddle and for regular players. The many manufacturers who are competing for your business continue to innovate with new materials, shapes, weights and of course, graphics and colors.
2 Important Rules To Know
1). Limitations on Size of Pickleball Paddles
The USA Pickleball Association is the official guardian of all the rules regarding pickleball including paddles. Per their rules, when you add the length to the width of a paddle, it cannot exceed 24 inches.
Importantly, the maximum length, including any edge guard, is 17 inches. USA Pickleball maintains a list of approved paddles and that list governs what paddles can be used in tournaments. You are allowed to have a paddle as thick and as heavy (or light) as you want.
2). Rules About the Face
Unlike games like platform tennis or even ping pong, a pickleball paddle cannot have a surface on the paddle face that can impact spin in any meaningful way. As a result, you can't have a heavily textured surface or add-ins like sand.
The most popular surfaces are either a composite paddle or a graphite paddle. There are no rules regarding the composition of the surface, but this is not a DIY piece of sports equipment as it is a specifically prohibited practice. In any event, you will want to buy a paddle from these professional manufacturers.
4 Key Parts To A Pickleball Paddle
1) The Paddle Core
Once the sport moved out of the founder's backyard and professional brands started making paddles, it quickly became apparent that a honeycomb construction for the inside of the paddle would be highly useful in reducing paddle weight. Virtually all paddles use this technique other than an inexpensive pickleball paddle like the first pickleball paddle 100% made of wood.
Nomex, polymer, or aluminum are the three materials to choose from in a core. Polymer is the most popular with approximately 81% of the market. As you choose a pickleball paddle, this is one of the most important considerations and they each have certain advantages.
2) Paddle Face
A pickleball paddle face (or surface) is made from one of three materials: fiberglass, graphite, or carbon fiber. (A quick technical point: graphite and carbon fiber are not the same thing but made from the same basic element. Since the manufacturing process is so different, they play differently and have different prices.)
A paddle surface made with fiberglass composite will wear more quickly than a graphite or carbon fiber surface. But fiberglass paddles have advantages with power and cost savings.
Graphite paddles are hugely popular too. Generally thought to make for a lightweight paddle, graphite paddles are noted for more control than other pickleball paddles.
A carbon fiber hitting surface is likely to have the most control. These also tend to be the most expensive of all pickleball paddles.
The surface of graphite pickleball paddles or fiberglass composite pickleball paddles can be applied to any of the core materials listed above. Deciding on this is a key step in choosing a pickleball paddle.
3) The Paddle Grip (Handle)
Most players don't care that much about the handle, but the cover over the handle, the grip, does matter. Handle construction may be important to those subject to arm injuries as some do a better job absorbing vibrations.
But unlike tennis, there are not as many choices in a pickleball paddle grip size. The wrong pickleball grip size is not as likely to cause tennis elbow as on a tennis racquet.
A larger grip size is important for players with larger hands. A smaller grip size can always be built up but note that major modifications to pickleball paddle grips can impact the weight and balance.
When in doubt, buy a smaller grip size and build it up to find the perfect fit. In the end, grip sizes come down to comfort, but grip sizes can impact control especially on dinks and other finesse-oriented shots involving major wrist action.
The shape of pickleball grips is a personal decision. You can find wrapped styles, flat styles, sticky or slick grips. Get one you like and if your favorite paddle's grip is not to your liking, this is one thing you can change yourself!
4) Edge Guard
The concept of edgeless pickleball paddles is a bit misleading. All paddles have edges, but some will have thicker edge guards.
Thicker guards are useful for protecting the paddle, but they can impact the size of the sweet spot and reduce the hitting surface. Also, they can impact the paddle shape.
Is Shape A Big Deal?
The standard shape as a length between 15.5 and 16 inches. But there are plenty of variations from a standard pickleball paddle to consider.
For some experienced players, a full length, 17-inch paddle that is narrower than a standard pickleball paddle shape helps them reach those tougher shots particularly in singles matches where you have to cover the entire court by yourself. However, this elongated pickleball paddle shape tends to have a smaller sweet spot making them tough to use for beginners and intermediates.
There are also oblong shapes (wide body paddles) and some with the corners at the end rounded off or cut off. If you have a tough time with shorter, lower shots like dinks and drops these somewhat unusual shapes can benefit you. They can be either a composite or graphite paddle and are sometimes called oversized paddles.
For players with a two-handed backhand, consideration should be given to a shape with an extra-long handle. Some tennis players moving over to pickleball will need to have this kind of handle to accommodate their strokes.
And if the player has adopted a ping-pong style of holding their pickleball paddle, they may want an extra short grip so their paddle hand index finger can be on the face. Of course, this may mean the index finger gets in the way on some shots.
5 Factors To Consider When Choosing A Pickleball Paddle
(Plus, one that really doesn't matter.)
There are five factors to consider when purchasing a pickleball paddle, after you've determined the right combination of a paddle's surface and core for you and your game. (In order of importance.)
1. A paddle's weight makes a huge difference
Pickleball paddle weight can be broken down into three categories: lightweight paddles, mid weight paddles, and heavyweight pickleball paddles. A small variation in weight can shift a paddle from being a light paddle to a mid or heavy one.
Review the pros and cons of each to find the best fit for you and your playing style.
Lightweight Pickleball Paddles (7.2 oz & under)
Lighter paddles are for a finesse game. Light paddles allow the hand to hit the ball short and/or with angles. Using wrist action to control the flight of the ball and where it lands is the big strength of these.
These paddles encourage ball control and placement and trying to hit winners around or by the competition. You do not have much interest in the power game style of play.
- Great for hitting control shots like dinks.
- While power is lacking, the ability to place the ball is excellent.
- Often perfect for newer players and those playing doubles.
- Injuries can occur if the player overswings trying to create power.
Midweight (7.3 oz - 8.4 oz)
If you are trying to get the best of both power and control (a difficult balance to achieve) a medium weight paddle makes sense. Spin can also come from this weight if the player has the skill.
- At their best, these appeal to lots of different styles of play.
- Huge variety of paddles to choose from.
- Good default option for unsure players.
- Good weight for those injury prone.
- Can generate power with control.
Heavyweight (8.5 oz & up)
If you are a big banger, a heavier paddle is for you - if you can handle it. Tennis players often want these paddles but that can be a mistake if they have not yet learned the art of control in pickleball. But beware: this category may not produce the best pickleball paddle if you are vulnerable to arm injuries.
- All power all the time.
- Sometime appreciated by singles players.
- Not a great idea if you have a history of tennis elbow or other arm issues.
- Pros love them.
- Helps with slams and passing shots.
The same process as for a tennis racquet grip size is used and our How to Measure Grip Size guide tells you all you need to know. When in doubt, buy a smaller size and build it up until comfortable. Increasing Grip Size. (coming soon)
2. Get a Grip (in your size)
3. What is Your Ability?
An experienced player will not get the results (like depth of shots) they expect from a lighter paddle due to the notable lack of power. New players will struggle with heavy paddles and might actually hurt themselves. Finding the best pickleball paddle is different from player to player.
4. How Fit are You?
Above all else, don't hurt yourself! Even though pickleball is not as physically demanding as some other sports, a too heavy paddle or excessively light paddles can put stresses on your body that are unneccesary.
Cheap, solid wood paddles are less expensive. However, wood paddles are typically heavy, noisy, won’t last, and won’t help you build your skills.
Prices for pickleball paddles range from about $50 to $200. A decent graphite or composite paddle will start at the low end and at the high end, tournament level players will pay up for the latest and greatest.
A new paddle can be expected to give you plenty of games before replacement as long as you don't abuse it by banging it on the court or scratching the face. If you take care of your paddle, it will take care of you.
The Fun Item that Doesn't Matter: Color
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 quickly pick up the ball and its spin. If you find the model with the features you want, they will often come in a variety of colors for you to choose from.
- If you are new to racquet sports (not a tennis or racquetball or squash player) your best bet will be to start with lighter pickleball paddles.
- Learn the rules and follow them. Your friends will be more likely to want to play with you if you at least understand the basics.
- Check out the many videos online to learn tactics and strategy. There are lots of free videos on YouTube.com.
- If you have some old, wood paddles laying around, the best thing you can use them for is a campfire.
- If you have significant arm pain after play (not just a general tired feeling) stop playing and see your MD for advice. Your paddle could be the cause if it is too heavy, has the wrong grip size, or generates a bunch of vibration due to faulty construction.
Noisy VS. Quiet Paddles
A quiet paddle is important in some communities that closely regulate noise. Some places even have approved paddles based on sound levels.
If this is true where you play, you will probably want a polymer paddle as this kind of core is quietest. Surface material does not appear to have a significant impact on noise so you can choose a graphite pickleball paddle or you can choose composite paddles.
Best Way to Improve
The huge growth in players means there is unprecedented choice in paddles. Try out your friends' paddles to see what feels good to you. And if you play more, your game will improve while you are having all the fun you can handle.
Watch for tournaments in your area. USA Pickleball lists many events, and they usually have brackets based on ratings and abilities. Also, many events have age brackets that will keep you from having to compete with kids half your age.
We love to answer questions so call us. Our local experts are here to help. Check out our Getting Started with Pickleball guide. Don't forget to have the right shoes and some fun apparel for men, women, boys and girls!