Most of you reading this are seeking advice on purchasing your first pickleball paddle which is very exciting! We’ll cover some of the basics of what differentiates the paddles and how that will affect which one you should choose. Unlike other racquet sports, pickleball paddles don’t have as wide a range in terms of specs. Most fall within a 2 ounce range and only vary a couple centimeters in shape. That’s not to say paddles don’t play differently but it’s a smaller gap so as long as you get a good quality paddle you’ll enjoy it!
Weight: The most important factor in a paddle is weight, unfortunately since the sport is somewhat in its infancy most manufacturers list a range or average weight of each paddle. This is because the construction isn’t consistent or precise enough yet to have exact weights listed. However we can separate paddles into weight categories - lightweight, midweight, and heavyweight. A lighter paddle (under 7.4 ounces) tends to be easier for beginners who are developing their swing and working on timing. Lighter allows for faster reactions which is valuable at the net and in the kitchen. Midweight paddles (7.5-8 ounces) are great for all around performance, new and experienced players will find a good balance of power and control with these. Heavyweight paddles (8+ ounces) are favoured by more competitive and advanced players but also by people coming over from tennis since nearly all tennis racquets are heavier than the heaviest pickleball paddle. A heavier paddle will offer more stability on off centre hits as well as generating more power provided you can swing it effectively. This is what the weight debate comes down to, you want a paddle that you can consistently swing during play and that weight is different for everyone depending on your strength and skill level. Our best advice would be if you are new to pickleball and find you are swinging late or you don’t tend to swing fast then go with a lightweight paddle. If you are more experienced or a seasoned racquet sports player try a midweight paddle and if you are used to heavy tennis racquets or a strong singles player go for heavyweight paddles.
Shape: You’ve probably seen almost exclusively one general shape of paddle which is the square (ish) shape. There are variations on this as well as a few very unique paddle designs that players use. The classic square is the best all around option, usually a medium sweet spot and all court performance. Some of these square paddles are labeled ‘wide-body’ which means they have a wider face and a larger sweet spot though these tend to be slightly heavier due to the larger area. Then there are the elongated paddles such as the Gamma Pin; these are great for groundstrokes and baseline play and are usually used in singles at higher levels. You may have seen a lot of Head paddles which have the corners cut similar to a stop sign shape. This design helps when you are reaching for shots near the ground which happens a lot in the kitchen and this unique shape allows you to get more of the surface on the ball for a more consistent shot. There are other forms of elongated and triangular paddles on the market but they are much less common. Typically you can assess them as longer paddles equals more power and strong baseline play but are more demanding of the player while wider paddles are more all around performance and lighter weight.
Above (left to right): octagonal shape, square shape, elongated shape
Core: Paddle cores are closely tied to the price point and you get what you pay for. At the starting price you will have wood core or solid wood paddles. These tend to crack easier, bounce inconsistently, and are very loud. Next are paddles with a Nomex core which is an aramid fiber paper (cardboard-like) material dipped in heat-resistant resin to harden it. These are usually found in entry to mid level paddles and have an ok feel, are more consistent than wood and a little quieter. Aluminum cores are another option that have a softer feel and better touch compared to Nomex. Above these are most paddles that we carry which would be considered top level, these have Polypropylene cores which is strong and flexible polymer (plastic variant) and many brands have developed polymer cores specifically for pickleball. These cores have a great ball feel, bounce consistently, and are much quieter (comparatively). Some companies such as Onix are working on new cores that are a combination of materials like Nomex and Polypropylene to give you the best of both worlds.
Above left to right: Nomex / Aluminum / Polypropylene Honeycomb cores
Surface: Hitting surface is similar to cores, as you go up in price you go from wood, to composite (graphite or aluminum blend), to carbon graphite and / or fibreglass. The feel and consistency of the ball increases with each stage as does price. The main attraction for a higher end hitting surface is that they will be textured; small grooves or ridges in the graphite or fibreglass greatly increase the spin potential which is essential to the game at higher levels.
Grip Size: Most paddles are offered in 1, maybe 2, grip sizes until the sport gains enough momentum for manufacturers to supply a full range of sizes. The most common grip size is 4 1/4 inches in circumference but they can vary from 4-4 1/2 inches. You can try to measure for grip size by taking the distance from the top of your middle finger to the bottom lateral crease in your palm. If you are within an eighth of an inch on either side of 4 1/4 you should be fine. Because there are fewer ways to grip a paddle than a tennis racquet and you don’t have the bevels a tennis racquet handle has the size becomes less of a factor. The key is to be relaxed when holding the paddle, we don’t want you squeezing on the handle but for your hand to feel natural when swinging and contacting the ball. We can always augment grip size by adding overgrip or replacing the stock grip with a thinner alternative, so don’t feel like you can’t have your dream paddle just because the grip size isn’t right.
Pictured: Morgan Evans from Team Selkirk. If you examine his grip you can see there is a little space between his fingers and the palm of his hand. His index finger also seems raised slightly indicating a relaxed grip, this is what we look for when fitting grip size.