PICKLEBALL PADDLE INTRODUCTION
You’ve played a few times, borrowed a few paddles and now you’re thinking about finally buying your first Pickleball paddle. Your paddle is the single most important piece of equipment that you will need to enjoy the game. Choosing a paddle should be a fun process but with all the options of shape, core material, weight, grip size etc., it can be overwhelming and intimidating.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the US among adults, seniors and even youth players. To keep with its growing in popularity, new paddles are constantly being introduced into the market, making it not so simple to choose the right one. While it’s easy to get overwhelmed by so many different designs and shapes, you should stay focused on the following main components to choose the right paddle.
WHAT YOU NEED TO CONSIDER
The main deciding factors for a paddle are:
- Core Material
The weight of a USAPA approved Pickleball paddle varies from 6 to 14 ounces. The range in varying weight is huge and highly affects your game and comfort. For this reason, the weight of your paddle should be the top factor when selecting a paddle. Paddle weight is entirely a personal choice depending on your style and physique. For beginners it’s recommended to start with a middleweight paddle between 7.3-8.4oz.
A heavier paddle will generate more power but the lighter paddle will always give you more control and faster reaction time when volleying at the kitchen line. Paddles are generally categorized by the following weights:
- Light Weight (under 7.2 ounces)
- Middle Weight (7.3 to 8.4 ounces)
- Heavy Weight (over 8.5 ounces)
SELECTING YOUR GRIP
Since grip size also plays an important role, find a grip that feels most comfortable. Pickleball paddles comes in 4 different grip sizes: 4, 4 1/8, 4 1/4 and 4 1/2 inch in circumference. There are 3 methods to go about choosing the right grip, and this applies to both women and men:
- Under 5'2" - 4 to 4 1/8 inch grip
- 5'3" to 5'8" - 4 1/4 inch grip
- 5'9" & taller - 4 1/2 inch grip
- Under 8 - 3.5 inch grip
- Under 12 - 3.9 inch grip
Index finger test
While holding the paddle with your dominant hand, use the index finger of your other hand to slide it in-between your ring finger and palm. The best pickleball paddle grip size for you will be the one where your index finger fits snugly within this gap. Not enough room indicates that grip is too small, and too much room - grip is too large.
Take a ruler and measure your playing hand from bottom lateral crease of your palm to your ring finger to the tip of your ring finger.
If you are stuck between two sizes, choose the smaller one as you can use over-grips which add between half or one whole size (1/16 to 1/8 inch) to the paddle handle.
Pickleball paddle materials are made of 3 options with their own characteristics and feel: wood, graphite or composite.
This is the budget-friendly choice and the original material of the first pickleball paddle. Wooden paddles are the heaviest, weighing between 9 and 14 ounces. Since wooden paddles are heavy they provide with more power for your shots, but you lose some maneuverability and control. Heavier weight can also cause some arm fatigue and elbow problems. With their low cost price range ($10-$30), wooden paddles are a usual choice for the beginner paddle. They are extremely durable and will last longer than any other material which makes them the preferred choice for schools, camps and institutions.
Composite paddles are the most popular choice as they are priced mid range ($50-$150) and come in variety of weight and design options. Composite paddles are constructed from a combination of different materials, where the core of the paddle is built out of a composite panel with a fiberglass hitting surface. The surface of this paddle is well suited for ball spinning so it’s a good choice for the intermediate and skilled players. Since many pickleball players prefer composite paddles over wooden ones, if you’re looking to buy a first paddle we recommend you “invest” into a cheaper composite paddle rather than a wooden one.
These paddles are lightweight, strong, and very expensive. Graphite paddles are the top of the line and the pros favor them for their fast action. They’re made from a core construct covered by a very thin layer of graphite, and that’s where the bounce and spin of the balls happen.
The USAPA states that the length and width of any butt caps and edge guards must not exceed 24 inches, while the paddle cannot be longer than 17 inches. Most paddles are the classic wide body shape of 8 inches wide and 15 inches long. Manufacturers have gotten creative with shapes, designing oversized and elongated paddles with larger faces but shorter handles, so they still comply with regulations. Since paddle shapes allow you to vary your playing style, you might want to experiment with any of the different shapes.
Widebody paddles are a good choice for beginner and pro players as they offer more area for ball contact. This is the original and most popular paddle shape. With well-balanced width and length, you get a bigger sweet spot with a considerable reach.
To stay in compliance with the official size, many paddle manufacturers have created a shortened handle length while increasing the face size. As a result, you have a slightly larger paddle with a shorter grip. This paddle has an even bigger sweet spot thanks to its face and offers better maneuverability compared to the wide-body paddles for beginners.
These paddles are tall and narrow, giving more reach to the player as if they have extra-long hands. These paddles are not for everyone as they typically require your game to be on point. While elongated paddles enable players to achieve more reach, there is no forgiveness when it comes to aim. A more seasoned player would have the easiest time adjusting to the surface area of a blade!
Edgeless paddles lack the edge guard which is used to add protection to the rim of the paddle. These paddles are thin and offer an increased playing surface. This type of paddle is not recommended for beginners as they are extremely susceptible to nicks and chips on the edge.
TO SUM IT ALL UP
The right pickleball paddle for you is the one that feels the best. After purchasing your first paddle and playing with it exclusively a few times, it’s common to have that feeling of “I wish it was ‘different’ in a certain way”; Your next purchase usually addresses items on that wish list. If your current paddle is too short, too narrow, too light, or too anything else, that’s the factor you should focus on for the new one. Test out a few styles and you’ll instantly see how the grip, weight and shape work for you.
While weight, grip, and shape are essentials, be sure to pick one that is visually pleasing as you’ll spend lots of hours looking at it. There’s a huge variety of popular and lesser known pickleball paddles currently in the market so get one that makes you happy; but don’t break the bank.
Special Thanks to Stefanie Caliri from Junior Pickleball New England