Gifts are just around the corner for many so hopefully this article will help many of you select a paddle for yourself or a spouse. Maybe cut this article out of Coastal Point and highlight it, and then accidentally leave it on the kitchen table.
In pickleball you need a paddle and it is the only thing between you and that crazy whiffle ball. Paddles vary in design, and different paddles are designed to help enhance different aspects of the game. So why not get one that works for you? I know why!
Messaging. The industry marketing messaging about their paddles are muddled and confusing. Typically, they will make a claim about their $175 paddle stating that it gives you more power and control, and then they make the same claim about their $50 paddle.
The paddle you choose should be your decision. I said YOUR decision, not mine, not your instructor’s opinion nor the better player at your home courts. If you are like 90-percent-plus of most pickleballers, you are going to hit a lot of pickleballs and it must be, first and foremost, comfortable in your hand.
• Handle length. If a player comes to pickleball from a racket sport, they might prefer a paddle with a longer handle. If they have been playing pickleball for a while, they might prefer the more typical, shorter handle.
• Handle circumference. Many players say they want a very small handle circumference. I am of the opposite school. A larger circumference puts more hand surface on the handle and helps reduce torquing on off-center hits off your paddle. But again, it must be comfortable.
• Paddle weight. There is one school espousing very light paddles, but again I am of a different opinion. You need some weight in the paddle. After all, it is a tool to help you hit and control the ball. What weight is best? Actually, swing-weight is the more important factor, and is the mathematical relationship between weight and balance.
• Paddle balance. The balance point of almost every paddle can vary slightly, and in combination with different weights can sometimes mean the difference in preferring one paddle over another of the same brand and model. This is why I always allow players to try their paddles first. I also weigh and balance every paddle I sell and record it so if they order another, I then know exactly what they desire in swing-weight.
• Paddle design. Pickleball’s rule 2.E.3 defines certain paddle restrictions. The combined length and width including any edge guard and butt cap shall not exceed 24 inches. Paddle length cannot exceed 17 inches. There is no restriction on thickness. There is no restriction on paddle weight. Surface features are prohibited of any anti-skid paint, or paint textured with sand, rubber particles, or materials that cause additional spin. Design elements can enhance certain playability elements, and distract from your style of play as well.
A couple players recently commented to me that all rackets are the same. Why then do you favor one paddle over another if there is no difference?
• Shock absorption. Another consideration is shock absorption. The material used in the paddle face, or formulation of the material in the honeycomb core can make a major difference in shock absorption. A combination of both materials can make an even greater difference. Unfortunately, shock absorption isn’t one of those things you detect immediately. After you begin playing frequently, you then begin to feel it in the elbow and shoulder. Hitting off balance (which many players do as they learn the sport) with a paddle that transmits shock is not a recipe for success. Much more shock is transferred when you hit the ball off center because of poor positioning.
A heavier paddle, like a tennis racket, can absorb more of the shock at impact and add more power into a shot. Some think a lighter paddle is easier to wield at net but this seems to me putting the elephant before the cart. I’ll even go one step further. Proper volleying techniques are light years more important than paddle weight.
Some of you might recall seeing the photograph of me wired to a very sophisticated piece of equipment that photographed and monitored hundreds of my forehands, backhands and volleys. The objective was to precisely determine the shock and torque created at impact with the ball, and the high-tech camera recorded and photographed each shot into hundreds of sequenced shots. The engineers could then see exactly where on the strings the ball hit the racket, where I was in my swing, etc. Did I hit the ball late and off-center to create the extra shock to my arm, or was it the result of racket design?
Hoping to relieve pain in your elbow?
Elbow and shoulder pain do not happen overnight, nor does the cure. You don’t want to hear this, but rest is likely the best solution. If you build up or reduce the circumference of your paddle, just that change can sometimes give you temporary relief. I’ve applied special grips designed with air and foam to stop painful shock waves to the arm. I once had ultra sound treatments applied to my incredibly painful elbow and shoulder that speeded up recovery.
And finally, after rest or a physician’s treatments, a new shock absorbing paddle is then advisable. Look at the manufacture’s claims about shock transmission. The material in the face can increase shock. The thickness of the paddle might reduce shock. Core formulations might offer shock absorption. However, be careful because I tested Research & Development tennis rackets that absorbed so much shock that I lost “feel” for the ball. You might want to take a few lessons to address your volley techniques.
In summary, Pickleball is a great game loaded with tons of laughter. Remember to highlight those areas in this article that interest you and leave it on the kitchen table. Pickled elves rarely disappoint.
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.