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Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports out there. And if you’re new to the sport, you’re probably excited to get the gear you need and get out on the court. Today, we’ll take a look at one of the most crucial parts of the game: the paddle. Wondering how to choose a pickleball paddle? Let’s find out!
What to Look For in a Pickleball Paddle
When you’re shopping for pickleball paddles, finding the right one can seem overwhelming. But much of a good shopping experience comes down to four things:
- Grip size
In the next sections, we’ll take a look at what to consider before making a purchase. But if you’re in a rush, check out this helpful video on how to choose the perfect pickleball paddle!
The first pickleball paddles were simple pieces of gear made from wood. And while you can still get wooden paddles, the sport of pickleball has diversified enough that there are plenty of materials out there. And if you’re shopping for a pickleball paddle, navigating the countless material options can be overwhelming.
Luckily, when it comes to pickleball paddle materials, there are three main types:
These are the cheapest pickleball paddles available, as they’re easy and inexpensive to make. You might be relieved to know that today’s wood paddle designs, while still heavy, do have some improvements over the originals. They tend to have high-quality grips and even wrist straps to prevent them from flying out of your hand.
If you’re a beginner looking to not spend much, wood paddles can be a viable option as long as you don’t mind a heavier paddle. Wood paddles are also a good choice if you need to purchase a large number of paddles for schools or camps. For kids who only briefly play recreationally, the quality of the paddle doesn’t matter all that much. Plus, if you need to buy in bulk, very affordable paddles are a must!
That being said, most experts recommend that you skip the wood paddles and choose a pickleball paddle that’s a bit higher quality. If you want to really work on your game, it can be frustrating to work with a heavy, low-end paddle. The good news is that as more pickleball paddles have become available, prices have gone down. You can generally find quality composite paddles for very low prices.
Graphite paddles are on the other end of the expense continuum. They tend to be the most expensive type of paddles and are preferred by high-level players. A graphite pickleball paddle isn’t entirely made of graphite. It has a specialized core of nylon, polymer, or aluminum (more on core materials in a moment!) with a graphite paddle face on either side. The paddle face is only a few millimeters thick.
Graphite pickleball paddles are on the relatively light end of the weight spectrum, as they tend to weigh about 6 to 9 ounces. Despite their lightweight, graphite pickleball paddles are very strong, and players tend to like how the ball quickly bounces off the paddle. This efficient transfer of energy makes it easier to deliver very fast shots without the fatigue associated with using heavy paddles.
If you want a pickleball paddle that strikes a balance between wood and graphite, composite paddles are a great choice. They are strong and fairly lightweight, although they are less expensive than graphite paddles. Like a graphite paddle, a composite paddle has a specialized core. The paddle face is either carbon fiber or fiberglass.
These paddle face materials have an advantage over some other types of pickleball paddles. Both fiberglass and carbon fiber are often textured, and that texture makes it a lot easier to apply spin to the ball as needed.
Composite pickleball paddles are generally lighter than wooden paddles, although paddle weight varies pretty widely depending on the exact make and model you’re considering. In terms of price, they are also somewhat in between wood and graphite paddles.
Types of Composite Cores
The world of composite pickleball paddles can get a little confusing when it comes to the variety of core materials. If you’re new to the sport, don’t stress too much over different composite paddle cores. It takes some time and experience to figure out which core material you like the best.
All of them are high quality. The difference in graphite or composite paddle core choices primarily comes down to personal preference. The main three composite or graphite paddle cores are aluminum, Nomex, and polymer.
Aluminum is usually the lightest of the core materials. It’s also comparatively softer. Much like a lightweight paddle, a pickleball paddle with an aluminum core isn’t ideal for powerful drives. It is, however, great for players who value “touch,” or a greater sense of control of the ball.
Especially if you play pickleball near residences, you might be worried about noise. Aluminum-core paddles are quite than those with a Nomex core but louder than those with a polymer core.
Some players consider Nomex to be the best pickleball paddle material. It was the original core used in composite paddles and is still an industry leader. Nomex is probably the most popular pickleball paddle core material with professional players. It’s extremely hard and is perfect for delivering fast shots. Notably, even though it’s lightweight, it will help you deliver shots with a good bit of both power and speed.
However, if you primarily find yourself playing pickleball around other people, a word of warning: pickleball paddles with Nomex cores are very loud! If you’ve ever watched a match and heard a loud “pop!” or “thwack!” with each hit, chances are good that the players were using pickleball paddles with Nomex cores.
If finding a quiet paddle is a priority, look into pickleball paddles with a polymer core. The polymer paddle is one of the newest designs on the market, and it’s become one of the most popular. Polymer cores give you more control, an ideal option if you value precision over power. Plus, since these are certainly the quietest paddles, they are ideal if you’re playing pickleball in populated areas.
You might think that material is the most important consideration to make when choosing a pickleball paddle. However, most coaches and high-level players will tell you that weight matters most of all. A few ounces might sound negligible, but it can make a major difference in your play.
Pickleball paddles range from 6 to 14 ounces. Across that range, there are general guidelines for determining which paddles are light, which are medium, and which are heavy:
- Light: Below 7.3 ounces
- Medium: Between 7.3 and 8.4 ounces
- Heavy: 8.5 ounces and up
Each paddle weight category has its advantages and disadvantages. Here are some things to think about as you decide which is best for you:
If just thinking about playing a long game makes you tired, a lighter paddle may be an attractive choice. Lighter paddles do have the advantage of maneuverability, and they make it easier to maintain ball control. Plus, since you aren’t having to use as much force to swing the paddle, lighter pickleball paddles tend to be easier on your joints.
Lighter paddles have some disadvantages too. Since a lighter paddle doesn’t have as much power behind it, your shots may not have as strong of a drive as shots from a heavier paddle would. To compensate, you will often need a stronger swing, especially if you’re hitting a long shot.
Generally, a middle-weight paddle gives you the advantages of both light and heavy pickleball paddles. It has enough weight to deliver a fairly powerful shot, but it’s also light enough that you still have a good amount of control.
These paddles strike a good balance between power and comfort. They aren’t so heavy that they cause excessive stress on your joints, but they have enough weight to help you play a strong game.
Medium-weight paddles are a good choice for beginners to pickleball who haven’t developed an individualized style of play yet. If you start with a medium paddle and find that your style involves hard-driving hits, you may want to go heavier. If you prefer a style centered around precision and control, a lighter paddle may be better.
Notably, experts typically recommend that players with arthritis or chronic injuries like tennis elbow opt for medium-weight paddles, as they seem to put less stress overall on your body. In a bit, we’ll go into more detail on how to select a paddle if you have injuries or other physical injuries.
If you primarily value power in your pickleball game, a heavier paddle is the way to go. When the paddle has more mass, it becomes easier to hit the ball harder and deeper into the court. and because of the paddle’s weight, you can get a powerful shot without necessarily having to swing hard.
However, this comes at a price. Swinging a heavy paddle will cause more fatigue over time. It’s especially hard on your elbows. And while it makes shots powerful, hitting a ball with a heavy paddle means you have less control over the ball.
You certainly know that pickleball paddles have grips. But did you know that finding the right pickleball paddle grip size is essential! Most experienced players will tell you that playing with a grip that’s the wrong size for your hand is like running in shoes that are too small or too large.
Determining the Right Grip Size: Approximate Method
If you’re asking how to choose a pickleball paddle, you should know how to find your grip size. There are a few methods of doing so. If you just want a general idea, here’s a quick way to use your height to approximate your grip size:
- Up to 5’2″: 4 inch grip
- 5’3″-5’8″: 4 1/8 inch to 4 1/4 inch grip
- 5’9″ and above: 4 1/2 inch grip
Determining the Right Grip Size: Precise Method
If possible, determine your pickleball paddle grip size as precisely as you can. You can find your grip size simply by measuring your paddle hand ring finger. Take a ruler and measure from your palm’s middle crease (your palm has three creases) up to the top of your ring finger. That will be your pickleball grip size!
Double Checking Your Pickleball Grip Size
If you have the opportunity to shop in person for a new pickleball paddle, it’s a good idea to try and test your pickleball grip size on the paddle itself. To make sure the grip size on a given pickleball paddle is correct, follow these simple steps:
- First, hold the paddle with your normal grip.
- Take the index finger on the opposite hand and slip it between your fingers and the heel of your hand.
- Make sure the finger fits snugly between the heel of your hand and the tips of your fingers. If there is more space, the grip is too small. If there is less space, the grip is too big.
Keep in mind that you can add an overgrip if a given paddle’s pickleball grip size is too small. However, there really isn’t an easy way to shrink pickleball paddle grips!
No pickleball paddle guide is complete without a brief mention of the shape. Many paddles, especially those designed for beginners, come in the standard pickleball paddle shape.
The standard pickleball paddle shape is mostly rectangular and measures 15 3/4″ by 7 7/8″. Especially if you’re looking for an inexpensive pickleball paddle, this is the shape you’ll probably run into.
Often, graphite paddles and other cutting-edge pickleball paddles come in different shapes. When you’re choosing a pickleball paddle, you might also want to consider the following shapes:
- Wide Body Paddles (16″ by 8″)
- Thin Body Paddles (16 1/2″ by 7 1/4″)
- Blade Body Paddles (17″ x 6 7/8″)
Wide Body Paddles (16″ by 8″)
Wide body paddles are a great choice for beginners. Especially when you haven’t perfected your hits, a wide body-shaped paddle makes it easier for you to hit the ball.
Thin Body Paddles (16 1/2″ by 7 1/4″)
Lots of players prefer a light paddle with a thinner body. With this type, you get an elongated pickleball paddle. The increased paddle length gives you a few advantages. For one, it increases your reach. Some players say greater paddle length makes it easier to hit the pickleball ball with the “sweet spot” of the paddle, too.
Blade Body Paddles (17″ x 6 7/8″)
This narrow and fast-hitting design is best left to professionals or very skilled players. Even a slightly misplaced shot can be ruined, as this pickleball paddle design is very unforgiving. However, this pickleball paddle is ideal for the player looking for extreme ball control. As another elongated pickleball paddle shape, this one makes it possible to extend your reach, too.
Choosing a Pickleball Paddle if You Have Arthritis or an Injury
Figuring out how to pick a pickleball paddle is complex enough on its own. But if you have or are prone to injuries like tennis elbow or if you have arthritis, finding the right paddle can make the difference between a painful training session and a successful, pain-free one.
You probably aren’t surprised to hear that a heavy paddle is almost certain to make an existing injury worse. Swinging a heavy paddle puts a good bit of stress on your elbows and other joints. It will also make you fatigue faster. And often, especially with arthritis or old injuries, increased fatigue will make it more likely that you will experience some pain during or after playing.
So are lightweight paddles the answer? Unfortunately, these paddles can sometimes cause even more issues. A thinner paddle doesn’t have enough mass to deliver powerful shots unless you swing very hard.
There’s also less mass in the paddle to absorb energy, meaning vibrations from each shot are likely to be transferred to your bones and joints. The combination of energy transfer and consistently needing to hit hard is not a good one if you have tennis elbow or arthritis!
Most experts suggest that those with bone or joint issues go for a medium-weight paddle. That way, you get decently powerful shots without having to hit as hard, but you also have enough paddle mass to absorb shock.
Does Color Matter?
If you’re searching for your first pickleball paddle or your 20th, this question might seem absurd. The truth is that weight and material matter far more than color. But there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to color.
Some players claim that using a paddle with a yellow paddle face offers a slight advantage for competitive players. At least when the ball is yellow, the paddle and ball can blend together, making it hard to read the shot and plan their return hit.
Some players also opt to use paddles with unusual colors, as this helps others pick them out quickly in a busy tournament. However, this is more of a personal preference than anything. Ultimately, we would suggest prioritizing other factors like weight, shape, and material. The good news is that the pickleball paddle market has expanded to the point that you can usually find a given type of paddle in just about any color.
Choosing the Best Paddle For You
Now that you know what to look for in a pickleball paddle, we hope you’ll be able to get out there and choose the right one with confidence. Keep in mind that it may take a few tries to find the right pickleball paddle for you; as you get more familiar with the game, you’ll develop a sense of what types of paddles seem to serve you best.
Once you’ve found your first or next pickleball paddle, you just need to find a court near you and start playing!
FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)
If you’re learning how to choose pickleball paddles, you should know that weight is one of the most important factors to consider. No paddle weight is “better” than another. Lighter paddles can keep fatigue at bay and increase ball control, but they also can be lacking in power. Heavier paddles make it easier to drive the ball, but they can cause fatigue more quickly and reduce ball control. However, most experts recommend that those with arthritis or injuries go with a mid-weight paddle.
When choosing a weight, consider what’s most important to you as a player: lightweight pickleball paddles offer more control and heavyweight pickleball paddles offer more power. If you aren’t sure which you prefer or just want a good balance, mid-weight paddles are a good choice.
There are seemingly endless pickleball paddles out there, so there’s no single right paddle for everyone. When you’re just learning to play pickleball you may not have fully developed or learned your likes and dislikes. When choosing a pickleball paddle, make sure you’ve done some research on materials, grip sizes, etc. You don’t need to spend a fortune, but it’s a good idea to stay away from the absolute cheapest paddle possible.
For most people, the classic “wide-body” pickleball paddles are ideal. They have enough width to make hitting the ball reasonably easy. Experienced players wanting more reach might opt for the “blade” style, a paddle with an elongated face.