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InPickleball’s Paddle Guide

InPickleball’s Paddle Guide

  • 25 top paddle picks ahead! Finding the right fit can be overwhelming, so start by learning about key features– then discover the option that give you real playing power

When hunting for what feels best for you, it all comes down to the details. The following components are vital to scoring a major hit.

1. Thickness In general, the thinner the paddle, the more power it will transfer to a ball. Conversely, thicker paddles tend to be a bit softer, which can help in both resetting and feeling the ball (so you can gain more control over your shots as you add your own power into the ball). Ask yourself if you want a paddle that bolsters your strengths—or makes up for your weaknesses. (For example, a really powerful player might go thinner to enhance that power, but a smaller person might go thinner to make up for a lack of power.) In general, a paddle that is 9 to 13 millimeters thick is considered thin, while 16 to 20 millimeters is thick.

2. Weight Standard paddles weigh from 7 to 8.5 ounces. A heavier paddle will add power and stability, but at the cost of hand speed—many pros are now working their way up to the 9- to 10-ounce range. If you’re a beginner, consider starting with a lighter paddle and progressively adding weight via lead tape around the edge guard until you’re comfortable with the power-to-speed trade-off. Be patient: It takes time to adjust to even half an ounce of extra weight. And remember that although two paddles may weigh the same, the distribution is different: Some are “head-heavy,” which means they have more whip on the ball but are slower to maneuver; others, like the Gearbox CX14, are “grip-heavy,” so they’re easier to handle but don’t have as powerful of a punch.Try out several paddles to decide which feels best.

3. Shape There are two predominant shapes: standard (which looks squarish) and elongated. Most manufacturers produce both shapes, and there is a trade-off between power and control. Elongated paddles offer more leverage for power, while standard shapes have a bigger sweet spot. If you prefer to choke up on the paddle handle, there are also paddles that have shorter handles and larger faces to provide extra surface area. 

4. Handle Length Many pros and former tennis players are adding the two-handed backhand to their play. If you plan to do so, look for handles that are at least 5.25 inches long. The extra length acts like an elongated paddle face, providing more leverage but sacrificing a bit of hand speed.

5. Surface Material Most paddles these days have either fiberglass, graphite, or carbon fiber surfaces. Fiberglass (composite) surfaces provide more pop and power, while graphite and carbon fiber versions are known more for their spin. The recent trend in paddles has been to go all carbon fiber, and some manufacturers are even experimenting with distinct surfaces on each side,à la ping-pong.

MEET OUR

EXPERT PANEL

These players tested every paddle  in our guide.

SPIN DOCTORS

Paddles that provide great spin, like the Electrum Pro II, have textured surfaces that can make the ball dive or float, confounding opponents.

InPickleball Paddle Guide | Spin Doctors | Pickleball Paddles

spin

Ben Johns Hyperion CFS 16mm

Joola, $220; joolausa.com

Weight: 8.4 oz. handle: 5.5 in. thickness: 16 mm Core type: reactive honeycomb polymer surface: carbon flex-5


The lowdown: Coming from the world of table tennis, Joola made a splash in pickleball this year by signing Ben Johns and releasing his signature Hyperion CFS 16mm paddle. The CFS stands for carbon friction surface, which, when combined with attributes like the hyperfoam edge wall and the aero-curve shape, means that the Hyperion “offers excellent spin for any type of shot,” says YouTuber Chris Olson, owner of The Pickleball Studio. “With a softer, plush feel, the ball sinks into the paddle, so you can shape the ball the way you want.” Adds Rommie Maxey, managing director at AAU pickleball: “The spin on volleys and serves was very good. The handle is very comfortable, especially for two-handed shots. Resets were easy, and the paddle handled well on the short game.”


Pro Flight

ProKennex, $190; prokennex-pickleball.com

Weight: 7.3–7.6 oz. Handle: 4.9 in. thickness: 9 mm Core type: Cloud Cell polycore surface: carbon fiber with diamond-frost face


The lowdown: A prominent manufacturer of racket sports equipment, ProKennex is known for creating technology that redirects kinetic energy from a ball’s impact, absorbing the vibration within the paddle to eliminate the possibility of injury to the body. Its venture into pickleball is no exception. Collaborating with US Open and USA Pickleball National champions Steve and Jennifer Dawson of the Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle Club in Encinitas, California, ProKennex developed the Pro Flight. “The Pro Flight is a hard-hitting paddle because of its very thin profile,” says Olson. “It’s balanced more toward the handle, which makes generating swing speed for topspin a breeze. If you like to hit hard, you are going to generate plenty of spin on your drives.” Maxey adds: “The Pro Flight has more spin than expected—and pop. I enjoyed playing and drilling with it; the response was impressive with both volleys and serves.”


Pro II

Electrum, $199; electrumpickleball.com

Weight: 7.9–8.2 oz. Handle: 5.25 in. Thickness: 11 mm Core type: polypropylene honeycomb Surface: T700 Raw carbon fiber


The lowdown: Electrum made a statement with its simple yet elegant raw carbon fiber surface on both the Pro and the Model E. The trend continues with its new Pro II. With a more elongated shape (like the Model E’s) but a thinner, 11-millimeter profile, the Pro II combines strong features of Electrum’s two original paddles. The Pro II also has a visually striking gold edge guard. “The spin from this paddle is really good,” says Olson. “Several times I found myself hitting topspin shots that had much more arc than I’m used to. I actually hit a backspin shot where the ball spun back into the net!” Maxey agrees, saying, “The spin for volleys and serves is very nice, and power is there when needed. I’d recommend this paddle to anyone.”


POWER HITTERS

If you’re a banger, paddles like Diadem’s Warrior or Engage’s Pursuit MX will provide the pop you want on aggressive shots.

InPickleball Paddle Guide | Power Hitters | Pickleball Paddles

POWER

CX11E Power

Gearbox, $200; gearboxsports.com

Weight: 8.5 oz. handle: 5.63 in. thickness: 11 mm Core type: patented carbon fiber chambers surface: 3K woven carbon fiber


The lowdown: Developing racket sports equipment since 2007, Gearbox is known for its proprietary design and technology and its virtually indestructible paddles. Eschewing a polypropylene core, Gearbox created its own core technology to give its paddles a unique feel. Perhaps because of that, Jackie Cheung and Beth Kaufman of Pickleballchicks say it can take time to adjust to the Gearbox. “But once you do, you’ll be rewarded with strong hits at the baseline and aggressive, controlled dinks,” they say. “If you put in the time to get used to it, it pays off,” note Cheung and Kaufman. “We produced low, flat, powerful shots with ease while achieving accurate, aggressive dinks. And this paddle’s extended profile makes two-handed backhands a breeze.”


Pursuit MX

Engage, $210; engagepickleball.com

Weight: 7.9–8.3 oz. handle: 5.75 in. thickness: 13 mm Core type: proprietary polymer composite surface: proprietary omnidirectional friction-based graphite


The lowdown: Engage has been in the pickleball game since 2015 and makes its paddles in the U.S., offering a limited lifetime warranty. It sponsors some powerful pros, including Jessie Irvine and Dekel Bar, who play with Engage’s premium Pursuit series. The Pursuit MX’s 5.75-inch handle is long, suiting two-handed backhands. “This is a great all-around paddle,” says professional player Elliot Markowitz, pickleball instructor at the Riviera Country Club in Pacific Palisades, California. “If you have a banger style, it will complement your game nicely. But it also has a nice feel and touch; volleys and dinks all felt very stable.” Pickleballchicks tout the paddle’s “extreme power and pop, allowing for deep, aggressive shots, satisfying volleys, and deep baseline shots—rewarding for returning serves.”


Radical Tour

HEAD, $135; head.com

Weight: 7.9 oz.  handle: 5 in. thickness: 15 mM Core type: polypropylene honeycomb surface: graphite and carbon with SpinOn texture


The lowdown: Head was one of the first big tennis brands to get into pickleball, releasing a line of paddles in 2017 and sponsoring pro Sarah Ansboury and recent Major League Pickleball winner Rafa Hewett. This paddle produces ultimate power on overheads, serves, and swinging volleys. “As former tennis players, we found that it generated fast-paced serves, returns, overheads, and swinging volleys,” say Pickleballchicks. “Its slightly head-heavy design made for deep baseline shots and explosive overheads—a fun combo!” Markowitz describes the Radical Tour as “a solid paddle for bangers who like to swing away. It has a smaller sweet spot and was a little head-heavy—so it’s tougher to reset in a firefight, but makes up for it in giving good topspin.”


Warrior

Diadem, $200; diadempickleball.com

Weight: 8.5 oz. handle: 5 in. thickness: 19 mm Coretype: polypropylene honeycomb and Nomex honeycomb surface: carbon fiber and grit


The lowdown: Ten-year-old tennis company Diadem recently entered the pickleball space. When the Warrior was released, it was one of the thickest paddles around, thanks to the triple layering of two polypropylene cores around a poppier Nomex core, giving players a balance of control and power. “It felt stable, with neutral weight distribution,” say Pickleballchicks. “The grittiness of the face—great for topspin—allowed for deep, powerful baseline hits while still feeling steady at the kitchen line. We were able to generate power on our drives, volleys, serves, and returns, all while maintaining positive control.” Markowitz’s verdict: “It felt awesome. This is by far the grittiest paddle I’ve come across. If you’re a recent tennis player converted to pickle, this paddle could suit your game very nicely.”


MASTERS OF CONTROL

hope to place every shot just where you want? Consider Gamma SPORTS’ Riley Newman 206, Joola’s Radius CGS 16, or Vulcan’s V740Max

InPickleball Paddle Guide | Masters of Control | Pickleball Paddles

CONTROL

Echo Carbon

Wilson, $140; wilson.com

Weight: 8.2–8.6 oz. handle: 5.5 in. thickness: 16 mm Core type: polypropylene honeycomb surface: carbon fiber


The lowdown: A name that needs no introduction, Wilson has been a staple in racket sports since the early 20th century. Now Wilson has moved into pickleball, bringing both its tennis expertise and its trusted name to all those recently converted tennis players. Young pickleball phenom Sammy Lee says, “This is a solid paddle with a broad paddle head that gives it a large sweet spot, making for more control, especially on punches and blocks.” Adds Markowitz: “It’s definitely one of the better-looking paddles out there, starting with the smooth carbon fiber face. Though this paddle will not grab the ball like some others do, it has a nice square shape and felt crisp on volleys with a big sweet spot.”


Radius CGS 16

Joola, $180; joolausa.com

Weight: 7.6 oz. handle: 5 in. Thickness: 16 mm Core type: Response honeycomb polymer Surface: carbon Flex-3


The lowdown: With Joola coming from the world of table tennis, it makes sense that its paddle would emulate the shape of a table tennis paddle. That frame provides a more rounded sweet spot to give more control-oriented players a greater hitting area. “I knew this was a quality paddle the moment I picked it up,” says Lee. “This paddle gave me total confidence in my soft game. I didn’t feel like I could miss a dink, and it offered great control at the net.” Adds Markowitz: “Joola paddles are very high quality. This paddle was good for both dinking and resets, and ground strokes felt smooth and clean. There was not a ton of power, but the hits were very crisp, and I felt like I could put the ball anywhere I wanted to. I also really liked the ribbed grip.”


Rogue2Q (quad shape)

Players Pickleball, $130; playerspickleball.com

Weight: 8.1 oz. handle: 4.75 in. thickness: 13 mM Core type: second-generation gel-core, elastomer-infused polypropylene surface: two-layer unidirectional fiberglass


The lowdown: Players Pickleball is known for three things: using science to create the best product, selling direct to consumers to save them money, and making all its paddles in the U.S., in Bellingham, Washington. The Rogue2 is the result of decades of experience developing products across several sports and working as a contract paddle manufacturer. “I immediately found this paddle to have a giant sweet spot, which gave me great control,” Lee says. “I had few, if any, mishits. I felt confident with my resets and dinks. I am definitely a fan of this paddle.” Markowitz adds: “This paddle felt solid all around: ground strokes, volleys, dinks, and resets. It has a vibration-dampening device that intrigued me; I see a lot of players looking for paddles that are easy on their arms.”


V740MAX

Vulcan, $200; vulcansportinggoods.com

Weight: 8.3 oz. handle: 5.5 in. thickness: 14.5 mm Core type: polypropylene honeycomb surface: layered fiberglass and carbon fiber


The lowdown: Founded in 2015 with a focus on creating baseball and tennis grips, Vulcan found its way to pickleball and has signed several top pros. The signature paddle of pro Jay Devilliers is designed and made in the U.S. Vulcan’s signature paddles are created with pros’ full input to achieve the ideal balance between power and control. “I love the shape of this paddle,” says Lee. “The extended paddle face allowed me extra reach, and the extended handle gave me the option of a two-handed backhand. It was also a good power paddle because the paddle face was solid.” Markowitz says: “ This paddle has good power and control. The elongated shape is really good for tennis players transitioning into pickleball. The longer paddle means it is a little thinner on the face, which can be unforgiving for mishits but feels great if you find the sweet spot consistently.”


Riley Newman 206

GAMMA Sports, $180; gammasports.com

Weight: 8 oz. handle: 5.25 in. thickness: 16 mM Core type: NeuCore polypropylene surface: textured composite


The lowdown: This family-owned Pittsburgh company has been making tennis equipment since 1972, and its over-grips were popular with pickleball players long before Gamma Sports entered the paddle business. Since signing pros Riley and Lindsey Newman, Gamma Sports has become better known in part because of their distinct playing style and ability to reset the ball in any situation. The 206 is Riley’s signature paddle. “There’s a reason Riley Newman uses it,” says Markowitz. “It’s a soft paddle with great control. It grabbed volleys and let me put the ball exactly where I wanted. For people who love playing the net and working the point with volleys and defense, it hits a home run.” Lee concurs: “This is a very solid paddle. The volleys were amazing—I could place the ball wherever I wanted with great power.”


WALLET-FRIENDLY

Beginners to seasoned players like the feel and touch of Babolat’s RBEL Touch, Paddletek’s Bantam TS-5, and Franklin’s Signature paddles.

BANG FOR YOUR BUCK

Signature

Franklin, $100; franklinsports.com

Weight: 7.5–8 oz. handle: 5.6 in. thickness: 16 mm Core type: polypropylene surface: MaxGrit textured


The lowdown: Global sports brand Franklin made its name in batting gloves before developing products and relationships across every major sport and global retailer—which allowed it to help bring pickleball to the masses with affordable, well-respected equipment. Franklin’s X-40 outdoor ball is one of the most popular, and its Signature paddle—developed in partnership with Ben Johns—is a staple across the pro tour and found in most big-box retailers. It’s a reliable paddle, our experts say. “It does the job and would be good for an intermediate player,” says player and instructor Katherine Hedden. “Control is good and the paddle handles transitions well.” Adds Jamie Elliott, a stuntwoman turned pickleball player: “The grip feels nice, and the ball came off my paddle the way I wanted when I served.”


Explorer Pro

Niupipo, $80; niupipo.com

Weight: 8 oz. handle: 5 in. thickness: 16 mm Core type: polypropylene honeycomb surface: Graphite carbon fiber (with added grit)


The lowdown: With many pickleball paddles manufactured in China, it makes sense for a Chinese brand to emerge and sell its own paddles to consumers. Primarily selling through Amazon, Niupipo has become a preferred brand for affordable beginner paddles. It also now sponsors some pros on tour, like Jack Foster and Frank Anthony Davis, equipping them with higher-quality but easy-on-the-wallet paddles. The Explorer Pro, says Elliott, was “very accurate in controlling my shots. I normally play with an elongated paddle, but I wasn’t out of range with this paddle. From the start, I was hitting in the sweet spot and placing the ball accurately. I play from a wheelchair after playing 10 years standing, so I’ve had to adjust. This paddle allowed me to take shots in the air and from the ground without feeling out of position.”


Rbel Touch

Babolat, $119; babolat.com

Weight: 7.58 oz. handle: 5 in. thickness: 14 mm Core type: EVA-enclosed polypropylene honeycomb surface: graphite skin


The lowdown: Babolat is one of the oldest names in tennis, producing the first set of natural-gut tennis and badminton strings in 1875 in Lyon, France; over a century later, Babolat started making tennis rackets. The Rbel Touch is a lighter pickleball paddle that still packs a punch, perfect for the intermediate player looking for a paddle to grow with. Hedden called it “one of my favorite paddles. I was able to have a two-handed grip, the control was great, and the paddle absorbed the shock of the ball and still left me with a powerful hit—good for people with tennis elbow. The light grit also helped my topspins.” Elliott, who played with the paddle from her wheelchair, says she “loved the soft grip. I was able to get low shots, from my chair, as well as reach shots almost out of my reach. I would recommend this paddle, and it was a great price.”


Bantam TS-5

Paddletek, $100; paddletek.com

Weight: 7–7.5 oz. handle: 5 in. thickness: 12.7 mm Core type: high-grade polymer composite honeycomb surface: textured fiberglass epoxy hybrid


The lowdown: Paddletek, which began as a small family business in 2010, is now one of the sport’s brand leaders, sponsoring Anna Leigh Waters, Kyle Yates, Irina Tereschenko, and Catherine Parenteau. Its paddles are known for their consistency. The Bantam TS-5 is Anna Leigh Waters’s paddle of choice—and if it’s good enough for one of the world’s top female players, it’s good enough for anyone. Says Hedden: “This paddle managed well in every transition, and it has a perfect paddle-to–sweet spot ratio. I used this paddle to safely get me through all aspects of the game.” Elliott says, “The feel is great, from the grip to the balance. The feeling as balls come off the paddle is ideal for beginners to intermediate, and the price is good if someone wants to advance their game.”


Tour Force

PBPro, $119; pbpropickleball.com

Weight: 8 oz. handle: 4.5 in. thickness: 12.5 mm Core type: premium polypropylene surface: premium carbon fiber


The lowdown: Launched in 2020 by former WTA professional tennis player Simona Galik Moore, PBPro has developed a lineup of paddles that span a range of prices, materials, and weights. Carefully crafted by a team of product developers, players, and designers, PBPro’s paddles provide options for every type of player, from beginners to advanced, as well as juniors, people prone to arm injuries, and women looking for lighter paddles. The Tour Force is the company’s first carbon fiber surface, with playability that competes with several higher-priced brands. “Control was good, and I was able to make drop shots effectively,” says Hedden. Elliott adds: “The grip was nice and soft.” 


RX44

Adidas, $100; pickleballcentral.com

Weight: 7.7–8.2 oz. handle: 4.75 in. thickness: 14.28 mM Core type: High-density polypropylene honeycomb surface: RX44 composite fiberglass


The lowdown: A sure sign of just how big the sport of pickleball is getting, sports giant Adidas, known for everything from running shoes to workout clothes, joined the pickleball space in 2021 with a roster of nine paddles suited for a wide range of players. With the RX44, says Hedden, “you definitely get bang for the buck. It offers solid, hard-hitting power every time you make contact. The larger sweet spot helped with consistency in making accurate shots.” Adds Elliott: “This paddle is really cool-looking, and I love the colors. The grip feels great, and I like the wider face, as I hit the sweet spot almost every time and was able to hit a couple of shots that seemed a little out of reach. The ball comes off the face fast. I never missed a serve, and I loved hearing the sound of the ball coming off the paddle.”


Good Vibrations

If you have tennis elbow, look for a paddle that cuts down vibrations, like the Prokennex Ovation Speed ii or the Rogue2 CARBON

SHOCK ABSORPTION

Ovation Speed II

ProKennex, $170; prokennex-pickleball.com

Weight: 7.7–8 oz. handle: 4.88 in. thickness: 9 mm Core type: proprietary seven-layer coating and complex composite surface: new PK Opti-Cell Core


The lowdown: This is the world’s first oval pickleball paddle, designed by ProKennex and Steve and Jennifer Dawson of the Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle Club; it’s part of a ProKennex line of paddles for players suffering from tennis elbow. “The oval shape made maneuvering easier,” says Samit Korgaonkar, who represents Club MK. “I was impressed with its ability in resets and drives. I felt no vibrations, even playing without an elbow brace, so I’d highly recommend it if you want less vibration but good power.” Adds Alison Gruosso, a bronze medalist at last year’s US Open: “It is light and thin, but muted the impact of the pickleball—I felt few vibrations in my handle, wrist, and arm.”


Rogue2 Carbon (hybrid shape)

Players Pickleball, $150; playerspickleball.com

Weight: 7.8 oz. handle: 5 in. thickness: 13 mm Core type: second-generation Gel-Core, elastomer-infused polypropylene surface: carbon fiber 3K twill weave with in-molded texture


The lowdown: The Rogue2 Carbon is another version of the Players Pickleball flagship paddle, the result of decades of product development. Because carbon fiber is stiff, the ball’s impact is distributed more evenly across the surface of the paddle, reducing vibrations. “The Rogue2 Carbon is a good touch and feel paddle with an elongated shape and long handle,” says Korgaonkar. “It’s excellent for tennis elbow—I felt no vibration or strain. And it felt lighter than 7.8 ounces.” Adds Gruosso: “It definitely helped mute the vibrations of a hard pickleball hit. While the paddle is relatively thin, it took impact off the pickleball. It provided great control while dinking and had that deep ‘pop’ sound while making contact with the pickleball.”


Amped Epic

Selkirk, $150; selkirk.com

Weight: 7.2–7.7 oz. handle: 5.25 in. thickness: 12 mm Core type: polypropylene honeycomb surface: FiberFlex fiberglass


The lowdown: Selkirk, a family-run Idaho company, has helped remake pickleball’s image from a retirees’ activity to a sport for all ages, sponsoring Tyson McGuffin, among others. The Amped Epic is one of its most well-rounded paddles. “The traditional paddle shape with a longer handle had a great balance and a good sweet spot,” says Korgaonkar. “The lighter weight made it easy to swing through fast-paced exchanges, it was excellent in resetting attacks, and dinking was flawless—all while making the vibrations next to nothing.” Gruosso gives this paddle a perfect score for overall play and vibration dampening. “I did not wear an armband—and my arm/elbow did not hurt after playing. The light weight really made a difference in how tired my hitting arm felt.”


GROUND-BREAKERS

Innovative paddles like Selkirk’s 003 S2 are implementing everything from new materials to ingenious shapes.

CUTTING EDGE

Project 003 S2

Selkirk Labs, $333; selkirklabs.com

Weight: 7.6–7.9 oz. handle: 4.5 in. thickness: 20 mm Core type: polymer honeycomb surface: fiberglass and carbon fiber


The lowdown: Selkirk Labs made a splash last year after Tyson McGuffin played with the Project 002 Invikta, which had a distinct hole in its throat meant to reduce drag and create flexion to increase power. This year brought the 003 S2 (sold with a white handle, above) and 003 Epic. “They’re the thickest paddles on the market,” says Ho, “but feel very light, maybe because the shape and short handle keep the center of mass balanced. The surface is very gritty and produced massive spin. The thickness was easy to adjust to, and I had as much control over my dinking as my drives and volleys.” Kerawala says of the Epic: “This is the best Selkirk paddle I’ve played with! It has way more control and touch than the 002. Nice work, Selkirk Labs.”


Aero Powershot

OneShot, $185; oneshotpickleball.com

Weight: 7.8–8.5 oz. handle: 5.3 in. thickness: 14.5 mm Core type: polypropylene honeycomb surface: graphite


The lowdown: OneShot was founded by the Lui and Montes families of Seattle, who were strongly influenced by their backgrounds in competitive tennis. The Aero Powershot features four cutouts on each side of the face near the edge guard that allow air to flow through, reducing the drag coefficient by up to 2 percent, according to the company’s testing. In a game often won or lost by millimeters, 2 percent can mean the difference between a gold medal and the consolation bracket. “The holes on the side make the; balance of the paddle less head-heavy, giving me faster hands at the net,” says Ho. “Despite its being only 14.5 millimeters thick, there was not too much pop off the surface and I could control my dinks and third shots well.” Kerawala found the paddle “surprisingly fun to play with,” adding that it “felt well rounded, with a good touch, spin, and power. I like the innovations, and the holes are unique.”


Brutale CF

KitchenPro, $195; kitchenpropickleball.com

Weight: 7.8–8.3 oz. handle: 4.75 in. thickness: 13 mm Core type: Polypropylene honeycomb surface: T-300 carbon fiber yarn


The lowdown: Cofounded by Gregg Brents in Sevierville, Tennessee, KitchenPro was technically the first paddle on the USAP approval list to feature an open throat hole. The frame is made of carbon fiber, including the edge guard, making it much more durable than most paddles, and the throat makes for a stronger paddle by improving the structural integrity and nearly canceling out the possibility of breakage. “This paddle actually was the first to come to the market with a tennis-like throat hole,” says Ho, “but since KitchenPro is a smaller company, it did not receive the same hype the Selkirk 002 did. The throat hole keeps the paddle feeling light and crisp at the non-volley zone, and the unique edge guard design indicates that durability would not be an issue. Despite the smooth carbon fiber surface, it could still impart enough spin on the ball.”


SIX JUST FOR FUN

THESE EYE-CATCHING DESIGNS WILL HAVE YOU LOOKING—AND PLAYING—YOUR SHARPEST.

We know you take your game seriously—but there are also times when you want to show off your style. Six winners here:

1. Skal Pickleball, The Valkyrie .01 Paddle

7.8 O., $125; SKALPICKLEBALL.COM

The rainbow zigzag might draw you in, but this paddle is built for success: Its rough surface texture offers great spin, the grip has sweat-wicking technology, and the core absorbs vibrations!

2. Holbrook Pickleball, SoHo Paddle

7.8 OZ., $89; HOLBROOKPICKLEBALL.COM

Created to evoke an upscale, urban feel, this lightweight paddle has a honeycomb core, graphite face, and a supercomfy, sweatproof, condensed-foam grip. 

3. Salted City Sports, Pink Camo, Evo-Lite Series Paddle

7.5–8 OZ., $79; SALTEDCITYSPORTS.COM

The psychedelic vibe could hypnotize your opponent—but you won’t need to. This paddle—with its huge sweet spot and spin-enhancing surface—will take care of business.

4. Vantaze Pickleball, Vantaze Victory 

8 OZ., $120; VANTAZEPICKLEBALL.COM 

The marble-patterned paddle (with a leather-look ribbed handle) is purpose-built for all skill levels: It has a large sweet spot and provides loads of power from the baseline.

5. Erne, Boogie Board

7.9 OZ., $99; ERNE-PICKLEBALL.COM

Sure, it’s engineered to give you an explosive pop and stellar topspin, but the Boogie Board is all about fun: ErneHead, the bearded logo, sits in the paddle’s sweet spot, a constant reminder to always be yourself.

6. Recess Pickleball, Goldie Paddle

7.5–8 OZ., $86; RECESSPICKLEBALL.COM

Stylish Recess Pickleball cares about performance—it’s a sponsor of Major League Pickleball. This Goldie model has a honeycomb core and fiberglass surface. 

The Modern Paddle:

AN ORiGiN STORY


When Boeing engineer Arlen Paranto made a pickleball paddle for his son out of discarded jet floor paneling back in 1984, he unintentionally revolutionized the sport. Here’s how it happened. by alison gwinn 


Necessity is the mother of invention, the saying goes. And Steve Paranto couldn’t agree more.

An early pickleball convert, Paranto began playing in 1974 as an 18-year-old student at Green River College in Auburn, Washington, not far from where the game was invented. When Paranto saw some people hitting a Wiffle ball around with wooden paddles, he was intrigued, and decided to take up the game. “I even played in what was billed as the world’s first pickleball tournament, near Seattle, losing in the finals,” he says.

Paranto loved the sport, but he had one big problem: the heavy plywood paddles in use at the time. “I told my dad, ‘This is ridiculous. I just weighed my paddle, and it weighs 13 times what the ball weighs. My tennis racket is only seven times heavier than a tennis ball. The ratio’s all wrong.’”

Steve’s father, Arlen Paranto, an industrial engineer at Boeing who often came up with inventive solutions to real-life problems, got to work. A few weeks later, he stopped by Steve’s place with two prototype paddles he’d made out of the honeycomb fiberglass floor paneling used in jet airplanes.

When Steve tried out the new paddles, he immediately noticed an improvement. “The first hit—the sound it made—was totally different,” he recalls. “The feel was different too. The ball came off faster. Pretty soon, my partner and I were winning all the tournaments. Nobody could beat us.”

So Arlen set out to make more of these new 7-ounce paddles. (The plywood ones weighed about 12 to 13 ounces.) “We started out just selling them to our friends—probably giving them away,” says Steve. “But pretty soon, we had a company.”

That company was called Pro-Lite and had a lightning bolt as its logo. “Dad and I were watching The Natural, with Robert Redford, and in the movie, lightning hits a tree, and his character cuts a bat from the tree and puts a lightning bolt on it. We go, ‘That’s our logo!’ Within months, Dad started selling them out of the trunk of his car, and then to all the local sporting goods stores in the Northwest, and soon sporting goods stores started ordering them around the country.” (The company was later bought by Pickleball Hall of Famer Mark Friedenberg and is now run by his son, Neil.)

Arlen died in 2019, after being inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame for his game-changing invention. “His paddle revolutionized the sport,” says Steve. “The rallies were more fun. You could reset balls. The sweet spot was bigger. The game just took off after the paddle was created. I always tell people I was fortunate to be at the right place at the right time with the right dad to have all these incredible things happen in the world of pickleball.”

BURNING QUESTIONS


Selkirk’s Rob Barnes and ProKennex’s Steve Dawson weigh in on a few other issues. 


HOW CAN I BE SURE THAT A PADDLE FITS ME?

“Just pick it up, hold it, move it, and feel if the balance and weight distribution are comfortable,” says Steve Dawson, co-owner and designer at ProKennex Pickleball and manager and co-owner of the Bobby Riggs Racket & Paddle Club in Encinitas, California. Adds Rob Barnes, cofounder and co-CEO of Selkirk Sport: “Besides grip size—wide, standard, or thin—the paddle just needs to feel good to you.” 

HOW MUCH DOES THE WEIGHT OF A PADDLE MATTER?

“It matters a lot,” says Barnes. “I always tell people to get the heaviest paddle they can where they do not feel like they are losing hand speed. The weight preference varies greatly from person to person.” Dawson agrees that weight preferences differ, depending on what kind of player you are. “If you’re a player who enjoys speedups, hand battles, reflex volleys, and quickness, go with a lighter paddle because it will enhance your reflex speed. If you’re a control player and a counterpuncher, you probably want a heavier one.”

WHAT GIVES A PADDLE POWER?

“A combination of weight, core composition, and surface materials,” says Barnes. Dawson adds: “In general, a thicker-core paddle—a paddle with more width to it—is going to be a little more of a control paddle and a thinner-core paddle is going to be a more powerful paddle.” 

WHEN SOMEONE IS A BEGINNER, SHOULD THEY SPLURGE ON A PRICIER PADDLE?

“If you’re just getting started with pickleball, I recommend you buy any old paddle because you can’t really even tell the difference,” says Dawson. “But once you become more advanced, you want a paddle that performs. After a few months, graduate to a better paddle.”

IS THERE A WAY TO TRY OUT DIFFERENT PADDLES?

“A lot of local pickleball shops have paddles that you can demo and try,” says Dawson. “You play with a paddle and see how you like it and compare it to other paddles.”

ARE THERE DIFFERENT PADDLES FOR MEN VS. WOMEN?

“Paddles are not made gender-specific,” says Barnes. “Again, if it looks and feels good to you, then it’s the right paddle.” 

HOW LONG WILL MY PADDLE LAST?

“That will depend on how you care for it,” says Barnes. “In general, paddles last one to five years. As a rule of thumb, expect to be buying a new paddle every two to three years.”

SHOULD AN AVERAGE REC PLAYER BE REGULARLY CHANGING UP PADDLES BETWEEN GAMES?

“It’s probably not a good idea, because they’re all slightly different,” says Dawson. “One paddle’s going to hit a little farther. One’s going to grab more spins. Some paddles are long and skinny; others are short and fat. Find one you like and stick with it.”

HOW TO DEMO A

Paddle


YOU’VE CHOSEN A NEW PADDLE—BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW IF IT’S RIGHT FOR YOU? THESE 8 GUIDELINES WILL HELP.


1. WEIGHT First, get a sense of the paddle’s weight relative to what you’re used to. And check how the weight is distributed: Is the paddle head-heavy, balanced, or grip-heavy? A head-heavy paddle will create more power, but it may take you a while to adjust your hand speed. A grip-heavy paddle might let your hands move faster, but you may need to adjust your timing hitting the ball. 

2. GRIP Make sure the grip does not feel too large or too small. A grip that is too small will force you to hold the paddle too tight; a grip that is too
large can strain your hand and elbow. Your offhand index finger should be able to fit into the gap of the hand holding the paddle.

3. DINK AND DROP Practice dinking, focusing on making good contact with the sweet spot and feeling how much or how little grip pressure you need to make the ball move where you want.

4. DRIVE Feel the swing speed and power off your drives. Add in topspin and see how much movement you can create with the ball.

5. RESET Stand in the transition zone and focus on resets off the bounce and out of the air. These are some of the most nuanced shots in the game so spend extra time on them, getting comfortable with the paddle.

6. VOLLEY Focus on your hand speed and how the weight of the paddle feels. If the paddle weight is different from what you’re used to, this shot may take the longest to adapt to because your body and eyes need to adjust incrementally. Don’t get discouraged just because you feel slower.

7. SERVE AND RETURN The two shots that start the game need to feel good if you want to move on. Home in on power in your serve and spin on your return (if you slice). You may need to adjust where you’re standing when you serve or return; be prepared to explore all variables.

8. FINALLY, PLAY SOME GAMES! After drilling and warming up with the above specifics in mind, the rest is up to you. Remember to be patient if there are many aspects you like and some you don’t. No paddle is likely to feel perfect at first, but soon you and your new paddle will form an unstoppable partnership.

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