THE ALL-DAY THWACK-THWACK-THWACK FROM SOME COURTS IS CAUSING NEIGHBORS TO SPEAK UP. IS THERE A QUIETER WAY TO PLAY?
A: There’s been a lot of noise lately about pickleball noise. From Bronxville to Boca, neighbors of all-day pickleball courts are sending letters of complaint and even filing lawsuits, pitting those who consider the sound of paddle-on-ball thwacks “magical” against those who find it a nuisance.
The upshot: Paddle manufacturers are working on ways to lower the volume.
“Tennis noise is here and there,” says Curtis Smith, co-owner of Paddletek, “but pickleball rallies can be long and you might have dozens, or even hundreds, of people playing at the same time. Our joke is: If somebody doesn’t like the sound from the pickleball courts, get them out playing, and they will be fine with it!”
Rob Barnes, who co-owns Selkirk Sport with his brother and father, goes even further: He says that the “auditory feedback” is an important aspect of the game, and that “you don’t want it to be so quiet that you can’t hear the impact.” In fact, he says that when he hears the sounds of a nearby pickleball rally, “it’s almost an endorphin hit.”
Making the game silent is not the goal, but because of seemingly increasing complaints, there is more of a sense of urgency among manufacturers to make paddles that are quieter. (A list of relatively subdued paddles already on the market can be found at pball.grandpickleball.org/paddlerule.pdf.)
Paddletek is researching several promising materials, Smith says, and hopes to have “a paddle with less noise” to introduce around the December holidays. “I’m confident,” he says, “that we will produce a paddle that is significantly quieter, without sacrificing playability.” Barnes says Selkirk is also in the process of developing a quieter-than-ever paddle.
Of course, any new paddle would have to be approved by USA Pickleball if it’s going to be used in sanctioned competition, but arguably not all paddles need to be. For example, a quieter paddle called the Q1 gaining sway at clubs nestled in residential neighborhoods is not approved for tournament play. Made by Master Athletics—a small firm owned by David Kjeldsen, who is well known in platform tennis precincts for Viking, the company he founded and later sold—the Q1 is entering its third summer, and Kjeldsen says it’s so popular among recreational players that he can’t keep it in stock. “If your neighbors shut you down,” he says, “you’re going to love the Q1.”
Creating a quieter paddle using materials acceptable to USAP and allowed for tournaments would be a huge win—but it’s complicated. Some new materials can create too much power, which could make play unsafe, especially on pickleball’s small courts. Says Smith: “You don’t want people dodging 60-mile-per-hour balls.”
Here are a few of the techniques and strategies already being tried to turn down the noise on the courts.
• Making thicker polymer honeycomb paddle cores
• Using absorbent carbon fiber for the paddle face
• Putting a sound-muffling layer on the paddle surface
• Using foam balls
The message is loud and clear: At least when it comes to recreational play in bucolic neighborhoods, quieter paddles may soon be as common as your water bottle sitting courtside.