For those looking to invest in a pickleball paddle, there are a dizzying number of sizes, styles and materials to choose from. So which is best for you? The answer to that question depends on a number of factors including hand size, strength, play style, and budget. The rest of this Pickleball Paddle Selection Guide will look at how the different paddle characteristics apply to these factors mentioned.
By the end, you will hopefully have a good idea of which paddles will suit you best. One thing to keep in mind is that each brand of paddle has a distinct feel to the way it plays and the best way to decide which brand you like is to borrow paddles from friends, if possible, to get a sense for which manufacturer you prefer, as that is a highly subjective quality in each paddle.
The first thing to look at when buying a paddle is which type of material you would like to use. Pickleball Paddles are currently being made from 4 different types of materials.
These materials are, from cheapest to most expensive, plastic, wood, composite, and graphite.
The Star plastic paddle from Pickleball, Inc. is designed specifically for the needs of institutions such as schools or camps, so they are low cost, durable paddles, but are not used in sanctioned play due to the small size and the holes in the face. This is currently the only plastic paddle available specifically for pickleball.
There are a number of wood paddles to choose from. The important thing to remember about wood paddles is that they are the heaviest of the paddles. In some cases, up to twice as heavy as a composite paddle. The benefit of wood paddles is their low cost, usually one quarter to one half the cost of composite paddles.
Composite and the next level, graphite, are the materials most enthusiasts choose once they start playing regularly. Composite is a light and sturdy material used in many of the top end paddles. The benefits of composite are that it has many of the same qualities as the higher end graphite but costs a bit less. If budget is a concern, but you still want a light weight paddle, then a composite paddle is what you want.
Graphite is the material used for the top end paddles. It is light and sturdy much like the composite, but it is more rigid which gives it a little more “Pop.” Visually, composite paddles and graphite paddles look almost identical, but a graphite paddle will usually have the word graphite printed on it somewhere. If you want the top of the line, you want a paddle made of this type of material.
Paddles generally come in one of two styles. The magnum style or oversize paddle has a shorter handle and a larger hitting surface. This larger hitting surface provides extended range and can be more forgiving of miss-hit balls. The second common style is one with a longer handle and a smaller hitting surface.
This longer handle can accommodate larger hands and is often lighter than the oversize paddles.
The weight of the paddle can have a significant effect on the way a player plays the game. A lightweight paddle has certain advantages over a heavy paddle in that reaction times and hand speed can be faster, which is especially useful during play close to the net.
Also, for people with a longer back swing, it can be easier to get the paddle back in to striking position quickly. Additionally, a lighter paddle can allow a player to play more games before fatigue sets in, so for smaller players this can be a very important factor.
The downside to the lighter paddle is that the player has to provide more of the power in order to hit the ball hard.
Conversely, a heavier paddle works well for players that have shorter swings, because the weight of the paddle helps hit the ball harder without requiring the effort that a lightweight paddle does. With a heavier paddle, fatigue can become an issue for the smaller players, which is why heavy paddles are recommended primarily for physically stronger players.
To sum up, if you are looking to get in to the game as cheaply as possible, then a plastic or wood paddle is the way to go. If budget is a concern, but you are an enthusiast who wants a lightweight paddle, then one of the composite paddles is what you want. If you want top of the line, a graphite paddle will give you what you are looking for.
If you have big hands then a long-handled paddle is for you. Fatigue can be fought with a lightweight paddle, which will help keep you on the court longer. For a power-type game, a heavier paddle will give you extra velocity.