If you’ve been playing pickleball for any length of time, you’ve probably asked yourself three questions:
- Should I buy a new pickleball paddle?
- What kind of paddle should I buy?
- With so many options, how do I know which one is right for me?
Without going into a comprehensive analysis of the pros & cons of every pickleball paddle on the market, in this article, I’ll give you some guidelines to choose a paddle that works for you and your game in particular.
(By The Way: Have you heard that Wilson has recently entered the market with their own pickleball paddle? The sport is definitely on the rise!)
Pickleball paddles generally range in weight from 6.8 oz (about the weight of a softball) to 14 oz (almost the weight of a can of green beans).
The advantage of a lighter paddle is that it is easier to maneuver (especially up at the net during quick volleys).
The disadvantage of a light paddle that is too light, is that you experience more of the impact/vibration in your arm & elbow because there is less mass to counter the ball. Of course, this is much less in Pickleball compared to tennis, for example, but it can make quite a difference.
The heavier your paddle, the more “oomph” it adds to your slams & hard shots, but the more strength it takes to control it on the softer shots.
The Bottom Line on Pickleball Paddle Weight
If you are a current or former table tennis player, or you’re accustomed to using your wrist to execute many of your shots, you’ll probably prefer a light- to medium-weight paddle.
If you are a current or former tennis player, you may prefer a heavier paddle because you’re accustomed to the weight of your tennis racket in your hand.
(I don’t have much experience with Squash or Racquetball so if you have a general suggestion for those players, please feel free to share it in the comments below.
The regulations for the dimensions of a pickleball paddle are based on the total length x widest width. Most paddles add length to the face by shortening the length of the handle, keeping the total length and width the same. This is true for most wide-body and oversize paddles. There are a few paddles, however, that you’ll see on the tournament circuit, that opt for a much narrow face in order to add an extra inch or so of length.
There is also a new player to the game that has recently surfaced and is quickly gaining fans, which is a much longer paddle that was recently used by Matthew Blom in the 2015 Men’s National Tournament. This paddle is quite a bit longer and skinnier, which gives a little extra “whipping motion,” but also requires better accuracy for ball placement.
There are two main advantages of a longer paddle:
- It gives you that much more of a reach to volley balls without stepping into the kitchen, and
- You get a little extra speed because of the the added distance from the center of rotation when you hit the ball.
However, that extra distance also makes the paddle head feel slightly heavier and less maneuverable at the net.
The Bottom Line on Paddle Length
Stick to a regular, wide-body or oversize paddle head, but don’t bother with the extra-long paddles unless you are a particularly advanced racket-sport player who almost ALWAYS hits the sweet-spot on your paddle and doesn’t need much extra width. Always make sure your paddle falls within USAPA guidelines, especially if you are interested in tournament play: “The combined length and width including any edge guard and butt cap shall not exceed 24 inches.” There are currently no restrictions on thickness or weight.
Power vs. Control
Some paddles (graphite- or cork-centered, or fiberglass-faced paddles) will give you lots of “pop” for very little effort, which is great for getting the ball from the back of the court over the net by just sticking your paddle in front of it, whether you’re hitting a half-volley drop shot to come up to the net, or whether you tend to play your entire game from the baseline. (Not a strategy I recommend, by the way.) But the disadvantage of a paddle with so much pop is that it’s harder to control the ball.
The very same attributes that launch the ball from the back of the court can work against you when you are at the net. When you are dinking at the net, paddles that provide a lot of pop will often make your dinks go higher or deeper than other paddles, which is not a good thing. Up at the net, if you stick that same paddle in front of the ball, it will make the ball fly much higher/further than you hope, reminding you of what it feels like to “leave your partner hung out to dry” as your opponent smashes the ball at their feet. 😉
On the other hand, sometimes the added speed off the paddle makes it harder for some opponents to return the volleys.
The Bottom Line on Power vs Control
If you’re a tournament player and/or you’re working on integrating dinking into your game, opt for control rather than power with a composite paddle. If you tend to stay at the back of the court or want maximum speed with minimum effort, a paddle with more power might be right for you.
If you are an avid singles player, then definitely go for a paddle with more power, since singles is less dependent on dinks or drop shots.
I don’t have a lot to say on this, but just wanted to point out that, unless & until the USAPA makes yellow paddles and/or shirts illegal, it is still a substantial advantage to play with a yellow paddle because it makes it much harder for your opponent to see the ball as it comes off your paddle.
The Bottom Line on Color
Whether or not you decide to use the color advantage is, of course, your choice. If you don’t, you might just decide to get a paddle to match your every outfit, and you wouldn’t be the first pickleball player to do so. 😉 (Really!)
Here Are Some Tips for Testing a Paddle
Stand at the no-volley line, and have someone hit the ball hard at you. Just try take the pace off the ball by holding the paddle firmly and trying to drop the ball right over the net. Notice how many of your shots fall into the kitchen or how far past the kitchen line they go.
Off the Half-Volley
Have someone hit an overhead hard at you, while you are in the back of the court. Just stick your paddle out firmly to block the ball as it comes up off the bounce and notice how often the ball goes back over the net, or whether it falls short.
Off the Lob
Practice hitting overheads and pay attention to the power that the paddle adds (or doesn’t add) to your shot.
Volley back and forth with someone at the net, alternative forehands & backhands. Practice bringing your paddle back to the ready position after each shot. Notice how easy it is the maneuver the paddle, notice any strain in your wrist, forearm or shoulder.
Don’t stress about buying a paddle. If you’re someone who isn’t very particular or happens to be lucky, a random paddle you buy off the internet could last you a decade. But, if you’re like most avid players, myself included, your preferences and tastes will change as your game develops and evolves. So start with a cheaper or used paddle and move your way up the ladder as you find what you like. (But in the meantime, take a minute to enter your name & email address below so you can claim your FREE subscription to my highly-acclaimed monthly newsletter with expert pickleball strategies, advice and challenges delivered straight to your inbox.)
Or, if you want to cut straight to a high-quality paddle that has just the right combination of power and finesse, find out more about my signature paddle…