If you’re already playing pickleball, you know the challenge of purchasing a new pickleball paddle is not as easy as it might seem. The good news: pickleball paddles are affordable. But, the challenge is finding the right one for you. In this article, we’ll outline some of the issues and opportunities in purchasing a paddle and give you some specific brand names that have been court-tested. But, first, a little background on the sport.
The rising popularity of pickleball
Pickleball referred to as “Boomer Tennis,” is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. There are a lot of reasons pickleball has caught the interest of sports lovers including the fact that it is a competitive game that gets players out and exercising. Folks who have played tennis, ping-pong, racquetball, or badminton seem to naturally take to the paddle being an extension-of-the-arm and the hand-eye coordination required to play well.
This sport can be quickly learned. Because the court is considerably smaller than a typical tennis court, it doesn’t require the same amount of running to reach the ball. Thus, older players can compete with younger players more easily. Because players are closer to each other, it fosters more communication during gameplay. And, whoever finetuned the rules to the game did a masterful job.
All about paddles
So, maybe a friend has invited you to play pickleball and lends you a spare paddle to play with. You like playing and now it’s time to make your first purchase of a pickleball paddle. As you scan the store – online or brick-and-mortar – there may be some brands you recognize, but there is a lot that you don’t. You also realize you have no real idea of what you’re looking for. Here’s where this pickleball buying guide can help. So, take a deep dive into the info that follows.
There are a few considerations when selecting your paddle. In the ideal world, you’d have an opportunity to take home a few paddles and play with them to see which one feels the best and helps you generate shots that you like. Some local stores may allow that – call around, you’ll be glad if you do.
So, here’s what you need to know.
Paddles generally weigh between 6 and 14 ounces. A paddle that weighs between 7 and 8ounces is fairly common. Paddles under 7 ounces are considered light, and paddles over 8 ounces are considered heavy.
The weight of the paddle is important. If you’re big and strong, you want a paddle to hold up to the power you generate. If the paddle is too light, you might find your shots constantly going too far. On the other hand, if you’re fairly petite, you might aim to acquire a lighter-weight paddle. As a general rule of thumb, match your paddle weight to the speed and strength of your stroke. A strong, fast stroke usually means that a player will do better with a heavier paddle.
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Most pickleball paddles are sold at a 4 1/8″ or 4 1/4″ size which is fine for small to average-size hands. If you have bigger hands, you’ll want to either purchase a paddle with a bigger grip or build the grip size up by placing another grip over the top or taping up the handle.
Playing with the right grip size will not only enable you to hit better shots, place spins better, and just feel better but will also help prevent or reduce injury.
A good rule of thumb, or in this case a good rule of a finger, is to make sure that the index finger of your non-playing hand can fit snugly between your fingers and the base of your thumb on the paddle grip. “The One-Finger Rule” ensures that you’re playing with the right grip size. So, when in doubt, buy a smaller grip size and build up. It’s much more challenging to try to whittle down a handle.
The One-Finger Rule for Grip Size
There are three primary types of core for non-wood paddles:
1.) Polymer: larger honeycomb cells that are softer. As a result, it’s not as loud as most other types of paddles but usually provide great power.
2.) Nomex: a harder material that is durable with smaller honeycomb cells. These paddles are louder than polymer and have great control.
3.) Aluminum: Similar to Nomex paddles: good control but less power than polymer.
Your choice of paddle core comes down to personal preference and your type of game.
Facing of the paddle surface
There are also three primary types of facing:
1.) Graphite: Provides great ball control but not as much power as fiberglass/composite.
2.) Fiberglass (also called composite): Very common playing surface on a paddle. Good power but less control.
3.) Carbon Fiber: Like graphite, good ball control but less pop than graphite.
Your choice of surface will come down to preference based on your playing style.
You’ll find that the graphics on the playing surfaces seem to serve as a testimony to the manufacturers’ ability to print wild colors on any surface. Don’t be overly influenced by the graphics on the playing surface.
Based on player recommendations and research, we identified and reviewed 10 different pickleball paddles. We played with each paddle to analyze how it performed in real game situations. Here are our top three favorites.
Our Top Pick: The Z5 by Onix rated #1 — Compare at $90
This is the most popular paddle from Onix Sports. It’s a graphite paddle with a Nomex core. It comes standard with a 4 1/4″ grip size – which fits many players and others can overlap tape to increase the grip size. The Z5 retails for about $90. It weighs about 8 ounces which puts it right on the edge between medium and heavy.
What makes this paddle our #1 is its control and feel while hitting with it. It’s the right size and weight for most players. Its control makes it particularly effective for volleying and spin control. Our reviewers raved about the paddle’s feel and ease of spinning serves. It’s the type of paddle that works well for players at all levels.
It’s not inexpensive, so it might suggest a purchase by an intermediate or advanced player, but if you think you’ll be playing a lot of pickleball, it’s a great paddle to begin with. If you’re looking for control and accuracy with sufficient power, this is your paddle!
The Wilson Juice rated #2 — Compare at $109
The most expensive of the paddles we reviewed at $109, the Wilson Juice still provided great value. Coming in with a grip size of 4 1/8″ and 7.8-ounce weight, it has a polymer honeycomb core and a fiberglass facing. Wilson added its “Clear Spin” technology to the paddle surface to make it easier to generate spins.
Our reviewers were attracted to its clean design – paddle designers take note: you don’t have to pour ink on the playing surface to look good – the well-established Wilson brand in rackets and paddles, and its overall, solid play. The core does a great job of dampening vibrations. It seemed to have a much bigger sweet spot than most of the other paddles we tested it against. This is a paddle you could play with for a long time — An excellent choice!
The XS SXPAK rated #3 — Compare at $30
The XS XSPAK paddle features a polymer core with a graphite face. The grip size is 4.25″ and it weighs 8 oz. It’s not as effective of a paddle as the Z5 or the Wilson Juice, but it’s a great value play. Typically, you can find a couple of these paddles with cases for around $60. This makes an excellent gift for someone looking to take up the sport.
We’d like to see more texture on the surface area of the paddle to generate spin, but for a beginning player, it’s hard to go wrong. One might consider purchasing this as a first paddle and then keeping it for folks you teach the sport to.
What is a good pickleball paddle?
Our top-rated pickleball paddle is the Onix Z5. At around $90, it’s a bit of an investment for most beginners, but most players who own one seem to love ’em.
One Pickleball Paddle Purchasing Strategy
So, one of the big questions to ask yourself is how much money do I want to spend on pickleball paddles. As they’re less expensive than tennis rackets, it’s a very affordable sport.
There are a lot of variables including how much do you plan on playing? How much can you afford? How high are your skill level and potential skill level?
So, here’s one approach:
- Purchase one or two value paddles at first spending no more than $40 per paddle. As pickleball is very much a doubles’ game, you and your partner can test the paddles and get acquainted with the game.
- If you plan on only playing a couple of times a year, this might be your lone paddle purchase for some time.
- However, if you like the game and would like to take bigger steps to improve your play, in a relatively short time, you might be in the market for a more expensive paddle.
- For your second paddle, look to spend at least $75 for the type of quality paddle that will enable you to play at a higher level with spins and overall better contact with the ball. A floor of $75 for a paddle should buy you a product that you can grow with.
- What to do with the first paddle(s) you bought? Well, since there are so many folks who haven’t played pickleball before, you might keep the paddles and lend them to your friends when you introduce them to the game. Alternatively, you could sell them.
- With your $75+ paddle, you should be in a position to advance your game, learn your style of play, and overall just become a better player.
Pickleball Paddles FAQs
Here are some frequently asked questions on pickleball paddles.
In pickleball, the term to use is pickleball paddle. Racket is used for tennis, while racquet is used for squash, badminton, and of course, racquetball.
Obviously, it depends a lot on how much you play. Serious players may need to replace their paddles in 10 months to 2 years. While folks who are less frequently on the courts might find their paddles lasting seven years plus.
Use a little dishwater soap and water or a wet wipe to keep your paddle surface and grip clean. Make sure you dry well after applying.
The weight of the paddle is the most important consideration in selecting a paddle. Most paddles weigh between 6 ounces and 14 ounces. Heavier paddles tend to be made of wood.
See you on the courts.
We hope you enjoyed our pickleball paddle buying guide.
Pickleball paddle manufacturers: If you’re interested in having one of your paddles reviewed, please reach out to me via our contact us page. Thanks.
By Mike O’Halloran
Mike is the founder and editor of Sports Feel Good Stories.
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