The Secret to Picking the Perfect
What to look for when it’s time for a new paddle, plus six starter options to try.
CHOOSING A PICKLEBALL paddle can feel as tricky as defending an aggressive dink with mean topspin. But it’s an important element of the game: The ideal paddle can help you achieve top performance—and maximum enjoyment—every time you set foot on the court.
In this game, it’s good to have quick reflexes and solid hand-eye coordination, and the equipment you use can have a direct impact on how you play, no matter your skill level. If you’re just getting into the sport, a basic low-cost option is probably your best bet; if your goal is to play in sanctioned tournaments, you’ll need a model approved by the USA Pickleball Association. Any way you slice it, it’s a highly personal calculation: A paddle that’s great for someone else might not work well for you, so you’ll want to channel Goldilocks to find your perfect fit, testing out each candidate’s weight, grip, and shape to make the most of your potential.
WHY PADDLE WEIGHT MATTERS
Other components will factor in, but weight is one of the most important considerations when determining your ideal match. As a general rule, lighter paddles have more maneuverability, while heavier paddles offer more power. The key is finding the proper balance, as the weight you select can affect everything from your playing style to your performance to how much fun you have on the court.
If your paddle is too heavy, your arm can tire quickly, resulting in slower reaction times, slip in your grip, and deterioration in your technique. Weighty paddles can also lead to frustrating physical injuries, such as wrist fatigue, shoulder pain, and tennis—or, in this case, pickleball—elbow.
(For more on the latter condition, see our Doc Talk column)
When you’re first starting out, the best strategy is to test a variety of options on the court to decide which works best for your game. Look for companies that offer a try-before-you-buy service, or ask your pickleball-playing friends to loan you their favorites for a volley or two. During your test drive, be sure to take a few strokes at various speeds, as some paddles will feel more sluggish or more nimble than others.
HOW TO HANDLE YOUR GAME
With so many models available, finding the paddle that fits best in your hand mostly comes down to two attributes: the length and the circumference of the handle, otherwise known as the grip. The size of your hands and the techniques you prefer can help identify the grip that’s right for you: Players who frequently switch hands or use both at once for more controlled and powerful shots (such as two-handed backhands) often prefer longer handles, which allow you to shift your grip easily, while players with smaller hands and those who prefer one-handed backhands may find that shorter handles are better suited to their game.
YOUR PADDLE SIZE AND PERSONALITY
In addition to identifying your ideal grip size and paddle weight, you should also determine which size paddle suits your playing style. Though there’s an expanding spectrum on the market, from thin to wide to elongated shapes, most players—including beginners and experts—find success using the traditional body style, so try starting there.
Of course, budget is also a key consideration, but the barrier to entry is relatively minimal: Pickleball paddles generally range from $50 to $120, and plenty of inexpensive models are available. Old-school wooden paddles are particularly cheap, albeit on the heavier side, so if you can afford it, spend a little more and choose something with a lighter core, such as polymer, graphite, fiberglass, or composite.
In the end, though, the most essential factor in selecting your perfect paddle is finding the one that makes you happy. Some may be a better fit for your physical features or performance style, but ultimately, it shouldn’t be that complicated: Pick the paddle that helps you have fun when you play, and it’ll be the best choice for you.
STARTER PADDLES FOR NEW PLAYERS
A dizzying array of paddles has emerged over the past few years, but don’t be overwhelmed: These six options will get first-timers on the court for $100 or less.
GAMMA FUSION LE PICKLEBALL PADDLE: This wide-bodied composite paddle features the Pittsburgh gear brand’s comfortable signature honeycomb cushion grip, whose perforated surface wicks away moisture for more controlled game play. $40, gammasports.com
GOLDEN CLASSIC PICKLEBALL PADDLE: Boasting the largest surface area allowed on a USAPA-approved paddle, this stylish model gets bonus points for its colorful ombré design and retro saddle-brown grip. $100, goldenpickleball.com
SLK NEO BY SELKIRK PICKLEBALL PADDLE SET: The perfect starter set for a couple, this pack includes two graphite paddles with impact-absorbing cushion grips and honey comb cores, plus four
balls and a sleek carrying case. $80, amazon.com
VULCAN V320 HYBRID PICKLEBALL PADDLE: The next step up from the brand’s two- and four-pack wooden starter-paddle sets, this polypropylene paddle gets a soft feel from its fiberglass surface and is available in pink and blue designs. $50, vulcansportinggoods.com
HEAD RADICAL ELITE: With a thicker core and ergonomic handle, this ultra-durable and slightly elongated paddle boasts a large sweet spot that makes it equally suited to powerful serves and skillful dinks. $60, head.com
FRANKLIN X-1000 PICKLEBALL PADDLE: This paddle is especially durable, thanks to a protective band around the edge that keeps it looking and performing like new—even if you’re a racket-smasher like John McEnroe. $60, franklinsports.com