Very few players are paddle agnostic. Many of us have our favorite “go-to” choice to use on the courts, with some even switching to a secondary Ol’ Reliable depending on the location and conditions. This makes it all the more difficult to handle when your paddle starts to lose its juice and go dead.
A “dead paddle” is a paddle has been damaged or (over)used to the point that it’s no longer playing at its optimal potential. While this can occur due to obvious incidents like being thrown, getting hit on the ground or breakage, it could also be the case that your equipment has simply reached the end of its natural lifespan.
Most high qualities paddles will last at least a year, but it’s not unheard of to need to switch things out earlier if you’re a very frequent and/or aggressive player. However, if you’ve only had a paddle a few months and it starts to feel less “poppy” and responsive, something may have gone wrong. Be sure to look up your paddle’s warranty info if you feel it’s died before its time.
All this being said, it can sometimes be a little tricky to tell if a paddle has started to break down. Here are a few ways to assess the damage:
Does Your Paddle Sound Dull?
Every paddle has a unique sound, with some providing a nice, sharp pop and others being a bit more low key. However, generally speaking a fully functional paddle has a bit of a hollow sound when you hit in its sweet spot. If your paddle sounds different than the day you got it and makes a “duller” noise, then it may have started to develop dead spots where the interior honeycomb has been misshapen.
Does Your Paddle Feel Unresponsive?
Most paddles will provide less responsiveness along the edges of the face and near the handle, although this can vary depending on your paddle’s design. You should have a general idea of where your gear’s sweet spot lies—that area where pickleballs seem to fly off its surface with ease. If the sweet spot suddenly seems to have a dampened feel and those balls aren’t jumping away as easily, your paddle may have lost its potency.
Can You See Unevenness in the Paddle’s Face?
The most obvious signs of damage are those you can see. Sometimes this can be difficult to notice at a glance, however if you carefully examine your paddle at different angles in bright lighting, you may be able to note small dips in its face. This is a sure-fire sign that the core has been damaged to some extent. You may not need to replace your paddle right away, but the deeper those grooves get, the more likely you are to lose control and responsiveness in your game.
If you’ve discovered that your paddle isn’t playing like it used to, never fear! You now have the perfect excuse—err, opportunity—to try out a new paddle and see if something different might better support your play style. Or if you’re a die-hard fan, you can always purchase a new version of your favorite model.
Have you had a paddle die on you before? If so, did you take the opportunity to try something different or stick to your tried and true choice?