We recently chatted with Neil Friedenberg of PROLITE Sports Pickleball about PROLITE’s past and present. The first company to begin making paddles out of modern non-wood materials, PROLITE revolutionized paddle technology and continues to be an industry leader developing innovative paddles for players of all types.
Can you tell us about the history of the PROLITE company?
The PROLITE company was originally founded by Arlen and Steve Paranto. Arlen was a Boeing engineer and his son, Steve Paranto, was an avid tennis player and physical education teacher who took up pickleball in its early days. Steve was famously known for analyzing the weight ratio of a tennis racquet compared to a tennis ball and then analyzing the wood pickleball paddles available in the beginning compared to the weight of a pickleball Using this ratio, they determined that wood paddles were way too heavy, and that the honeycomb panels at Arlen could obtain at Boeing would work well to create a lighter paddle.
Their resulting paddle technology innovation revolutionized the equipment and the game. The feel of the new lighter paddles was exceptional, and led to the importance of dinking, more strategy, and longer rallies. With this new technology, Arlen and Steve Paranto created PROLITE Sports in 1984 – at the time, Ultra Paddle Company. Both Arlen and Steve have been inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame due to their significant contributions to the growth of the sport.
Today PROLITE Sports Pickleball is well known as the legacy brand of pickleball. Nearly forty years old, PROLITE was not only the first company to transform the paddle industry, we also introduced woven carbon fiber paddles to the pickleball market. PROLITE’s most important distinguishing characteristic is our philosophy. We believe that what makes the sport of pickleball special and has led to its increasing worldwide popularity and attention are the everyday recreational players…the 99%ers! That is what PROLITE is all about.
What are the most popular paddles in your lineup?
The most popular paddles are our Black Diamond Series, which includes the Supernova Pro, Rebel Pro, Titan Pro, Large Titan Edition, and Cypher Pro. These are woven carbon fiber models in a variety of shapes to perfectly fit any player’s sports background. The Black Diamond Series is very unique. Before it came out, most other paddles developed for imparting spin typically emphasized texture and roughness of the paddle face. We approached things a bit differently, focusing on dwell time on the paddle, creating absorption of the ball, and enhancing the ability to maneuver the ball where you want, especially at slower speeds (for example rolling dinks at your opponent’s feet or hitting aggressive, angled dinks creating that next put-away).
Many people are surprised because the surface of the Black Diamond Series paddles appears to be smooth, but much more is going on. Carbon fibers begin to fray over time. Imagine looking under the microscope and seeing these little fibers raised above the surface of the paddle. Those fibers work to grab the ball, which causes friction and can create more spin. It really is amazing.
How did your dad get the nickname “Yoda”?
My dad Mark Friedenberg (author of the book Winning Pickleball) was inducted into the Pickleball Hall of Fame a few years ago. It was well deserved just for the fact that he saw how beneficial this game was to people’s lives so he started introducing the sport into new communities. He was also a skilled player and began competing and putting the time into getting better. “Yoda” came about when he was playing one day against some much younger competition and they sarcastically called him “Grandpa”. Then he cleaned their clocks and the name Yoda caught on.
If Pickleball had walk in songs like Baseball does, what would be your song?
I can’t help but think of how Ken Griffey Jr. walked up to the plate at the Kingdome when I was young. He had the Hip-Hop Hooray beat by Naughty by Nature. Rage Against the Machine gets me pretty pumped up. No Shelter is a great song, so I would have to say No Shelter by Rage Against the Machine – it gets me ultra-focused and the heart pumping.
What’s next for PROLITE?
We’re on the brink of some exciting brand-new technology yet to be implemented in paddles. We also see the influx of new players coming into the sport and our goal is always to ensure that players of all levels have a specific PROLITE paddle to swing that fits their individual performance needs. PROLITE is dedicated to the sport of pickleball and the everyday player, and our customers will always continue to be our focus.
Explore PROLITE’s paddle lineup and learn more here.