Is It Me or My Paddle? A Definitive Guide

A lot of pickleball players will jokingly say that they must be using the wrong paddle when they miss a shot, hit out of bounds or otherwise trip over themselves during a game. As much as we appreciate this humble sense of humor, sometimes it really is your equipment at fault! But how can you tell if it’s you or your paddle? Allow us to help you decide what needs fixin’ below…

Missed Shots

This issue is about a matter of degrees. When you miss a ball, do you find that you’re just a hair’s breadth away, or are you a few good inches apart? If you’re not that far off, it may be the case that the paddle you’re using is simply too small or slender to accommodate your play.

This is why we frequently tell new players to use wider paddles, so that they have more surface area to work with. Alternately, you may want a paddle with a longer handle so that it’s easier to perform groundstrokes during games.

If you’re in an entirely different location than the ball when you miss, then unfortunately it may just be you. The best way to ensure you’re moving the right way during a return is to watch your opponent and not just the ball. Looking at their movements and the way they angle their shot will allow you to predict which way the ball will go instead of having to react once it’s already left their paddle.

Returning a pickleball

Can you return most shots, or are you scrambling across the court? (Image credit Michael Martin)

No Control

Are you always hitting out of bounds? Smacking the ball near the baseline instead of dinking into the kitchen? Or perhaps it’s the reverse. Your serve may end up short of the net, or you can only tap the ball onto the court instead of putting it away with a slam.

You could fix this by controlling the power of your hits. Reign things in if you’re slamming too often or work on improving your strength if your shots lack “oomph.” But usually it’s easier to find equipment that suits your strengths rather than catering to your paddle.

If you’re hitting too hard, then you should try a medium to lightweight paddle made with softer materials, such as a composite face with a polymer core. This will help to temper your strength and provide more control.

If you have a light touch, then use a middle to heavyweight paddle or pick materials that have a tough, “poppy” surface like graphite. The added mass will add more power to your swings and help ensure you can give the ball a good smack when needed.

Can’t Add Spin

Let’s face it, spin can be tricky. A large part of it is about how you angle your paddle, the motion with which you hit the ball, and being able to read the direction the ball is coming at you. It takes time and practice to learn. But this also isn’t tennis—there are no strings to help grip the ball or allow it to “sink into” the surface of your paddle.

The USAPA has cracked down on textured paddles to some extent, though there are a few remaining options that can help you literally “get a grip” on pickleballs so that they’re easier to spin. If you’re having trouble learning the technique, they may help. A few good textured options are the Apex, 30P-XL and Graphite Z5.

Working on spin

Does the thought of spin leave your head spinning? (Image credit Tanner Jackson)

Soreness

Most players can quickly tell if their aches and pains are simply from pushing their body during a game or due to a paddle. Pickleball has its own version of “tennis elbow,” as the muscles and tendons associated with hitting a ball can become strained. It may be the case that you have arthritis or older injuries contributing to problems with your swinging arm as well.

While physical therapy may help, and you could simply struggle through the pain, your health definitely takes priority over a favored paddle. We usually recommend a balanced middleweight paddle to players with joint problems, as going too heavy can stress the problem, while a light paddle will force them to use more of their own strength to get the same amount of power. It’s all about finding what feels best for you and understanding your body’s needs.

A good player can make any paddle work for them, but it’s also true that certain paddles will complement your strengths better than others. Have you ever switched paddles after thinking the problem was you, only to find a “night and day” difference?

Give a Special Gift with Custom Pickleball Paddles

Have you ever thought it would be fun to design your own paddle? Or create a unique paddle for a friend or family member? The good news is—it’s entirely possible to do this!  While we currently don’t have the ability to make custom paddles here at PickleballCentral, some of the manufacturers we work with do offer this service at a fairly affordable price.

Custom paddles make wonderful gifts since you can use pictures or other personal images on the paddle’s face, giving the giftee a little reminder of you whenever they play. They also serve as great prizes if you want to offer a truly unique reward for members of your local club during tournaments. You can use your team’s logo or another clever image to make your prize paddle stand out.

Pro-Lite Custom Paddles

An example of Pro-Lite’s custom paddles

The first and probably easiest way to get a custom paddle is through Pro-Lite. You can use your own image on their popular graphite Blaster paddle through the order form here. You can even select what type of grip you’d like them to apply and put different pictures on each side of the face.

The other option is going through Manta. While they don’t have an order form on their site, you should be able to contact them and request pricing. They have stated that they currently do custom images on their Extreme and Custom Pro series, however you must make a minimum purchase of 12 paddles for them to do this. As such, it makes more sense going through Manta if you want matching paddles for clubs or other communities.

POP Paddle Designs

Different variations of POP designs

We’re pretty sure POP offers custom paddles too. There are limited designs to choose from, but you have more flexibility when it comes to selecting the materials and weight. You can contact the owner, Brian Jensen, at brian@performanceonepaddle.com.

And what if you want a paddle with its standard design and slight modifications, such as a smaller grip size? Manufacturers are usually pretty accommodating with such requests. We ask that customers give the manufacturer a call directly, as sometimes they will be able to shave down a grip or modify a paddle’s weight to better meet a player’s needs.

Would you ever use a custom-designed paddle? What image(s) would you like to see on it?

What’s in a Paddle Warranty?

You’ve played with your new paddle for several months. It has great touch, your shots are going where you want them—then suddenly, the handle breaks.

Do you know how to avoid paying for new gear in this situation? Some people believe that damaged paddles are just a risk of the sport, and that’s true—but paddles should last longer than a couple of months with proper care.

Broken handle

Crunched handles happen to the best of us

Do You Know Your Paddle’s Warranty?

At PickleballCentral we offer a 60-day guarantee against defects, but beyond that you’re still covered by whatever warranty your paddle’s manufacturer offers.

If you weren’t aware of this until now, it’s worth checking out who your paddle was made by and familiarizing yourself with their guarantee.

Some companies have long-lasting warranties that stand behind the quality of their products. Others are more wary of mishandling and don’t provide customers as much leeway.

When you’re first selecting a paddle, the warranty is one of several “hidden factors” that can indicate how long your gear will perform. This makes it something you should carefully consider when making a purchase. If your paddle’s edge guard comes off, the handle breaks or the core goes dead, the warranty is the only thing that will prevent you from having to buy a replacement.

Note that warranties only stay in effect when damage is caused by an actual defect, not normal wear and tear, abuse, negligence or tampering. This means you should always avoid throwing your paddle, using it to hit anything other than a ball, storing it in poor conditions such as very hot, cold or humid conditions, or trying to fix an issue by yourself.

It’s also wise to avoid marking your paddle with anything permanent. If you want to put your name or some other identifier on it, use a sticker rather than permanent marker.

Delving a bit further into “normal” wear and tear—this includes faded graphics, small dents or scratches (which don’t affect play) and markings/residue left by pickleballs on the face. These things are all to be expected over time, but won’t prevent your paddle from playing well.

The Best of the Best

The companies that have the longest warranties are Selkirk, Paddletek and Engage. They all have limited lifetime warranties against defects, and both Paddletek and Engage have a 5-year no dead spot guarantee on top of that. If you’re concerned about buying a paddle that will last, these companies provide a high level of reassurance that you’ll get bang for your buck.

Brands with the best warranties

The brands with the longest warranties

Soon we’ll share a comprehensive guide we’ve put together on manufacturer warranties, but until then feel free to look up your manufacturer’s website to see how long your paddle is covered.

The Never-Ending Pickleball Noise Issue

It seems like every time pickleball catches fire somewhere (woo-hoo!), there’s an immediate reaction from the community about the same thing: the noise. We’ve done a couple posts about noise reduction and suppression in the past (here and here), but we thought we’d shed a little bit of new light on the subject as well as update some outdated information.

Acoustical Fencing

Acoustical fencing that has been mentioned in both previous posts, and it’s a great choice for communities who have that ability.

Acoustical Fencing is one solution to the pickleball noise issue

Acoustical Fencing

However, it can be expensive, easily pushed around by wind, unattractive and unfeasible. If you want to look into the possibility of installing this around your pickleball courts to keep in the noise, this post does a great job of highlighting an example of courts in San Tan Valley, Arizona.

There’s a couple things that individual players can do to keep the noise down that they produce.

Quieter Balls

First, try using a foam practice ball rather than the standard hard plastic ball. These foam balls are typically a bit less bouncy and play differently than the average sanctioned pickleball, but they still get the job done at a much quieter decibel level!

We currently sell two different types of foam balls at PickleballCentral:

  1. The Gamma Foam Quiet Ball

Gamma Foam Quiet Ball

This ball is a tenth of an inch smaller in diameter than a traditional pickleball, and considerably lighter (0.71 ounces versus an average of 0.88 ounces). This makes the ball more susceptible to succumb to wind or other weather conditions. While it might be lighter, it still has a similar bounce height to a typical outdoor pickleball (31″ inches). Of course, it’s not USAPA-Approved but can be used for practice or recreational play!

2.  The Gamma Quick Kids Practice Ball

Gamma Quick Kids Practice Ball

This ball is fairly similar to its sister ball above, except it has a rough surface instead of smooth. This ball was designed for teaching tennis to kids, so it is a little heavier than the previous ball as well (just under 1 ounce). It also is slightly bigger, measuring 3-1/4″ in diameter. This ball has a shorter bounce than the Gamma Foam Quiet Ball, so it might be better used for drills. Again, this ball is not USAPA-Approved.

Quieter Paddles

If the sound of a foam ball doesn’t exactly tickle your fancy, you can try to purchase a quieter paddle. Poly-core paddles are typically a little bit quieter than their Nomex or alumimum-cored counterparts (aluminum is quieter than Nomex). Composite paddles (with a fiberglass face) are also a tad bit less noisy than graphite.

That being said, there are always exceptions to that rule of thumb. Here at PickleballCentral, we unfortunately do not have any means to measure the decibel ratings for all of the paddles we sell. Lucky for us (and you!) the Sun City Grand Pickleball Association in Sun City Grand, Arizona has measured the loudness of nearly every paddle. It is then ranked as being either in the “Green Zone”or in the “Red Zone”. You can see the list of paddles by clicking here.

Choosing a paddle in the Green Zone will keep your “pickleball pinging” to a minimum, which may ease the concerns of neighbors or other unhappy people.

(If you’re interested in the science behind the study, here’s the PDF of the Noise Study, conducted by Acoustics Group Inc.)

At the end of the day…

It does come down to the fact that pickleball is just a bit of a noisier sport. The paddles are solid and the balls are hard! The classic “pop” that paddles make is a beloved sound by players of the sport, and while we can take steps to minimize that sound, it will always be there.

Do you have any other tips or tricks that worked for reducing the amount of noise pickleball makes in your community?

The Most Stylish Pickleball Paddles of 2015 – 2016

The Most Stylish Pickleball Paddles of 2015 – 2016

Most pickleball players are primarily concerned with how their paddle functions, while design is secondary. But in honor of springtime and the ol’ adage of, “It’s what’s inside that counts… but being pretty doesn’t hurt either!” here is a list of some of the most attractive paddles we carry.

5. 20P-XL Epic by Selkirk Sports

The 20P-XL Epic in lime, cyan and red.

The 20P-XL Epic in lime, cyan and red.

The 20P-XL is a study in versatility. Depending on the color of this paddle, it can remind me of an ocean current, lava flow or glow stick. Talk about getting mileage out of your design! This paddle has a look so flexible that it can appeal to many different players, whether they prefer something laid-back or loud.

The darker sides of this paddle help to balance out the bright colors used in the center. Another bonus is that it’s easy to tell where the middle of your paddle is at a glance, allowing players to be consistent in hitting the sweet spot.

4. Zen by Onix / Escalade Sports

The Zen in blue, orange and pink.

The Zen in blue, orange and pink. Click for more colors!

This paddle is a bit of a play in opposites. While the word “Zen” might normally bring to mind floating cherry blossoms on the wind, this paddle instead features the hanzi (Chinese character) for “power” and displays a fire-breathing dragon front and center.

Maybe some people get their zen on by destroying opponents on the court? The slight disconnect between name and imagery may give us a laugh, but the Zen is still a good-looking paddle, particularly in colors that bring out the contrast between the stylized dragon and the background.

3. Matrix by Manta World Sports

The Matrix by Manta in green, blue and pink

The Matrix by Manta in green, blue and pink.

Fans of The Matrix are sure to smile at the sight of the cascading text on this paddle, which was designed to look like code. Even if you haven’t seen the movie, this paddle has a futuristic charm to it thanks to the deep black background which makes the shining pickleball pop out and grab players’ attention.

While a lot of manufacturers put their contact information right in the middle of their paddles, these details are strung around the edge of the Matrix to keep the focus on its attractive design. Nice thinking, Manta!

2. Tempest by Paddletek

Tempest Paddle Colors

The Tempest paddle in blue, red and gray.

The Tempest proves there’s beauty in simplicity. The design almost resembles a Polynesian tattoo with bold, broad strokes conveying the power of an ocean storm. The inclusion of a few black swirls in the wave serve to create more visual interest while giving the paddle a bit of an edgy look.

The stark white background seems all the more brilliant when paired with rich colors, even in gray. If you’d like to improve your ability to hit this paddle’s sweet spot, the wave’s inner curve makes for a perfect target.

1. Champion Graphite X by Pickleball Inc.

The Champion Graphite X in sunrise and midnight.

The Champion Graphite X in sunrise and midnight.

It was hard to pick, but my choice for the most stylish paddle of 2015-2016 is the glamorous Champion Graphite X! While much-beloved, the original Vintage Champion featured a plain look. Pickleball Inc. took it to the next level with their redesign, giving the new Champions an eye-catching color gradient and curving lines that bring more character to the face.

At the same time, the Champion Graphite X came out and went a step further. The high quality polycarbonate skin not only gives the surface more strength, but just look at the design! The contrasting colors are truly beautiful to behold and come in patterns that evoke both the rising sun and a dusky evening.

What’s your favorite paddle out of our top picks? Do you think we should have included something else? Let us know in the comments below!

Paddle Cores – Nomex, Aluminum, Polymer, oh my!

As pickleball grows as a sport, so does the technology used to make the paddles. Pickleball paddles started out being made out of leftover scrap wood as shown in this awesome video by Pickleball Channel…

The Nomex Core

The first light-weight composite core put into pickleball paddles was the Nomex honeycomb core. Nomex technically is a “a registered trademark for flame-resistant meta-aramid material developed in the early 1960s”, according to Wikipedia.   This is the original cardboard-like material that is then dipped into resin to toughen it up. A fun property of this core is while it’s extremely tough while applying pressure down onto the honeycomb core, it is squishy while squeezing on the side of the core (as shown below).

NomexNomex core in general is the loudest of the three cores, as well as the hardest. Nomex cores will give you great pop and the ball will seemingly fly off the paddle’s surface.

Check out some of our most popular pickleball paddles with a Nomex core, including the Rally Graphite and Z5 Graphite.

The Aluminum Core

The second honeycomb core found in pickleball paddles is aluminum. Aluminum cores are exactly what they sound like: honeycomb-shaped cells made of the metal aluminum.

Aluminum cores are well-known for being the best at providing “touch”. We consider touch to be maneuverability, ball placement and finesse at the net, or being able to perfectly place your shot. Aluminum honeycomb core is slightly softer than Nomex, meaning the ball pops off just a bit slower which gives you more time to manipulate the ball. Aluminum cores are usually quieter than Nomex cores as well.

The most popular pickleball paddles with an aluminum core are the Phantom Graphite and Selkirk 300A Graphite.

The Polymer Core

The newest core is polymer, which is basically a plastic blend developed specifically for pickleball. Just like the other two cores, it’s laid out in a honeycomb pattern.

Polymer cores are the softest and quietest cores on the market. Because it is a plastic, each hit is quieter since the surface isn’t quite as hard. Lots of communities with noise restrictions list paddles with polymer cores the most frequently on their “Quietest” or “Approved” paddle list. Because polymer is the softest core, you’ll find that these paddles give you an immense amount of control over shot placement.

The most popular polymer core pickleball paddles are the Element and Tempest.

What’s your favorite type of pickleball paddle core?

Edge Guards – love ’em or hate ’em? Three reasons I love ’em

The black edge guard on most all graphite and composite paddles

The black edge guard on most all graphite and composite paddles

Many customers and several other people here at PickleballCentral.com,  don’t like the edge guards and claim the edge guards messes up their shots.   Manufactures have heard the complaints and are hard at work creating a truly breakthrough edge-less paddle.  There are a few good edgeless pickleball paddles on the market now such as Wilson’s BLX and  Wilson’s Champ  but I still prefer a paddle with an edge guard for three reasons:

#1. Protects the Core. There are at least three layers to every composite paddle – a top face, a core and a bottom face. The edge guard seals these three layers and protects them from de-laminating.  De-lamination is when the paddle face detaches from the core. De-laminated paddles are “dead”.  Sometimes small pieces of the core  break off and rattle around inside the paddle.

Pickleball paddle delamination... to the extreme

Delamination is when the paddle face detaches from the paddle’s core.

#2 . Play with Reckless Abandon.  The edge guard protects the paddle like the bumper on a car.  You don’t need to be precious with paddle. You can dive for those shots and not be too concerned about denting or scratching your paddle’s edge guard.

#3 Pop.  Maybe it’s just me but I think an edge guard gives the paddle more pop.  I like pop.

What about you? What is your position on edge guards?

– Anna