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.
We are delighted to be able to share this wonderful news from Singapore. Enjoy!
Greeting from Singapore! It is our exciting “pickleball” time in Singapore. Our tournament season is drawing near. Pickleball is finally recognized and included into the 2018 Singapore National games. It will be a national tournament and will spread over 2 weekends, organized by our sport body in Singapore. There will be appropriately 300+ players participating. We are co-organizing the event and details of the tournament can be found on our website pickleball: https://www.pickleball.sg/sng-2018.
History of pickleball in Singapore
Singapore started to introduce pickleball in 1998. It started in a small community with very limited places to play and little awareness on the sport. Having said that, in the past 5-6 years we have experienced a tremendous growth in the sport. Many community clubs in Singapore started to organize interest groups for pickleball and our sport halls have had a steady growth of players joining their morning groups. In the Hillview area, we have a small group of senior playing pickleball on our only outdoor court. Our neighborhood community has also started a pickleball interest group.
Hillview Pickleball Group
We started to play indoor pickleball when our new community center was completed in 2017. Three months later, we re-established the group as Bukit Gombak CSC Pickleball Interest Group, serving more residents in Bukit Gombak and Chua Chu Kang. The Interest Group reached the max membership in October 2017 and we decided to setup a Weekend Pickleball group in December 2017 after securing 8 courts in Hillgrove & Lianhua Indoor Sports Hall. Weekend Pickleball hit the target of 100 members in March 2018. We have 2 new indoor badminton courts that we now play pickleball on regularly, Mondays (6-9:30 pm) and Wednesdays (9:30-12:30am).
Hillview Community Center
Our weekend pickleball clubs are also booming! In a short span of 3 months, we have 100+ members. Every Sunday we open 8 courts to accommodate 50+ players, the largest pickleball indoor courts in Singapore! Here is the link for Bukit Gombak CSC pickleball: sg/bukit-gombak-csc-pickleball. Our weekend pickleball website is: https://www.pickleball.sg/weekend-pickleball-lianhua.
Weekend Pickleball Group
Since we have been so well established, we have hosted an inter-constituency tournament (Hillview meets Nanyang) and a few more mini-tournaments within our club (such as Jingle & Mingle and Million Hongbao Challenge).
With our many successes and connections to on-line media such as Facebook, we are now connected to many players overseas and have hosted games for our visitors from the USA, India, New Zealand, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, etc. It is a great opportunity to meet players from other countries and exchange skills to improve our games. We have formally established our affiliation with the Pickleball Association of Hong Kong, China to host our members when they travel to our countries. Likewise, we are extending our invitation to your readers for games if they are visiting Singapore.
Pickleball.sg is a volunteer network for all communities and interest groups to share and promote pickleball activities in Singapore. We have started to chart down the places to play within Singapore and we are sharing tournament invitations on the internet. We are hoping to establish more affiliation with the other countries especially in Asia to promote and raise the standard for pickleball in Singapore and Asia.
Singapore National Games 2018
This is the 2nd year ActiveSG (our sport government body) to organise the Singapore National Games and pickleball.sg will be their official partner for this year tournament which will be held the end of July. Details of the SNG 2018 can be found in this link https://www.pickleball.sg/sng-2018. It will be the largest pickleball event in Singapore, this year we are anticipating 300+ players for this tournament.
The tournament is open for players above 21 yrs and we have a master group (women above 55 yrs and men above 60 yrs old). We don’t have player rating like in the USA, so the skill sets are simply divided into Novice, Intermediate and Advanced. Besides the individual event, this year we have added a team zone event. Each team comprises of 10 players of different age groups to compete to be the team champion. Bukit Gombak CSC Pickleball will be sending 2 teams for this tournament!
Thank you Michelle for sharing this wonderful story about the growth of pickleball in Singapore. I am sure some of our readers will be planning a trip to visit you soon to play pickleball.
“Three people were on a journey. They had walked thousands of miles across the country when they came to their biggest obstacle – a solid brick wall. Instantly one man threw his hat over the wall, so he had no choice but to climb it.” – Old Irish Adage
The new home of PickleballCentral is FOUR TIMES the size of our current location.
We signed the lease yesterday – our figurative, “hat over the wall.” PickleballCentral is moving to a warehouse/office space that is FOUR TIMES the size of our current location.
The new space will have four indoor pickleball courts. The courts will be open to the public every day of the week from early morning to late at night. The new space will host pickleball clubs, pickleball tournaments, pickleball lessons, pickleball pro-tours and pickleball parties!
The new space will also have a big retail store that will provide customers an opportunity to touch, feel and demo paddles on the courts and try-on pickleball clothing!
Finally, we are extremely proud to announce that the new space will be home to The Pickleball Museum! Pickleball is an American Original. It was invented a short ferry ride from Seattle on Bainbridge Island, Washington.
The sport of pickleball likely would not have left Bainbridge Island if it weren’t for one man, Barney McCallum. Barney and his friends the Pritchards and Bells invented the game by accident in the summer of 1965. Their kids were bored and they didn’t have equipment to play badminton, so they used what they had on-hand to play “badminton”, a whiffle ball and table tennis paddles. They lowered the net and voilà pickleball was born!
Barney started making wood pickleball paddles by hand for friends. In 1972, to keep track of the accounting and taxes, Barney started a small business in Seattle called Pickle-ball Inc. Barney already was a very successful businessman with his own big company, McCallum Envelope. He didn’t need to start another business, but thank goodness, he did! Pickle-ball, Inc made paddles, balls and net systems and the sport grew. Other pickleball equipment manufacturers emerged in the Seattle area – ProLite Sports and S-Type Sport, now called Onix Sports. Today, thanks to Barney McCallum, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the world!
With our acquisition of Pickle-ball Inc. last fall, we are excited and honored to create The Pickleball Museum as a place where people can learn about the history of pickleball and learn about Barney’s extraordinary contribution to the sport.
Barney McCallum is one of the inventors of Pickleball and founder of Pickle-ball Inc.
For years my husband, David, has collected pickleball artifacts. We have some of the first paddles made, an old pickleball hole drilling machine and other items. If you have a pickleball item that you think belongs in The Pickleball Museum, please contact David Johnson, David@PickleballCentral.com.
New home of PickleballCentral, Pickleball Inc. and The Pickleball Museum.
We move in early April 2017. Come check us out when you are in town! Our new address is 22330 68th Ave. S., Kent, WA 98032.
– Anna Copley, founding partner, PickleballCentral.com
Jugs Indoor Pickleball, available in white or green
The USAPA has announced that the much-beloved Jugs Indoor Ball is back on the list of approved balls for tournament play PROVIDED they are properly conditioned. They’ve clarified that the Onix Pure 2 Indoor and Outdoor Balls need to be conditioned prior to use at sanctioned tournaments as well. This is to assure the balls bounce less than 34 inches when dropped from a 78-inch height.
Straight out of the package, the Jugs and Pure 2 Balls all bounce about 36 inches. According to Christine Barksdale, Director of Competition at the USAPA, “Effective January 1, 2018 conditioning will no longer be an acceptable method for meeting bounce height criterion.”
But there is much more to this story for any who are interested…
The Real Story Behind the Announcement
You may think this rule change is much ado about nothing. As a 5.0 tournament player, I can tell you this is not the case. Many players have expressed passionate views about the rule changes relating to balls on social media in recent months. A couple of inches of bounce height is serious stuff.
While USAPA ball rule changes have fueled much of the debate, the melee really began in 2015 with the introduction of new balls like the Onix Pure Outdoor Ball. The original Pure Ball was a yellow or orange 40-hole outdoor ball that was softer and easier to control than other outdoor balls. These are fantastic in many ways. However, because it was easier to control, many top players complained that it equalized play between lesser and better players.
Simply put, many players feel that the Pure Outdoor Ball changes the game in a way that reduces the skill needed for finesse shots. While I personally love both the newer, softer Pure Balls and the older, harder balls (like the Dura Fast 40), I have come to agree with these players’ assessments.
We’re no longer dealing with mere wiffle balls; pickleballs have critical characteristics discernible by connoisseurs of the sport. Should we have one ball for pros and another for recreational players? Should there be different balls for juniors vs. adults? Should there be different balls based on the playing surface or weather conditions? Many sports have these variations.
Because some balls (like the Pure 2 and Jugs Balls) bounce higher when new, this creates inconsistent play as the ball wears over the course of a match or two.
The USAPA sought to address this issue while also addressing issues relating to the very nature of the sport. In October 2015, the USAPA modified the bounce limit from 37 inches to 34 inches.
Their goal in limiting the bounce height was to preserve the tactical nature of the sport which rewards the patience and finesse required to succeed with a lower bouncing ball. The deadline for achieving the lower bounce was first set at May 1, 2016 and later pushed back to October 1, 2016.
Onix PURE 2 Outdoor Pickleball, available in yellow and orange
Balls perform differently when used outdoors on hard surfaces compared to indoors on floating wood floors. This further complicates the situation, much like how a tennis ball behaves differently on a concrete vs. a clay or grass court. More on this later…
In response to the 2015 rule change, Escalade (the company that produces the Onix Pure and Pure 2 balls) scrambled to develop balls that bounced under 34 inches.
Their solution was to have users condition the balls prior to use or testing so that they would meet the 34-inch maximum bounce height. As with many innovations, the law of unintended consequences reared its head.
As 5.0 players, tournament directors and officials within the USAPA learned about the implications of conditioning, it started to create real-world problems, particularly for tournament directors needing balls that performed to USAPA standards without any conditioning.
The first conditioning process published by the USAPA involved squeezing each ball by hand 6 times in 16 different places, for a total of 96 manual squeezes.
For me, thumb tendinitis sets in after conditioning only 2 balls!
Imagine the problem of trying to figure out how to condition 250 balls prior to a tournament. Innovative tournament directors were faced with the challenge of addressing this with a variety of “home remedies.” I’ve heard stories of some really creative attempts to condition balls using clothes dryers for instance.
What’s the right setting? 15 minutes on the perma-press cycle? These approaches were interesting, but largely unscientific and unrepeatable.
Fortunately, the USAPA is sorting this all out. They opened up dialog with the manufacturers to put the burden of consistency and science back where it belongs—on the companies producing the balls.
Aren’t Indoor and Outdoor Balls Different?
While design differentiates indoor and outdoor pickleballs, the biggest changes in performance are determined by playing surface. Most outdoor play is on asphalt or concrete; most indoor play is on wood or carpet. More indoor facilities are accommodating pickleball on tennis courts, and outdoor balls are generally used because of the harder surfaces.
Popular outdoor balls are heavier and have 40 smaller holess. They perform better in windy conditions and on abrasive surfaces. Indoor balls are lighter and have 26 larger holes. Indoor balls perform well on smoother surfaces with no wind. But here’s the catch: Wood floors absorb more energy, resulting in a much lower bounce compared to concrete or asphalt.
The Jugs Ball is the most popular ball for indoor play, and though it bounces over 36 inches on concrete when new, on wood floors it bounces less than 34 inches. The same is true for the Onix Pure 2 Indoor Ball. This is why most of the debate underway concerns the Pure 2 Outdoor Ball used on asphalt or concrete. The Onix Pure 2 Outdoor Ball actually bounces 36-37 inches on the surface for which it is intended: asphalt or concrete.
Talking About the Dura Fast 40 (and the TOP, and the 503…)
As a tournament player involved with a retailer that sells more pickleballs than anyone else in the world, in my own unscientific sampling I found most 5.0 players prefer the original Dura Fast 40 balls for outdoor play. (In the interest of full disclosure, this same retailer acquired the Dura brand in August 2016.)
The Dura and Pure 2 Balls are made very differently, using different chemistry and materials. The Dura Fast 40 Balls are made using a seamless rotomolding process where holes are drilled after the balls are formed using a seamless production process. There is a line on the inside of the ball, but this isn’t a “seam,” it is simply the line that the mold makes during the release process. The Onix 503 and TOP Balls are made using the same process.
Dura Fast 40 Outdoor Pickleball, available in yellow, orange, white and neon.
The Dura Fast 40 Ball was developed in 1980 by Pickle-Ball Inc working closely with a family that specialized in unique high performance plastics manufacturing who had also taken an interest in pickleball. The ball was developed specifically for outdoor pickleball play on concrete or asphalt courts. The rotomolding and drilling process produces a geometrically precise ball with a smooth finish and attractive appearance.
This has been the primary outdoor ball for decades, and most players love it. But this type of ball demands real finesse. Players who have mastered this ball are recognized as deserving their 5.0 ratings. Their ability with this ball sets them apart, and they require no conditioning.
The Dura Fast 40 has always been the official ball used at the USAPA Nationals, and is now the official ball of the US Open. Alas for many, it will always be “the outdoor pickleball.”
When Pickleballs Go Sour
Many other balls have been introduced over the years. Most of them have suffered from a variety of issues including cracking, unpredictable flight patterns, a tendency to go out of round and unusual playability at certain temperatures.
Designing a plastic orb that performs after thousands of high-speed impacts with precision over time, in a variety of weather conditions, is a truly difficult scientific endeavor.
Pickleball evolved around a specific set of playability characteristics, and the USAPA is seeking to protect the integrity of the sport.
New Neon Color Dura Fast 40 Ball is the official ball of the US Open Pickleball Championships
Other sports have had their own issues with equipment. Golf has long suffered from issues with changes to golf balls. Aluminum and corked bats have changed baseball, and many would not say for the better. Remember “Deflategate?” Who would have thought that a half a pound of pressure in a football would have the consequences it did?
Large, well-financed companies have attempted to reproduce the magic of that breakthrough Dura Ball. For example, Wilson launched their similar outdoor ball prior to the US Open in 2015. They believed it would have similar bounce characteristics as the Dura Balls, but they found that the chemistry and manufacturing process was hard to master.
They quickly discontinued the ball due to out-of-round complaints a month prior to the US Open. Players loved the visibility of that new ball, but disliked the irregular bounces, and sometimes no bounce at all!
Late in 2016, a neon green version of the Dura Fast 40 was launched. The Dura Fast 40 will be the official ball of the US Open Pickleball Championships from 2017 through 2019. Others are following suit, and there is now a neon green version of the TOP Ball.
Differences in Pickleball Manufacturing
“Injection molding” is a different type of manufacturing process than rotational molding. The Pure 2 Outdoor and Indoor Balls and the Jugs 26-Hole Indoor Ball (aka the Jugs Bulldog) are made using an injection molding process.
The holes are not drilled but formed in the mold. Each half is molded and the two halves are glued together. The chemistry of the materials and the injection process results in softer balls that bounce higher initially.
These softer balls are easier to control for many players. However, many tournament players, 5.0 pros and pickleball purists disdain them. Tennis players generally prefer the softer balls because they are more responsive to spin.
Do we want to give elite tennis players—already dominating the sport—even more advantage?
Injection molding is a proven way for plastics engineers to create high quality predictable products. While I’m not a materials scientist or polymer engineer (though I am an engineer), what we’ve heard is that the plastic material itself has to have certain characteristics to flow into the molds. These characteristics manifest themselves in the way the balls bounce out of the package. After stress relieving (aka conditioning), these balls bounce less.
The Cosom Fun Ball was the leading indoor pickleball.
Changing the chemistry of injection molded balls to make them bounce less is simple, right? We’ll see. Remember the Cosom Fun Ball which dominated indoor play for years? In my first tournament in SeaTac directed by Mark Friedenberg in 2013, the Cosom Ball was used.
In hard play, most balls would not last a single game before breaking at the seam. The boxes of broken balls at the conclusion of the tournament would have filled a mini van! Achieving great performance and lower bounce may prove a significant challenge for Jugs and Onix.
The Future of Pickleball(s)
Where do we go from here? During my research for this blog post I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions. I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with dozens of 5.0 players, manufacturer’s representatives, testing personnel at the USAPA and scientists working at the epicenter of this great debate.
Some suggest the USAPA stipulate the exact materials composition and characteristic of indoor and outdoor pickleballs just like baseball does for balls, while others say that only the playability characteristics be defined by the governing body (like in golf.)
Fortunately the USAPA is taking the lead in helping clear up this controversy in an effort to maintain the integrity of the sport. To that end, they have committed to further clarifying the rules relating to ball specifications, plus they have engaged the services of a new professional engineering testing firm to assist in making sure products used in sanctioned tournament play reflect the characteristics that assure long-term success for our sport.
Ultimately the market will decide what type of balls are used. The one thing I know is this—whenever I get a new package of balls to test from some new company, I’m eager to get on the court and try them out! In 2016 I saw the introduction of several new balls from Paddletek, Gamma and others, and I had a great time getting to know these products firsthand. As a player, I say, “Let the battle for ball supremacy rage on!”
When I think about it, these aren’t just wiffle balls. They are the core DNA of our sport, and innovation in this aspect of our game is exciting and controversial stuff.
I really want to know what you think. Please post your comments here or on our Facebook page. Let the marketplace hear your voice as well.
Glen Peterson is a retired engineer who spent a successful career at Caterpillar. He is a 5.0-rated tournament player who has had earned dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals at the USAPA Nationals, the US Open and other tournaments. He now works with PickleballCentral in a variety of product management roles and is sponsored by Selkirk Sports, whose paddles he uses in competition.
The other day I had lunch with Barney and David McCallum at the Seattle Yacht Club. Time seemed to slip backwards as I sat with Barney and his son in the mahogany-lined dining room overlooking Union Bay, listening to their nostalgic stories of how pickleball came to be.
Mostly they remember the people. Energetic, creative people. Some famous, some nearly infamous. Barney was among the three who invented the game of pickleball in 1965. In 1972 he launched the first pickleball company, Pickle-ball Inc., and started manufacturing the first commercial paddles. Barney made the early paddles by hand.
One of the first pickleball paddles. Made by Barney McCallum by hand.
In April 1966, within the first year of pickleball’s birth, Barney and David were tinkering with the kitchen line placement in their Magnolia neighborhood cul-de-sac. They moved it from six and half feet (badminton distance) back to seven feet to prevent one particularly tall player from dominating the sport with volleys at the kitchen line. We agreed that they got it right.
Barney was an enormously successful inventor and businessman in the envelope industry. Pickleball was never more than a hobby to him, although he’s better known for inventing this quirky sport than his innovative envelope machine patents. Barney was the first player to experiment with the third shot dink as a means to advance to the kitchen line.
He would announce to his partner that “the X is on” before hitting a 3rd shot dink so they would move forward together. Barney and his partner, Jim Weller, routinely won the early pickleball tournaments sponsored by Nalley Pickles back in the 80s.
Barney playing pickleball in the 1970s
I asked whether the game was named after the dog, Pickles, or whether the story was true the name originated from a rowing crew term. Barney and Dave roll their eyes. “Everyone involved knows the name came from the dog.” They have pictures of Pickles back when the name was adopted.
Evidently there were efforts to rename the sport. “Don’t change it,” Barney exhorted. We agreed that all efforts must be made to ensure the name of PICKLEBALL sticks, and that agreement is binding, as far as I am concerned.
Barney still spends much of his summer on Bainbridge Island, the birthplace of this wonderful game of pickleball. I was only four years old in Seattle at the time, but for those few hours in the Seattle Yacht Club, I felt like I was right there with him and his pickleball partners in the summer of 1965.