Why You Should Try a Heavy Paddle Even If You’ve Dismissed Them Before

Heavy pickleball paddles are often presumed to fall under the sole domain of power players. You have more heft in your hand, so you can slam, smash and drive kill shots down the court all day.

This scenario is a reality for some players, but to shoehorn heavy paddles into such a niche role is a disservice to their versatility. You may even be missing out on the excellent benefits these paddles can provide if you’ve been presuming their weight is too much to handle.

Hilary Marold is one example of a pro player who bucks the stereotype of heavy paddles only being suitable for big and bulky athletes. She even believes that heavy paddles are particularly helpful to senior players, a demographic which is often advised to steer clear of anything that could strain their joints.

Hilary is known as the “Queen of the Courts” due to her extensive high-profile background in racquet sports. This includes multiple gold medals and hall of fame inductions within tennis, platform tennis, badminton, racquetball, pickleball and more, so it’s worth hearing her out!

In the video below you can listen to Hilary explain why she enjoys using the Paddletek Phoenix Ultra II, which weighs in at 10 – 10.5 oz.

Hilary explains that paradoxically, heavy paddles often stress the body less than lightweight options. Their larger mass provides more speed and pop with less work from the player.

In an extreme example, think of whether it would be easier to return a ball with a banana leaf or a baseball bat. While the leaf is obviously faster and easier to wield, the bat adds far more of its own power during acceleration rather than relying on a player to throw all of their strength behind it.

She notes that heavier paddles provide better defense since their weight defuses the power behind slams. The paddle won’t vibrate or churn as much in the hand, allowing for an easier response.

For those who play outdoors, a heavy paddle will also offer more support when counteracting wind during a difficult serve or return.

If you experience sore wrists or arms during play, we believe it’s at least worth trying a heavier option to see if it can alleviate some of the tension that can result from using a light paddle. You might be surprised by the results! (Remember our 30-day test drive policy allows you to try equipment worry-free.)

If you’ve tried heavy paddles before to no avail, be aware that a paddle’s weight distribution greatly effects how it feels in the hand. Paddles that are head-heavy, those which focus most of their weight near the top of the face, often feel right at home in the hands of former (and current) tennis players. However, they might feel draining and awkward to someone who doesn’t want to battle against gravity during games.

Thankfully, there are options on both ends of the spectrum whether you want to try a paddle with a balanced weight distribution or something more specialized. If you love your current paddle but think there might be something to the weight debate, you can also give lead tape a shot and cheaply add more strength to equipment you already own.

For those wanting to test something new, the following are great options in the heavy paddle category:

Paddles with a Balanced Feel

Phoenix Ultra II – Up to 10.6 oz
Z5 Composite – Up to 9.2 oz
Vertex – Up to 8.9 oz
Phoenix Pro PTK – Up to 8.8 oz
Bantam EX-L – Up to 8.8 oz
Bantam EX-L Pro – Up to 8.8 oz
Wilson Tour Pro – Up to 8.7 oz

Paddles with a Head-Heavy Feel

Maverick (Standard) – Up to 8.3 oz
Saber Pro – Up to 8.4 oz
Invikta X5 – Up to 8.4 oz
Engage Poach Extreme – Up to 8.3 oz
Head Radical XL (Red) – Up to 8.3 oz

Paddles that Allow You to Choose a Heavy Weight

Prince Pro Series – Up to 8.3 oz standard weight
Selkirk Amped Series – Up to 8.4 oz standard weight

What are your thoughts on heavier paddles, and do you feel they’ve helped improve your game? Which heavy paddle do you think has the best feel?

Avoiding Pop-Ups in Pickleball

The dreaded pop-up can be tough to control even when you feel like you’re doing everything right. A shot flies towards you and you angle your paddle away from your opponent, but it still soars into the air so they can return an easy slam. How do you prevent this? Pickleball Kitchen provides some helpful tips.

In the following video Barrett Kincheloe describes 3 methods you can use to avoid popping pickleballs into the air so you won’t have to defend against a smash. For a quick overview, this advice includes:

Soft Hands

While everyone loves to have cushy, smooth skin, in this instance having “soft hands” refers to how you grip your paddle. If you have a tendency to use a death grip, then the tension in your muscles will follow through to your paddle and cause balls to ricochet off the surface.

Instead of grasping the handle so firmly, try to focus on holding the paddle only between your index finger and thumb. The remaining three fingers on the grip (middle, ring and pinkie) should only loosely be touching it. The side of the grip should be between the “v” of your index finger and thumb’s webbing.

This will feel a little odd and loose at first, and you may hit some balls into the net. But this softer grip is ideal for defusing the power coming from a fast shot and will result in it gently returning to your opponent, often in the kitchen.

Maintain Pace

It’s understandable that if you see a pickleball whizzing towards you, you may want to return it with an equal amount of punch. Yet this is a trap!

If you take shots quickly and at speed there’s a higher chance your paddle will be jostled upwards in the process, resulting in a pop-up. Even worse, you could return the ball with such power that it goes out of the court boundaries entirely, meaning you won’t even get a chance to play out the rest of the point.

Instead of swinging out of control, keep your paddle in a neutral “blocking” position with the face aiming towards your opponent and maintain the above-mentioned soft grip. The ball will lose speed and play can return to a calmer pace. Remember too that pickleballs will have less speed on them when they’ve popped up from the ground versus being taken out of the air.

Watch Spin

Spin isn’t only useful for changing the path of pickleballs as they’re traveling through the air or once they’ve hit the ground; it also affects how they come back off of paddles. Topspin in particular can be dangerous to handle since its motion naturally causes pickleballs to fly upwards when you return them.

To counteract this, Barrett recommends angling your paddle slightly toward the ground and aiming lower than you would normally. This will reduce the spin’s effectiveness and keep the ball closer to the net. If you’re unsure when balls have spin on them, an easy thing to look for is if they appear solid in the air as opposed to being able to see their holes.

Check out the full video for more information about all of these steps and examples of their effects in motion:

Hitting a Consistent and Powerful Serve

Your serve is the one shot you have 100% control over during a pickleball game. You can visualize ball placement, take a breath and send the ball exactly where you want it. But it can be surprisingly difficult to develop a reliable serve even when you have all these factors in your favor.

The following are a few tips that will help players improve the consistency of their serve and increase the power behind it. To start, we have a number of guidelines from pickleball instructor CJ Johnson. She lays out four points that all players should keep in mind. They are:

1. Keep the ball in front of your body. Regardless of whether you’re performing a backhand or forehand serve, it’s easier to keep both the ball and your target in sight like this instead of keeping it at your side or getting fancy.

2. Don’t use a big drop when releasing the ball from your hand. Keep the ball relatively close to your paddle and don’t use any large motions which could make it more difficult to determine the ball’s trajectory.

3. Follow through in the direction of the target with your paddle and arm. The “target” should be your opponent in the court box diagonally opposite you.

4. Develop a pre-shot routine. You’ll want to aim for your opponent’s weak point (normally their backhand), make note of any potential interference from the elements (such as sun glare and wind) and breathe. Some players include a bounce or two before their serve and this is fine as well.

To hear about these steps in depth, check out CJ’s video:

If you’d like to add more strength to your serve, Barrett of Pickleball Kitchen will show you the proper technique. Some players believe that you have to have a lot of power in your arms to develop a powerful serve, but this isn’t entirely true. While being fit and strong certainly helps, a powerful serve actually comes more from the motion in your hips than the arm or wrist.

You’ll need to develop a smooth hip rotation and also work on when you “break” your wrist. This isn’t as painful as it sounds! More specifically, when you swing there’s a certain point near the end of your follow-through where you’ll want to flip your wrist upwards to put more spin and punch behind the ball. Watch the video to see this demonstrated:

These tricks should help any player feel more confident when performing one of the most important shots in the game. What are some of your favorite methods to ensure your serves always go where intended?

How Did Thick Core Paddles Become One of the Hottest Pickleball Trends?

Over the past several years paddles with thick cores have risen in popularity and versatility. With major manufacturers such as Selkirk, Paddletek, Prince, Onix and GAMMA all offering thick core options, there’s a reason players have turned to this style of paddle and found it improved their game.

Many of those reasons are explained on our Thick Core Paddle guide where you can hear from a number of paddle manufacturers regarding why they’ve ventured into the world of thick core paddles and how their construction has changed over time. This is definitely a style that’s here to stay and players of all levels should give them a test if they’re looking for something highly controlled and stable under pressure.

One of the first thick core paddles to hit the market was the Selkirk Amped Omni, which was created in conjunction with pro player Glen Peterson. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Glen about his initial thought process behind the design and what he believes this style’s greatest strengths are. If you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of thick core paddles, Glen explains them clearly:

“The idea of a thicker core appealed to my desire for a more stable paddle that generates more consistent shots across the surface. I hoped that a thicker paddle would be less likely to twist in my hand when the ball struck near the edge. Theoretically this made sense to me as a thicker core could have a lower modulus of elasticity. Practically, it just seemed the right direction the same way larger frame structures in other racquet sports improve performance.

“I cut a paddle out of a piece of 2 inch foam just to see what the thicker template felt like in my hands, and it felt great even though I couldn’t hit a ball. I then took two half inch cores and glued them together to create a usable paddle but with no edge guard. This 1 inch thick paddle was a breakthrough for me. Brian Ashworth hit with it and agreed. The challenge was creating a thicker paddle without dramatically increasing weight. Selkirk took on this challenge and made the Omni paddle with 5/8 inch thick core.  While an 1/8” thick seems small, it is a 25% increase in thickness.

“The key advantage is more consistent ball performance coming off a larger portion of the paddle surface. While it might seem a thicker core would generate more power or ball speed, the opposite seems true. I get more control, touch and consistency even when I miss-hit the ball. And I get all the power I need. Players like Ty McGuffin are able to generate amazing power even with the thicker core. Players who want tons of power with shorter strokes might prefer thinner paddles with smaller but dramatic sweet spots.

“Perhaps the only unexpected drawback to this type of paddle is that it’s harder to pick up a ball lying on the ground with the edge of the paddle since it’s thicker!

“I see paddles becoming even thicker with innovative core materials and improved paddle science. Additionally, I see ball development as being an important factor in paddle improvements. If balls become softer and less brittle, the paddles will change accordingly. Current top paddles are optimized for the Dura Fast 40 Ball which is preferred by most top players.”

Glen’s predictions have proven true so far, with manufacturer Prince introducing two new paddles featuring 9/16″ thick cores in 2018. The Prince Spectrum Pro and Response Pro have both proven popular and feature a unique oval-shaped design. The thick core makes these paddles very rigid and transfers energy evenly along the sides, top and bottom of the design. This effectively expands the sweet spot and lets players make use of space that would be “dead” in other paddles nearer to the edge guard.

Onix released their .625″ thick paddle, the Outbreak, in 2018 as well. It uses a carbon fiber face to create a soft feel that reduces vibration from impact, increasing stability and letting players maintain control over their shots. Paddletek’s Pro Series with 9/16″ cores was released later that year and included the Tempest Pro, which uses a graphite face. This combo is thought to create one of the best feeling paddles available, allowing players to hit against any area of their paddle’s surface without experiencing decreased responsiveness.

GAMMA was another major manufacturer which saw the strengths of thick cores and expanded the market in 2019. The Compass, Shard and Legend added more shape and weight variety to the mix and have shown the sweet spot can be broadened with this technology no matter the paddle’s shape or weight. With many top players enjoying these options and variety, there’s something that will satisfy everyone looking to try thick core paddles.

One of the only potential downsides players may want to be aware of when looking at these paddles is the fact that their handles tend to be more square-shaped and boxy due to the thicker construction. While several of the paddles mentioned above do come in small grip circumferences (4-1/8″), they generally have more of a structured feel to them.

Many players have found that they’re able to easily adapt to this shape after a few games with a thick core paddle, but this is something to be aware of when considering the various choices. Another option is to add an overgrip to these paddles for the purpose of softening up the more defined edges of the handle.

There are currently nineteen different paddles from six manufacturers collected on our Thick Core Paddles page, and with the way development is going, we expect this number will continue to grow. Learn more about all of these paddles here.

Win Tricky Points on Your Serve with the Nasty Nelson

To piggyback on our post about the lesser-known Erne Shot from earlier this month, today we have another technique that’s not seen often and is far more controversial: the Nasty Nelson.

Although this shot is legal, some see it as unsportsmanlike and it may leave a sour taste in players’ mouths. If you decide to use it, make sure you’re either playing among good-natured friends or in a high level competition where opponents should be ready for anything!

Timothy Nelson

Timothy Nelson

The Nasty Nelson was given its name by Scott Lipitz after watching Timothy Nelson make use of it.

The goal is to cause the receiving team to commit a fault. This technique is a serve aimed at the receiver’s partner instead of the usual crosscourt box. If the opponent’s partner hits the ball before it reaches the court—either with their paddle or body—then the point goes to the serving team.

The reason this works is due to pickleball’s service rules which state:

4.C.2. Interference. If the serve clears the net and the receiver or the receiver’s partner interferes with the flight of the ball on the serve, it is a point for the serving team.

Just like a ball is still in play if someone chooses to hit an “out” ball before it actually drops outside the court’s boundaries, if the partner blocks the ball from landing on the wrong side of the court (usually due to not moving fast enough or raising a paddle to protect their body), you get the point.

Although this shot may sound harsh, it’s a viable part of the game and can even be a wise strategy. The “cleanest” way to use the Nasty Nelson is if you notice the receiver’s partner positioning themselves aggressively near the center line.

Since the partner is already close to the legal side of the court, it’s easier to tweak your serve and pop them before they realize they need to get out of the way. It’s (literally) their fault for not realizing they’re blocking the serve’s flight path!

The Nasty Nelson can still be attempted when the partner is at the center or outer edge of their court, but it’s more difficult to achieve under those conditions and may not win many friends.

You can see the shot executed below. In this instance the receiving partner isn’t particularly close to the center line, but the Nasty Nelson is unexpected and he notices the ball heading toward him too late. Despite this surprise attack, all the players take it in good stride!

If you want to see Timothy himself use this shot on an opponent far from the center line, check out this video at 7:04. Just be warned that the rest of the highlights contain strong language.

Do you think the Nasty Nelson’s reward is worth the risk? Even if you don’t want to use this shot yourself, it’s a good one to know so you don’t get caught off guard.

Legally Volley at the Net with the Erne Shot

“Stay out of the kitchen!”

This phrase is bandied about the courts so often we even made a shirt out of it. The non-volley zone or “kitchen” is the 7-foot segment in front of the net every player is introduced to and then subsequently told to avoid. You’re not allowed to return a ball in the kitchen without letting it bounce… unless you’re willing to give your point away.

So is it impossible to ever enjoy a slam right at the net? Not necessarily.

If you’re an advanced player and have the ability to read opponents, set up your positioning and wait for the right opening, there is a way to sneak in a smash at close range: the Erne.

Instructor Jeff Shank saw Erne Perry use the shot at the 2010 Nationals and gave the move a title in honor of its creator.

The Erne involves stepping immediately to the left or right side of the NVZ, outside of the court boundaries, to volley the ball at its apex. Since it’s normally impossible to perform a put away shot so close to the net, opponents are often surprised that their “unattackable” ball has suddenly whizzed past them.

You can see the Erne demonstrated by several players including Brian Ashworth in this video by Third Shot Sports (warning for headphone users: loud noise at 1:20):

To legally perform the Erne you must make sure your feet aren’t in the NVZ when you make contact with the ball and continue to stay outside of it afterwards. If you fall back in the kitchen, even if the ball has cleared the net, it will be considered a fault.

The next video will show you how you can practice drilling the Erne with a partner and provides details on how to set this shot up. Since you’re hitting from the sidelines you want the ball to be near the edge of the court, so the goal is to get your opponent to hit down the line.

You can attempt to get your opponent to do this by hitting a down the line shot yourself or by hitting an angled shot so that they’re forced to reach for the ball, making it more difficult to return anything but a more predictable, straight dink.

The Erne is often a devastating, point-winning shot although it takes precision, speed and excellent predictive skills to pull off. Have you ever attempted or successfully performed it yourself? Share your tips and knowledge in the comments if you’re willing!

The Best Pickleball Gear for Summer 2019

Summer can be both a blessing and a curse when it comes to playing pickleball. Most people prefer playing outdoors, and so you now have the perfect excuse to hit the courts and soak up the sun.

On the other side of things, those same rays can also make it easy to overheat or lose grip of your paddle, and no one likes playing in sticky, sopping clothes.

At PickleballCentral we have an array of great gear to help you minimize stresses the weather can bring so you can fully enjoy the warm weather and competition.

GAMMA Tacky Towel

GAMMA Tacky TowelYour hands get slick from sweat and your paddle is constantly on the verge of flying across court, but you can’t bear to wear a glove in the heat of the day. What’s a pickler to do?

With just a few passes of the GAMMA Tacky Towel your hands will feel stable again thanks to a sheen of its main moisture-repelling ingredient: bee’s wax! The Tacky Towel will last through multiple uses so you can continue to play consistently no matter how sticky the situation.

Chilly Pad Cooling Towel

Chilly PadWhile a standard towel would get soggy and heavy after enough passes over a perspiring player’s skin, the Chilly Pad Cooling Towel absorbs liquid and then allows it to evaporate. You can use this towel again and again without fearing that you’ll just be re-applying sweat!

The extra benefit of this product is that it can also be used as a cooling device. If you dunk it in some water and set it against your neck you’ll feel a pleasant cooling sensation radiate from the material. It retains its temperature for some time but can easily be re-wetted when you want another refreshing experience.

Wilson ProGrip Lotion

ProGrip LotionThis is another great option for players who want to keep a firm grasp on their paddles no matter how humid things get. The Wilson ProGrip Lotion applies to a smooth finish and doesn’t feel sticky, yet you’ll feel far more comfortable keeping your hand in contact with your grip. The gel is quickly transferred to the skin and dries to white finish so you an ensure it’s good to go.

The ProGrip Lotion lasts for around 2 hours and has a non-toxic formula with a pleasant citrus scent.

Overgrips

Absorbant GripsIf you don’t want to fuss with products you need to apply to your hands, you can always stick an overgrip on top of your existing handle. We have plenty of options that offer an array of different finishes so that you can find one with just the right amount of tack and absorbance.

For those who want some guidance on the best overgrips for reducing moisture, we recommend the HEAD HydroSorb Pro and Tourna Moisture Absorbency Grip. The HydroSorb has more of a traditional tacky texture with a thin construction that allows players to still feel a solid connection to their paddle. The Tourna Grip has more of a dry feel that will actively wick moisture away from the hands.

Hats & Visors

Summer Hats It should go without saying, but a simple hat can go a long way to keeping the sun out of your eyes when you’re trying to position your shots just so. You don’t want to trap heat next to your noggin’ though, so we recommend choosing something that maintains good airflow and visibility.

Our Heritage Shade Cap has ventilated mesh siding and a protection flap that will keep the back of your neck from burning during extended games. The Margaritaville Visors are a colorful way to celebrate the season while feeling the breeze. If you want to go for accessories that are as minimal as possible, the HEAD Headband and Wristband will prevent sweat from reaching your hands and eyes.

Shoes

Head Shoes Shoes can make or break your game, and all players want to avoid injuries! Beyond their stabilizing and cushioning nature, a good shoe should allow your feet to breathe so you aren’t sliding around or dealing with smelly digits after your fun.

In addition to great multi-court traction, arch support and a light weight, the HEAD shoes we carry feature a special vent with air holes at the bottom of the soles which allow for plenty of cooling air to enter.

Gloves

HEAD Airflow TourWe’ve offered several alternatives to gloves for when the summer heat may make them feel smothering, but there is one option you may still want to consider. The HEAD Airflow Tour Glove uses a perforated leather that lets air in while also pulling moisture away from the hand.

If you appreciate the added security of a glove but want to ensure you’re not sweating up a storm, the Airflow Tour Glove is your best option.

Apparel

UV PerformanceOne of the easiest ways to stay cool in the heat is to make sure you’re wearing clothes that have a wicking feature and won’t get bogged down with sweat. This usually means utilizing a polyester or poly-blend fabric.

We have several options that are great for this purpose, and will not only prevent you from leaving a trail on the courts, but will protect you from burns as well. Our Sun Shield Tee provides UVA/UVB protection in addition to some of our long-sleeved tops like the UV Performance Top. Choose from our many designs to customize them to your heart’s content!

Eyewear

HEAD RaptorYou can defend your eye’s from glare and wayward balls and paddles all in one go if you select some great protective eyewear. Check out our HEAD Raptor Eyewear which feature anti-scratch and anti-fog construction.

They have interchangeable lenses and wearers can use their “smoke” colored lens for when they’re dealing with bright outdoor rays.