Contributed By Vaughn Baker
I am not sure how many in the Pickleball community believe equipment counts. I do know that from some of the Questions I am asked would suggest little, or less. In fact some of you folks tell me the craziest stuff about paddles as if I know nothing.
If you are a sometimes player with less than ten games a year in your plans, it doesn’t much matter what you use. But if you are like most Pickleball players that I know, playing ten hours or more a week, equipment can be very important. If you are watching ten hours of TV a week, I am sure you are not using a Westinghouse manufacturer from 1956. Think about it. The cost of a performance paddle spread over a thousand hours of enjoyment is a matter of cents!
Start with shoes. Use shoes with soles for tennis courts. Other type shoes don’t give you enough ankle support for quick changes of direction on the Pickleball court – thus the backward fall, if you are lucky, on your butt. New Balance, who makes a great shoe with a wider toe box, gives members of First State Pickleball Club a 15% discount on court shoes.
Clothing. Dress in layers in the winter, light colors to reflect the sun in the summer. New wicking sport clothes help pull the moisture away from the skin which is important on cold windy days, and in the summer when cotton shirts begin to weigh more than you.
Speaking of Weight. I am aware how so many people handicap themselves by packing on thirty extra pounds. It is nice of you to spot your opponents this weight advantage, but a healthier alternative is to lose weight and then stick 30 pounds of potatoes in your compression shirt and shorts to give them the sporting advantage.
Paddles. OK, now you are in my wheelhouse. After forty years developing, designing, marketing, and selling tennis rackets made of the same materials as current day Pickleball paddles, I can help players understand which combination of materials would most assist their game styles. Just because someone a month ahead of you in the learning curve likes a certain type paddle does not mean it is going to help your game.
Paddle Weight. Hundreds of women have told me they like very light paddles with very thin handles. When they tell me this, I can’t help but mentally say to myself, “Why not play with a feather?” Of course, the answer is a feather is too light to hit the ball. But when does a paddle pass the feather weight and have enough weight or hitting power? If the paddle is too light, and not designed to enhance swing weight, then the ball simply drops short and the shock of the impact with the ball at impact lends itself to a sore shoulder.
Yes, sore shoulder. The composition of the core of your paddle and the material in the face dictates how much power and control you can expect from your paddle. The treatment of the material on the face, as well as the uniform application of adhesive between the core and face can affect trueness of flight and spin control.
Thin handles. Tennis rackets traditionally had large handles, and it wasn’t until new space age materials allowed the tennis companies to expand the sweet spot, that smaller handle sizes came into vogue. The smaller the sweet spot, or the more you hit the pickleball off center, the more twisting of the paddle at impact. As it twists, it puts the ball in an unintended flight pattern. That is why I have beefed up my handle, to reduce twisting on off-center hits. And when you have thirty pounds of potatoes stuffed in your clothing, you frequently don’t get off the mark quickly enough to hit a true on-center volley.
Materials: A good test is to drop a quarter onto your current paddle and compare it to the same test with a performance paddle. A quarter for your thoughts? The loud noise resulting from the quarter dropping on a cheaper paddle at impact is the same shock that runs into your elbow and shoulder creating pain in your elbow, arm, or shoulder. Ten hours of that a week will eventually wear on your arm.
The word “Composite” comes from the adhesion of two facings onto a core. People say to me frequently, “Is this Graphite, or a Composite?” A Composite can have, or not have, graphite facing. It might be called a Graphite Composite, or a Fiber Composite. The various cores joined up with the various facings in different materials account for the multitude of paddles out there. Insist on a Polymer core which was designed specifically for pickleball to reduce noise. The side benefit is a more controlled shot because dwell time of the ball on the paddle is longer.
If your flavor is “Graphite”, then Insist on Fiber Carbon which is from the higher performance spectrum of graphite. Understand that graphite gives you more “Pop”, more Power. The trade off is normally accuracy, but that can be improved somewhat by a Polymer Core.
If your flavor is “Fiber”, then make sure your paddle has fiber that has been enhanced for spin. The trade-off for power is control, and as you improve you learn that Pickleball is more of a control game than power game. Polycarbonate Vinyl offers a lighter, but durable, facing for your composite.
Paddle Face Design. The one other ingredient is the shape which dictates to a certain degree Sweet Spot and the effective Swing Weight of a paddle. The sweet spot of the paddle will be greatly influenced by paddle shape, not just North and South, but East West. For the same reason you don’t want too thin a handle, you want a paddle with a big sweet spot to hit that ever illusive pickleball that dances around as it slows.
Pickleball Paddle Companies. I selected Pro-Lite because they have such a good presence among the professional men and women players. Having once been responsible for recruiting the top world class tennis players, I was drawn to Pro-Lite because I know first hand how meaningful the comments are from these players about playability. Quality and performance stem directly from them. At the very least buy from American companies with American production facilities who use American made raw materials.
Contact Vaughn: firstname.lastname@example.org
A note from FSPC: EYE SAFETY! We feel it’s important to mention the dangers of an eye injury on the court. Please check with your eye doctors for appropriate glasses. We will be sharing information as we research safety glasses and protective eye wear. Feel free to send us any recommendations.