Recently I went to the Bethany Beach bandstand, where a trio was playing jazz, and I just wasn’t in the mood for jazz, so I set up my boombox and played ‘I feel Good’ by James Brown. You know the one: ‘So good, so good, I got you, Wo! I feel nice, like sugar and spice I feel nice...” What’s that got to do with pickleball? Just hang around for a few.
Since there are so many new pickleball players, I thought it might be time to write another article about the pickle in pickleballs. Last week, at a clinic, I ran into a couple players who were adamant that an orange ball being used was an Onix, and another company produced the yellow ball. No one company owns the color of a ball. Yellow is the most-sold ball according Pickleball Central, which has to be largest vendor of pickleballs in the country.
Currently, all the better pickleballs are manufactured with thermoset plastics that can be molded into shape during a heating process. The quality of the plastic pellets used before melting could dictate the performance life of the ball. There are other differences in pickleballs, but they have to do with indoor vs. outdoor balls, manufacturing processes, materials, etc.
I suspect that we will continue to see a tightening in pickleball specifications as this game continues to grow. Several years ago, pickleballs used in sanctioned competition were allowed to bounce as high as 37 inches, but the rules now only allow 34 inches — the height of the net.
The lower bounce of 34 inches puts more emphasis on player skill,
And of course increases the need for better players to drill, and drill.
When I interviewed the president of the popular Dura Fast pickleball company, he explained they evolve from slugs of hot plastic injected into a one-piece mold which is then rotated rapidly to spread the plastic evenly around the inside walls. When the 2.9375 diameter ball is removed from the mold, the quality control processes then begin to make each ball exactly like every other. The size of the holes in the Dura Fast Ball are engineered to vary in size to assist the flight path of the ball, which will weigh only .92 ounces after drilling.
Another favorite ball, the Onix Pure, has a slightly smaller 2.875 diameter, and a different manufacturing process, in which two halves are molded with a proprietary material and then joined by heat. The Onix claims to weigh more and doesn’t vary the size of the drilled holes.
• Outdoor balls — Outdoor balls have more holes (generally 40), and they are slightly smaller in diameter, yet weigh slightly more. The extra weight allows them to cut through the wind better, while the smaller holes are more resistant to the effects of the wind. They are also manufactured with a tougher exterior to combat the rough outdoor court surface.
Because of the rough court surface and the exposure to ultraviolet rays of the sun, they break down more quickly than the indoor ball. Cracks will appear, or soft spots might appear where the ball has cracked on the unseen inside surface of the ball.
I am sure many of you will like this statement about the balls: As they degrade, they go “out of round” and begin to wobble in flight or skip off the surface. See — It isn’t you! All this time, you thought you were the wobbler. We will throw several away after most practice sessions. Because of their design, they are also generally noisier.
• Indoor balls — Because they weigh less, indoor balls are much more difficult to hit hard. The larger holes (generally 26) create additional resistance as they travel through the air. They have a softer exterior, and when they degrade it is because they just appear to go soft and “out of round” because, again, of all the unseen cracks on the inside surface of the ball.
The indoor ball is slightly larger, with a softer exterior; control is easier, and longer rallies are likely to occur. It stings less if hit with a volley as well. For the first-ever public kid’s pickleball clinic at Northside Park in Ocean City, Md., this summer, I definitely am using the softest indoor ball I can find. Incidentally, there are still a few openings.
“Hey! Oh yeah” — Taking your own pickleballs to an indoor pickleball venue is as rude as my boombox. Each brand of balls has their own flight dynamics. Sure, you don’t notice it if you use your own balls during the session, but everyone you play definitely notices the differences. And after all, “Wo!” We want to “feel nice, like sugar and spice.”
Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.
By Vaughn Baker