So what is a good pickleball holiday gift?

Date Published: 
Nov. 24, 2017

No doubt there is that special person in your life who has become addicted to pickleball, and you decided some time ago to buy a new pickleball paddle as a gift for this special person.

No doubt that person is you, and this time you don’t want to buy any old “Me, Too” paddle, but a performance paddle. After all, the only thing between you and the pickleball for the three hours you play every day is the pickleball paddle!

Which paddle? You most likely have asked other players about paddles. They tell you nothing when they insist your paddle must be a composite, or a graphite, and weigh between 7.2 and 8.5 ounces. Hey, folks — a graphite is a classic composite, and most paddles fall in this weight range! Basically, a paddle has two faces with a core sandwiched between, and almost all paddles today are composite paddles.

Shopping? Your brain actually begins to hurt when you sneak a peek on the Internet to sort out different pickleball paddle features and benefits. What differences? All internet sellers, regardless of price, advertise that their paddles will improve both your power and your control. The least-expensive model, according to the Internet, claims, will improve your power just as much as the most expensive. Ditto, control. All meaningless buzzwords that only confuse you!

I spent four decades working with the same materials in tennis rackets now used in manufacturing pickleball paddles. I suggest you might think about paddle performance slightly differently.

Your considerations should be dwell time of the ball on the paddle and ball control. The shorter the dwell time, the greater the rebound speed. The frequently-used basic graphite material is a good example of a material with a short dwell time. On the other hand, the longer the dwell time, as with carbon fiber or fiberglass, the slower the ball return speed, but with enhanced control. Fiberglass also lends itself to interesting surface treatments that can influence spin and control.

The core and new faces: Until a few years ago, the pickleball paddle cores were a honeycomb paper product made by DuPont called Nomex. With the sudden popularity of pickleball, much research has been done to develop new paddle cores, and the poly core was developed to soften impact and reduce the irritating noise made by paddles. A by-product of the poly core was longer dwell time.

Progress has also been simultaneously made developing materials for the paddle faces. For example, fiber carbon, the Rolls Royce of graphite, does three things: increases the dwell time, reduces shock and packs punch. In addition, the industry has made strides in developing fiberglass combined with other materials, such as polycarbonate, to provide various benefits.

There are hundreds of paddle models now on the internet that include some combination of these materials. Most are “Me, Too” and have been produced simply to jump onto the pickleball craze, while others have been engineered by players for players to bring specific playability characteristics to the market.

Wait! What about weight? Weight, by itself, is meaningless. Perhaps someone told you 7.4 ounces because the paddle they like is 7.4 ounces. But swing-weight is the key and represents how the distribution of weight and design dovetail to influence the “feel” of the paddle at impact with the ball.

A lighter paddle with more weight in the head can sometimes give the paddle more power. Since swing-weight is defined by paddle head design, there is little advice I can offer, other than to play test each model that interests you.

Are you interested in the very latest in paddles? I previously mentioned that the top pickleball female player in the world, Simone Jardim, with the collaboration of Pro-Lite paddles, introduced the SuperNova, with a longer handle and a larger sweet spot of powerful carbon fiber surface on a polymer honeycomb core that compresses at impact for control.

They did not cut corners on the amount of carbon fiber, and the additional thickness actually feels softer and enhances dwell time. The SuperNova is a cousin to the very popular Pro-Lite Titan.

Anytime you are using equipment to strike a ball, then that piece of equipment should be designed to enhance, not degrade, performance. The revolutionary design of the recently introduced Pro-Lite Chrome NRG — the very latest design in pickleball paddles — enhances the sweet spot and swing-weight. The slightly longer length allows for greater spin as the ball rolls off the paddle. The final soft gel coat finish actually softens contact and increases dwell time.

Now, if you don’t plan to play a lot of pickleball, then a smart choice is a less-expensive, all-purpose composite, such as the time-proven Pro-Lite Blasters with the larger sweet spots.

I know that it is a confusing process, and that is why I have been so liberal loaning out demo paddles these last two years. So make sure you play-test one of my demos before you get that next new paddle, and while you are at it, have your grip customized to your own specific preference.

Clinic: Pay attention. Plan on learning to play, or play better, with your new paddle at one of the upcoming clinics. There will be an indoor clinic at Ocean City, Md., on Wednesday, Jan. 10, from 1 to 2:30 p.m. It is limited to the first 24 beginners to sign up, as well as the first 20 novices who would like to perfect and practice the third shot. The cost is $6; register at Northside Park in Ocean City, or send me an email to be included.

Happy holidays!

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.