How do you choose a pickleball paddle? There are currently a number of options out there, featuring a wide range of materials, and, as pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the nation, a rapidly increasing range of available paddle choices. Whether you are just getting started in the sport or are a seasoned professional who plays in tournaments, there’s a paddle for you. We’re going to break down the basics and what some of the terms and technologies that you will encounter when paddle shopping mean for your game ... and your wallet.
There are a few main factors when it comes to selecting a paddle, these include:
Paddle material, paddle shape, and grip.
History of Pickleball
First things first. What is pickleball? Pickleball is a racquet sport, in the same family as tennis, ping-pong, and badminton. Pickleball was actually invented as a leisurely backyard game on Bainbridge Island, Wash., in the 1960s when no one could find a shuttlecock for badminton on an afternoon. The sport has grown ever since, with astronomic jumps in the later half of the 2010s, and explosive growth during the pandemic. Coincidentally, our Big Dill Pickleball Company founder, Katy, is from Seattle and grew up playing pickleball in school PE and on the local courts. But further afield, many have never even heard of the sport!
Pickleball is popular because it has simple rules and is versatile. It can be played in singles or doubles, indoors and outdoors, and requires much less space and less athleticism than tennis. Teams can play mixed gender, seniors can get exercise without too much strain, and families can play together. The pickleball court is sized 20 feet by 44 feet with a 36-inch high net across the center. It requires very little equipment and has only a few rules.
To play the game, you need a pickleball court (which can be in high demand these days!). You also need a ball. Pickleballs are made of perforated polymer and look like a big wiffle ball. They come in a variety of (usually bright or neon) colors and are made in both indoor and outdoor options.
What’s the difference between an indoor pickleball and outdoor pickleball? Outdoor balls are slightly heavier and have more holes (usually 40) and the holes are smaller. Outdoor balls need to be playable even with a little wind or debris on the court. Indoor balls are made of softer material and have larger holes, usually about 26 holes per ball. Indoor balls usually bounce a bit more and are more accurate on indoor courts, as they don't have to deal with wind or other outdoor factors.
Choosing a paddle is a personal preference. The most basic paddle for pickleball is made of wood and fairly cheap. These paddles often come in sets of four. Paddle material is key in choosing a paddle, because the paddle material often determines the weight and heft of a paddle.
Wood: The original paddles for pickleball were made of wood. These paddles are still made, and of course still work well for your basic backyard play. They are a great budget option. That said, wooden paddles are heavy and more cumbersome than a more tech-rich, modern paddle.
Composite: These paddles feature a mix of materials, such as fiberglass or carbon fiber on the paddle face and a core made of nomex, polymer, or aluminum.
- Fiberglass: Fiberglass is durable, lightweight, and adds spin and pop to your shots. The lightweight nature makes it great for agile paddles.
See The Big Dill Pickleball Infinity, our fiberglass paddle.
Carbon Fiber: Slightly heavier but still sleek, carbon fiber is very durable and offers more control, but less speed.
See The Big Dill Pickleball Original, our carbon fiber paddle.
Graphite: Graphite is very similar material to carbon fiber, but is a bit lighter and still powerful. Usually, graphite paddles are the most expensive on the market.
Paddle surface is only one part of the paddle, though, and any specific performance can be augmented by the core of the paddle. For this reason, there are many combinations when it comes to paddle construction.
Paddle cores are made with a variety of materials and can increase or decrease your price range depending on the quality. Also, some manufacturers mark up paddles quite a lot. Some paddles cost up to $150, but oftentimes aren't that much nicer than your $50-$80 price point.
Paddle cores will also ultimately affect the weight of your paddle more than the paddle face. The core material will also affect the power and sound of your hits.
Aluminum: This material is lightweight and relatively soft, paddles with an aluminum core offer more control than power. They aren't as loud as nomex, but are louder than wood.
Nomex: A very durable resin that manufacturers shape into small honeycombs inside the paddle. These paddles are hard and powerful, but they are also the noisiest paddle core option.
Polypropylene, PP, or polymer: This material is made of a plastic and resin blend,. Recently, this core is probably the most popular and offers the latest technology. It is the quietest core, and while not as hard as nomex, still offers plenty of power.
Generally, paddles will be classed as lightweight, mid-weight or heavyweight.
Lightweight paddles range in weight from 6 ounces to 7.3 ounces.
Lightweight paddles offer more maneuverability and control on the court. You can switch hands easier and ensure agility. For senior or less athletic players, a lighter paddle may put less stress on the arm, elbow, and shoulder. But they also require more speed and power to hit deep shots or hard, accurate shots.
Mid-weight paddles range in weight from 7.4 ounces to 8.4 ounces.
Many of the most popular paddles on the market fall into this category. Mid-weight paddles offer a great blend of control, agility, and power. They allow you to hit all kinds of shots and are very versatile for most players.
Heavyweight paddles range in weight from 8.4 ounces up. The heaviest paddles usually weigh in around 14 ounces.
Heavyweight paddles make hitting easier and harder shots more effortless. However, they can also tire your arm out quicker and increase fatigue. They can also be a bit rogue, especially factoring in wind outdoors.
Much like a tennis racket, the grip of the paddle is likely to affect your game. Mainstream grip sizes range from 4 inches in circumference to 4.75 inches. Taller people or those with larger hands are likely to prefer a larger grip, and conversely, shorter, smaller people a smaller grip. But it all comes down to how you play and what you’re used to. Because many people are quite used to holding a tennis racket, the 4.25 to 4.5-inch grip is very popular and comfortable for many players.
There is a limit to the dimensions of tournament-approved paddles. The combined length and width must not exceed 24 inches, and the length alone should not be longer than 17 inches. Within this, however, there’s a lot of variation. Most players enjoy a wide body shape for maximum coverage and a large sweet spot. Some players like a longer paddle for reach, or a smaller overall paddle to correspond to a smaller physical body size (for instance, a small woman or a teen may prefer a small, lightweight paddle).
At Big Dill Pickleball Co., we offer two awesome paddle shapes. We did a lot of research and testing among ourselves and players we know. Both of our paddles feature a composite face and polypropylene honeycomb core. Both paddles feature the same, cushion-comfort grip and premium edge guard. The difference is in the size, shape, and face material.
The Original features a carbon fiber face, with a 7.8-inch-wide body.
The Infinity features a fiberglass face, with a wide 8-inch body.
We recommend trying out some different paddles to see what works best. Our founder uses the Infinity, and feels it offers the perfect blend of power and control.
Ready to shop for your next paddle? Check out our collection and let us know if you have any questions.