Choosing the best pickleball paddle for you
March 1, 2023 | View PDF
This column is primarily for beginners who want to buy their first paddle, but don't know where to start. I recommend buying a less expensive paddle to get you going just to see if this game is for you. If you find it's not, you hurt yourself, or you want to upgrade to a better paddle, you can always donate that cheaper paddle to your local club or school.
I started by buying a very basic lightweight paddle from Pickle-ball, Inc. (the company formed by the inventors of the game). It was a Vortex 2.0 for about $50. That paddle is no longer made but that price point still exists. You can find some decent $50 paddles through the PickleballCentral.com store online in the Vulcan, Diadem, Champion or Rally product line.
But before we get ahead of ourselves, there's three things to consider when choosing a paddle: paddle weight, paddle shape and grip size.
Paddles typically come in lightweight, midweight and heavyweight. I like a heavier paddle for power, but that's just my preference (a holdover from my tennis days). I see a lot of big guys who can generate their own power with a lightweight paddle. A lightweight paddle allows for quicker hand speed, an advantage at the net, and it also allows for better control of the ball when volleying (taking the ball out of the air before it bounces). If you find you like the paddle you bought but want more weight you can buy sticky-sided lead tape and add that to the outside edge of your paddle.
Paddles shapes are typically wide body, or elongated.
When I stepped up to a better paddle, I went with a Selkirk brand elongated paddle with added weight. Because I'm only 5'6", I wanted a paddle that had a longer handle, and an elongated shape with added weight (9 ounces total). This paddle helps me reach the ball that's farther out to the sides, and on overhead returns. The Selkirk website allowed me to choose a paddle within those parameters. Yes, it's a $200 paddle but that brand has a lifetime warranty, so if the paddle breaks down, they replace it. Well worth the money.
An elongated paddle has a smaller "sweet spot", that area of the paddle face where connecting with the ball produces the same rebound every time. A wide body paddle has a bigger sweet spot. For beginners, this can make a big difference in the consistency of your play. As you get better at striking the ball (think: after hitting the ball 10,000 times or more), then you can decide if you want to change paddle shapes.
Sizing the correct grip is straightforward. Pickleball paddle grip sizes (in inches) range from small (4 to 4.125), medium (4.25) and large (4.5). Measure the distance from the bottom lateral crease (the middle of the three), up to the tip of your ring finger. This measurement will be somewhere between 4 and 5 inches, and should be the perfect circumference for your pickleball grip.
There are a couple of important things to consider when choosing a grip size. A paddle with too big a grip will twist when you strike the ball and will deliver inconsistent returns. If too small, your hand may get fatigued from gripping so much and your tension will not allow you to play "softer", an important skill at the kitchen line. It's better to get a smaller grip and add lead tape to your paddle if needed. Or get the right sized grip to start.
Many paddle websites will have a questionnaire that allows you to put in your parameters to fine tune your needs according to your ability and goals, which is very helpful. Or go to https://pickleballeffect.com/ where there are paddle reviews and guides that can be a good place to start your search for your new paddle.
Those are the basics for choosing a paddle. You can get into more detail by researching the materials used to make a paddle (the core and the paddle facing), but to start, the three things discussed here will get you out on the court.
Next column: Starting or joining a club.
Jim Lavrakas has lived in Alaska for almost a half century. The self-proclaimed "squirrel man" has found a lively outlet in the pursuit of pickleball. You can reach him at http://www.FarNorthPress.com.