Pickleball Equipment: Paddles, Balls and Gear
Pickleball Equipment – There are three major components in pickleball equipment: Paddle, Ball and Footwear. The most important items are your paddle and footwear. There are some differences in the balls which we will discuss as well. Proper footwear and support can help prevent injury and keep you out on the court playing longer. We are going to start with the Pickleball Paddle because that is where the technology is. The paddle will determine the feel and touch of the game.
Choosing A Pickleball Paddle
If you are new to the game, or a seasoned vet, everyone needs a paddle. Paddles are made from a variety of materials, and are available in a variety of weight ranges and shapes. Below we will touch on how to select a paddle, and what to look for in terms of construction, materials, and play characteristics.
A Quick History of Pickleball Paddles
When our founders created the game back in 1965 with their friends on Bainbridge Island, their first paddles were made of wood. For the first 20 to 25 years of the sport paddles were made entirely of wood. But like many technology innovations, paddle evolution also was influenced by Seattle area high-technology companies. Seattle is also known as “Jet City” because of it being the birthplace of Boeing, and pickleball caught on with some local engineers with access to high-technology, ultra-light aerospace materials. In the 80’s and early 90’s, a revolution took place levering honeycomb panels sourced from the aerospace marketplace, and machined into the shapes of paddles. Edgeguards, grips, face materials, and paint were added, and a new generation of what we know of today as “composite paddles” was born. This is the genesis of the modern pickleball paddle; composite aerospace materials which are exceptionally strong, and exceptionally light.
Composite Pickleball Paddles
The term “Composite Pickleball Paddle” refers to any paddle that has been constructed from a combination of materials. Generally the paddle is an open-celled honeycomb core covered with one or more face materials which are built up into a surface that is what actually comes in contact with the ball. Think of this concept very much like how mattresses are made. There are various types of mattresses. Some are simply foam with an outer surface. Others have inner springs, with layers of foam, cotton batting, and an external fabric. There are even ones where it is just a plastic filled with air to create that cushion. In Pickleball, the number of various materials that are combined to create a paddle is exceptionally diverse, allowing a wide variety of paddles to be crafted from an endless combinations of core materials, face materials, and exterior treatments.
The main concept here being that there is a “Core” (the inside honeycomb structure of the paddle), and its “Face” (the material bonded to what is the material used to make the internal honeycomb structure), and what kind of face material is used to finish the outer skin of the paddle. Below is a quick explanation of the most popular materials used, and how they affect the feel and shot making capabilities of paddles.
Pickleball Paddle Cores
Like with all innovation composite paddles have evolved to include four basic types of cores. This core material is part of what gives any particular paddle its unique ball feel, sound, and sweet spot. It impacts how much “touch” or “control” you have, and how much “power” or “pop” a ball has when you hit it. With the exception of wood cores, almost all paddles are built around an engineered composite panel that features a honeycomb structure. These panels are cut into a vareity of shapes, and finished with a variety of surface materials to meet the needs of various players.
Polymer Core Pickleball Paddles.
These honeycomb cores are made from a class of “poly” style polymers (such as polyethylene, polystyrene, etc.), and the honeycomb structure provides strength, while the polymer keeps weight down. These polymers tend to be a little flexible,meaning that the core compresses a tiny bit during impact with the ball. The amount of compression (also known as deflection) is governed by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) and the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP). Because of the slight amount of energy absorbing capacity from the poly material, they absorb energy well, and this translates into paddles that tend to have a softer touch. Our Tracer and Champion LTE(insert link here)paddles use this type of core, and they are prized by players who want a paddle that allows them to execute a control style game. These cores tend to be quieter, and provide very good feedback when a ball strikes the sweet-spot on the paddle.
Nomex Core Pickleball Paddles.
Nomex is an aramid polymer related to nylon that is used in a variety of aerospace and industrial applications that require durability, light weight, and flexibility. Race car driving suits, firefighter jackets, and military flight suits are made from nomex, and the material is also used in a number of structural applications when formed into a honeycomb panels in sheet form. The product is extensively used in the aerospace industry to construct things like the floors of commercial jetliners. Compared to Poly cores, a Nomex core tends to be stiffer, allowing a player to impart more power on a shot. The physics suggests that a nomex paddle absorbs less energy than a poly core, which results in a paddle more quickly returning that energy back into the ball. When combined with a the certain types of face material, paddle makers are able to create a paddle that has power attributes from the nomex core combined with shot softening characteristics of certain face materials (like Graphite – more on that below). Nomex paddles tend to play stiffer (and a little noisier) than Poly, but they can be lighter as well. They are preferred by players who wish to add some power to their game, while maintaining a nice level of touch. Since they are stiffer than Poly, they tend to have consistent reliable sweet-spots.
Aluminum Core Pickleball Paddles
Like Poly or Nomex cores, Aluminum cores are structured using a series of small honeycomb shapes crafted with hexagonal shaped walls built out of ultra thin aluminum. These cores play similar to Nomex in that they are stiff, and return an high percent of energy into the ball, making them perfect for players looking for more power. There is a unique sound to aluminum paddles, with a loud pop that is distinct when you strike a ball on the sweet spot of the paddle. They tend weigh in a bit heavier than Nomex or Poly paddles, and they tend to work best in combination with a fiberglass face. This combination of materials tends to create an extremely power oriented paddle.
Wood Core Pickleball Paddles.
This is where it all started, with plywood sheets cut with a jigsaw into the shapes we still tend to use today. Wood core paddles tend to be very, very heavy – as much as 25% to 75% heavier than Poly, Nomex, or Aluminum composite paddles. They tend to provide decent power, but less touch or control than composite paddles. They are inexpensive, and very durable – perfect for use by recreational, scholastic, and institutional programs.
Pickleball Paddle Faces
In composite pickleball paddles, the core tends to be the most influential component that defines how a paddle feels in your hand when you strike a ball, but it is also heavily influenced by the layers of face material that create the flat surface of the paddle. This face material is bonded to the core during the panel construction process, and it impacts how much energy is absorbed, how large a sweet spot is created, and how much weight is added to a paddle during construction. Since this face material also is the contact surface to the ball, it defines how much “movement” a player can impart on ball, affecting the spin a player can place on ball. With modern composite paddles, there are four general types of face materials used – Graphite, Fiberglass, Poly, and Hybrids.
Graphite Pickleball Paddles
In graphite pickleball paddles, the Graphite layer is applied over the top of a core (like Nomex or Poly), and ads a specific set of attributes to the paddle. Graphite is a carbon fiber material, because of this you will also hear these paddles referred to as carbon fiber paddles. The reality is this: Graphite is ultra light, and ultra stiff material. It keep the paddles ultra-light, which players looking for control and touch prefer. Graphites stiffness spread the energy of a ball strike consistently over a larger area of the paddle, this helps transfer that energy to the player’s hand in a way that players can get a better feel of the ball on the paddle face. Many of the worlds best players now play with paddles that combine a Graphite Face with a composite core.
Fiberglass Pickleball Paddles
Fiberglass is a popular face layer used in paddle construction. Fiberglass faced pickleball paddles tend to have a couple unique characteristics to them. Fiberglass is more flexible than graphite. The result of this is that it concentrates the energy of the ball on a paddle core. Players describe this effect as having more “pop” than graphite paddles. Fiberglass paddles with a lightly textured feel allows some players to “work” a ball during a shot.
Poly Faced Paddles
Polymer (plastic) outer layers have revolutionized pickleball paddle construction recently. It has enabled the creation of lighter paddles that are more durable. Certain types of paddles using a poly face can improve the durability of the paddle, allowing it to look newer and last longer while still creating unique playing characteristics. Poly faced pickleball paddles create some high performance paddles that will hold up exceptionally well and all for digitally print on the face.
Hybrid Pickleball Paddles
Hybrid paddles are a combine of multiple materials together to create a single paddle The goal is to create a hybrid paddle that merges together the characteristics of different face materials when they are “built-up” on top of a particular core.
Ok, now that was a lot of information on pickleball paddles. Checkout our SHOPPING page to browse paddles