The Definitive Pickleball Paddle Selection Guide
There are hundreds of pickleball paddles on the market. How do you pick the perfect paddle for you?
Rather than buying a pickleball paddle just because you saw a pro or fellow player using it, take a few minutes to learn the most essential parts of the paddle and the pickleball paddle characteristics you should be focusing on. We will also share with you the paddle characteristics that are secondary or irrelevant to your selection process. At the end, we will tell you the single most important factor you should consider when selecting your next pickleball paddle.
You might be surprised at what is important and what is not when you are selecting a pickleball paddle.
The Must-Have Paddle Characteristics – Disqualifiers
There are two characteristics that you MUST consider when selecting a pickleball paddle:
- The Paddle’s Grip Size – both length and width (circumference)
- The Paddle’s Swingweight – NOT its static weight on a scale – how heavy the pickleball paddle is when you swing it in play.
These are disqualifiers. If the paddle does not satisfy your needs in either of these two areas, the paddle should no longer be considered for purchase by you. A pickleball paddle being “control” or “power” or any other term ascribed to it is negotiable. These 2 characteristics are not.
Paddle Grip Size
The first pickleball paddle characteristic that you absolutely must consider is the paddle’s grip size: both length and width (circumference). These are non-negotiable because your hand is specific to you, and you want a paddle that fits comfortably in your hand.
Length is the measurement of the paddle grip from the butt cap (the bottom) to the beginning of the throat of the paddle (thereabouts). Paddle grip length ranges from 4 ¼ to 6 ¼ inches (about 5 inches is standard). If you plan on using a two-handed backhand, you should opt for a longer grip length. Consider that you may not need the whole 6 ¼” to get two hands on the paddle; somewhere in the 5-inch range will normally do the trick. A shorter grip, however, may prove too short for the 2-handed backhand.
The other factor to consider on grip size is the grip’s circumference: the measurement around the paddle grip. Most pickleball paddles range between 4 to 4 ¼ inches in grip circumference. It is easier to increase the size of your grip than it is to make it smaller – though you can make it slightly smaller by replacing the stock grip that comes with the paddle with an overgrip (these are thinner). Be wary of a pickleball paddle with a grip that is too large for your hand. This can cause overstress of your forearm leading to fatigue and pain.
A last note about grips: there are some differences in how grips are shaped. Some pickleball paddle manufacturers opt for a more rounded feel, while others prefer an angular approach. You will also come across some grips that have ridges along them. While grip shape is not a disqualifier, you will feel better with a grip that feels good in your hand.
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The Definitive Guide to Paddle Selection
Pickleball Paddle Swingweight
Paddle swingweight is an area that is not generally well understood by pickleball players. Players tend to focus on static weight (what the paddle weighs on a scale) rather than swingweight (the weight of the paddle as you use it on the court).
To see how much players understood about paddle balance (this is an element of swingweight), we posted a poll in the Pickleball Forum asking players about the weight they were looking for in a paddle. The responses were split almost 50/50 between heavier and lighter paddles. 8.0 ounces was the cutoff used between the two.
One of the options players could choose in the poll was a “balanced paddle.” A balanced paddle would be one that is evenly balanced between its top and bottom. Only a few selected this option, with most opting for the static weight answer: heavy or light.
If you want to geek out a bit on pickleball paddle swingweight, check out this video, where I walk you through the process of how to calculate your paddle’s balance and compare it to our paddle head heaviness standard.
Static weight, however, is not the key when selecting a paddle.
The important weight of a paddle is its swingweight: how the paddle feels when you swing it through the air.
No criticism of players here. There is almost no discussion out there about swingweight and paddle balance, and paddle manufacturers have yet to provide swingweight or paddle balance information about their paddles (the exception being Diadem which includes the paddle balance information right on its paddles). Instead of focusing on swingweight, paddle marketing is all about paddle weight – helpful but, in a vacuum, not the whole story we need when selecting a paddle.
Let’s compare two paddles, each with an 8 ounce static weight (on a scale). The weight on Paddle A is distributed with 7 ounces in the grip and 1 ounce along the hitting surface. Paddle B has 1 ounce in the grip and 7 ounces along the hitting surface.
You would expect Paddle A to be easy to swing – almost feather-like. By comparison, Paddle B will feel heavy as you swing it. Even though both paddles are the same static weight, there would be little doubt that Paddle A’s swing weight is less than Paddle B’s.
It would be the same as holding a hammer by its handle and swinging it but then taking the same hammer and holding it by the head and swinging it. Try it out. Same hammer, same static weight (the hammer’s weight on a scale), and two completely different swingweights.
The same happens with paddles in the real world: two pickleball paddles with the same total weight will feel different when you swing them.
Almost always, one paddle will feel heavier than the other. This is often the case with paddles that weigh the same (or similar) but are different shapes. Longer paddles will generally feel heavier when they are swung, meaning they will have a heavier swingweight than a traditional-shaped paddle.
Why is pickleball paddle swing weight so important? It is because of the wear and tear swinging a too heavy paddle can wreak on your arm. Often, you will be playing pickleball for 1, 2, or even 3 hours at a time. Playing with a heavy paddle that’s too heavy can spell trouble for the small muscles, tendons, and joints in your hand and arm.
When considering a paddle, look not only at the paddle’s total weight. Instead, focus on the paddle’s swingweight. Currently, the only way to do this is to swing the paddle loosely from left to right. Then do the same with another paddle figuring out which one feels heavier (think about it as the resistance you feel when you swing the paddle). If you want to see how this is done, check out this video where we show you how.
Hopefully, in the future, pickleball paddle manufacturers will provide head light or head heavy figures on their paddles (this is already common with tennis rackets). This information would allow players to determine whether they want a 7.8 ounce paddle that is more or less head light. We have put out an open letter to the paddle manufacturers making this very point – you can read it here.
For now, swinging the paddle ourselves is the only option.
Understanding Your Paddle’s Sweet Spot
A term that is commonly used when talking pickleball paddle is “sweet spot.” But what, exactly, is the sweet spot of a pickleball paddle. Whether the term is being used in tennis (racket), golf (club) or baseball (bat), the term is always the same: it is the point of contact that provides the most effective contact with the ball.
You can think about the sweet spot as the area on your paddle that will most efficiently transfer the energy you are trying to impart into the ball. If you contact the ball with the edge of your paddle, you feel that energy loss because you did not hit the ball “cleanly.”
When you think of energy, what you are transferring into the ball is the paddle’s swingweight. This is why the sweet spot is not in the middle of the paddle, but is more towards the top of the paddle along the centerline.
The sweet spot of your pickleball paddle is important because it is:
- The most efficient at getting your energy into the ball.
- Provides the most accurate feedback loop to your brain – “Did I hit that shot well?”
- Reduces vibrational shock to your arm as much as possible for a given paddle.
At the end of the day, every paddle has some sort of sweet spot. Paddles with a more solid construction will generally have a more robust sweet spot. But no matter the pickleball paddle’s construction, there is a limit to the size of the sweet spot.
The best way to determine if you like the sweet spot of a paddle is by testing out the paddle. Rather than trying to ascertain the exact size or location of a paddle’s sweet spot, see how often your shots feel “right” as they come off that particular paddle. Then pick up another paddle and compare the general feel to the prior paddle. You are looking for a general sense of the paddle – its feel.
A good way to try out different pickleball paddles is through the demo program described more fully below in “Picking Your Paddle.”
The Secondary Pickleball Paddle Characteristics
Static Paddle Weight
Paddle weight is important, but swingweight is king here. Static weight is relevant only since it goes into swingweight. The reality is that paddle manufacturers are sticking to the 8-ounce standard for now, so the static weight will not be vastly different from one paddle to another.
One major exception is beginner paddles made of wood. Wooden paddles can weigh 10 ounces and up. We strongly urge you not to get a paddle that is much over 8 ounces and change.
Paddle Size – Length and Width
Players sometimes want elongated paddles (for reach) or a wider paddle (to avoid mishitting). While not unimportant, we suggest this should not be a big part of your paddle selection process. And bear in mind that the longer the pickleball paddle, the heavier it will likely swing (leverage, after all).
The NOT Important Paddle Characteristics – you can ignore these.
Who uses the paddle
As is more fully articulated below, it is you who will be wielding the pickleball paddle. Not the pro player on the ad or YouTube. And not the player at your courts. Other than a recommendation from a friend who is in your shoes (similar size, age, etc.) and who plays around your level, ignore who uses the paddle.
What the paddle is made of, core or face
Does it really matter if your paddle is carbon, raw carbon, fiberglass, graphite paddle, etc.? We would suggest that it is not that important. Below we address how the paddle feels – and this is what matters – regardless of the version of carbon fiber used in the paddle. If you are unsure how it will ultimately affect your play, you can safely ignore it.
Paddle thickness will affect the playability of the paddle – which you will tease out below. But note that paddle thickness also generally means more weight – both static and swingweight. There are good thick paddles and good thin paddles. Generally ignore paddle thickness.
The Most Important Pickleball Paddle Characteristic – Focus Here
Once you get past the disqualifiers, there is only one pickleball paddle characteristic that matters: how does the paddle feel to you? Do you like the feedback you get from the paddle when you hit the ball? Does the ball do what you want it to? (assuming, of course, that your stroke is sound – need more on this? Then join us inside The Pickleball System).
Do you like the way the paddle sounds? How about how it looks?
It is you who is going to pull the pickleball paddle out each time you go to the courts. And it is you who will be hitting ball after ball after ball with it. Thus, it is you who has to most enjoy it.
This is not just me talking. Our friend, Senior Pro Glen Peterson – who is not only a paddle geek but also collaborated on the design of a paddle bearing his name – echoed the same sentiment at our 2021 Pickleball Summit: get a paddle that you enjoy playing with, whether it is made from some fancy sounding materials or not. Speaking of Summits, we will see you at our next Summit, won’t we?
Picking Your Pickleball Paddle
So how do you pick a paddle?
Generally speaking, we recommend sticking with a known pickleball paddle company. This is not to say that new paddle manufacturers are not making good products. But if you are new to the game or don’t want to end up needing to buy multiple paddles, going with an established company is the safer route. You also know that they will be around to honor their warranty should something untoward happen to your paddle.
Once you have honed in on a group of paddles and are satisfied that neither of the two disqualifying factors from above knocks a paddle out, you want to hit with the paddle(s). There are a few ways of doing this:
- If your friend has the same pickleball paddle you are looking at, ask them to borrow it for a game or two. Then try it again on a different day. Try to avoid becoming enamored with a paddle based on a single day’s performance – it is often not the paddle’s “fault” you played great that game.
- If your local pro has demo paddles, give them a whirl. See above about playing with them more than once before making up your mind.
- Total Pickleball has a great demo program where you can demo up to 3 paddles at a time, and all you have to pay for is the return shipping. If you use the demo program, demo all 3 paddles. No reason not to. Click this link to visit Total Pickleball.
Two final notes on paddle selection:
- We recommend that you purchase the lightest version of the paddle – you can always add weight to a paddle easily and inexpensively through weighted tape. You cannot, however, easily remove weight from a heavier paddle.
- Speaking of lead tape, you can learn more about it as well as other paddle optimization tips in this free guide. You purchase a nice paddle – why not optimize it so that it gives you as much awesome play as it can?
Click here to get your Free Copies of
The Definitive Pickleball Paddle Guide
The Paddle Video Hub
The Paddle Optimization Guide
The pickleball paddle acts as an extension of you on the pickleball court. Pick a paddle that you will enjoy playing with and that works, given your physical construct. Let us know how it goes for you in the comments below. And if there is anything that you think we missed let us know.
Hola. Hello. Konichiwa. After 40 years playing tennis, I am now a full-time pickleball player and professional. As a 5.0 rated Senior Pro Pickleball Player and an IPTPA-certified Master Teaching Professional, my focus is on helping players like you learn to play their best pickleball. In 2016, shortly after starting to play pickleball, my friend Tom and I jumped into the highest division at the first US Open in Naples, Florida. That morning it became clear just how much there is to learn in this seemingly simple sport – a lifetime of learning if you so choose. Since 2018, I have been on a mission to share my knowledge of pickleball so other players can enjoy the game at a higher level and attain their pickleball objectives. When not studying or playing pickleball, I like to travel with my other half, Jill.
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