It seems hard to believe, but people have been making pickleball paddles since 1964.
The first generation of paddles — now known as 1G pickleball paddles — were carved out of wood in garages in the US Northwest. Paddle manufacturers were few and far between into the early 1980s, so many players who wanted them had to make their own.
The 1970s and 1980s saw the birth of a new generation of pickleball paddles (2G) made up of layers glued together and finished with a plastic edge guard that runs around the entire perimeter of the paddle. By the mid-1990s this format dominated the industry and virtually all pickleball paddles were made this way.
The early 2000s saw the development of 3G paddles which were similar to their 2G forerunners but which lacked the characteristic edge guards that distinguish 2G paddles from other generations. The problem with the earliest 3G paddles was a lack of durability. They were lighter and faster than their clunky 2G ancestors, but their exposed edges made them more susceptible to damage.
A further problem with early 3G paddle designs was that their light-weight and brittle foam cores deteriorated rather quickly. In some cases, brand new pickleball paddles sounded like mariachis just a few weeks out of the package. Fortunately for 3G fans, Wilson Sporting Goods solved those issues with the development of a nomex honeycomb core that stands up much longer than the foam cores in early 3G paddles.
Problems with some 3G paddles in the 2009-2013 period drove many 3G converts back, resulting in a resurgence in popularity for 2G paddles. For 2G paddle manufacturers like Pickle-Ball Inc. this offered a second chance to prepare for the massive changes that were about to take hold of the pickleball manufacturing industry.
We used to keep track of the number of times that customers came into our store asking for a specific pickleball paddle because they heard it has “a bigger sweet spot.” However, it happened so often that we stopped counting long ago.
In fact, pickleball paddles do not have a sweet spot. The term “sweet spot” applies to stringed racquets. It is the part of the string bed that stretches to the maximum depth and then propels the ball forward using the stored energy in the strings. Since pickleball paddles are solid, they cannot have a sweet spot.
The closest one can come to a sweet spot on a pickleball paddle is the center of mass. The center of mass is a point representing the mean position of the matter in a body or system.
On a pickleball paddle the centre of massed is a fixed and mathematically definable point. It cannot be made larger or smaller. Therefore it is not possible for one paddle to have a larger sweet spot than any other.
In order to harness the maximum amount of mass and energy available on any shot, the striker must hit the ball with the paddle’s center of mass. The further away from the center that contact is made, the more energy will be lost.
Hitting the ball with the paddle’s center of mass becomes more important as paddles become lighter. Since lighter paddles have less mass, off center hits are weaker. The more off center they are, the weaker the shot becomes.
With heavy paddles, off center hits are less of an issue. If a paddle is heavy enough, even shots that come from near the outer edge of the paddle will still harness a significant amount of energy, which is exactly why we recommend heavier paddles for beginners.
Players who want to maximize the transfer of energy into the ball through a paddle’s center of mass will have to practice hitting the ball in the mathematical center of the paddle. Those who can only do this inconsistently (beginners) should opt for heavier pickleball paddles.
Racquet Network is one of Canada’s oldest pickleball retailers. As one of the country’s original pickleball dealers, we have been selling pickleball equipment on racquetnetwork.com and okpickleball.com for longer than most Canadians have been playing it.
Some of the staff on our coaching team have been certified by Pickleball Canada since they first started certifying instructors back in 2010. In the years since then, our team of instructors has taught hundreds of hours of pickleball lessons on top of thousands of hours of tennis and squash lessons.
The vast majority of people who take lessons from our instructors are beginners. In the years since we first started teaching racquet sports (2004), our team has taught more than 10,000 beginners how to play tennis, squash and pickleball. So it is safe to say that when it comes to beginners, we know our stuff.
As a group, our coaching team can confidently assure you that beginners in all racquet sports have a number of things in common. First, they have slower swings than intermediates or experts. They hit balls off center more often. They are slower to react, they tend to hang back rather than move forward and they generally grip their racquets too firmly.
Indeed, regardless of the sport, coaches in all racquet sports can watch new players move progressively through small stages from beginner to intermediate to advanced. Some players progress quickly; some slowly. But as they progress, their coach will see certain things happen. Their swing speed, foot speed and reaction speed will all accelerate. Their ability to receive the ball and middle it on their racquet/paddles will increase. Their grips will relax and they will recognize opportunities to move forward and attack.
This is true of all three sports — tennis, squash and pickleball — and any coach who teaches all three will tell you the same thing. There are fundamental differences that separate beginners from intermediates from advanced players. When you understand these differences you will understand why beginners struggle with equipment made for intermediates and experts.
Consider this one concrete example: racquet/paddle weight. In all three sports, beginners benefit from heavier racquets and paddles in a number of ways. First, beginners rarely hit the ball in exact center of their paddle or racquet. Intermediates, by contrast, do it much more often while advanced players do it consistently.
Hitting off center reduces both power and accuracy. So to help offset these common beginner level errors, a good coach will recommend a heavier racquet or paddle. Eventually, these beginners will learn to middle the ball more consistently and will not need a heavier racquet/paddle to cover up their mishits, but in the meantime, they will enjoy more success.
Hitting off center is not the only common beginner issue addressed by heavier racquets/paddles though. As mentioned above, beginners have slower swing speeds. They also hesitate to move forward, primarily because they lack experience and therefore the ability to anticipate what is about to happen. This combination often means that beginners are forced to hit the ball over longer distances than intermediate or expert players. Once again, heavier — and in the case of pickleball, thicker — equals more power. More power, in this case, helps to overcome some deficiencies in beginner level strokes and movement.
As any credible coach will tell you, there is no question that heavier, thicker paddles are better for beginners than lighter, thinner paddles. The same is true for grip size. Thicker grips are better for beginners than thinner grips.
Thicker grips provide more traction than thinner grips. Traction lock the paddle in place and prevents it from turning in the player’s hand when the ball is hit off center. Traction also allows the player to relax their grip. And finally, thicker grips reduce the occurrence of tennis elbow — the most common injury found in new pickleball players.
So as coaches, there is no doubt about the paddles that we recommend to beginners in our store. Our goal is to put a paddle in their hands that will maximize their enjoyment and minimize their chances of suffering injury. So in all three sports — tennis, squash and pickleball — this means a heavier racquet or paddle than we would recommend to an expert.
The Wilson ™ Profile pickleball paddle has just arrived in Calgary and Racquet Network is already warning that it may be a game changer.
At 8.4 ounces (234 grams), the new Wilson Profile is perfectly placed in the sweet spot range for pickleball paddles, which is considered to be 7.5 to 9.0 ounces. It is also thicker than previous Wilson paddles, which makes it a more playable paddle that will be better suited for beginners and casual players. And finally, it features the same honeycomb polymer core that is found in the world’s best pickleball paddles.
“This paddle may be a game changer,” says Racquet Network’s founder, Brent Johner. “This paddle may permanently change the landscape of retail pickleball. It may put some of Wilson’s competitors out of business.”
So why this prediction from one of Canada’s foremost pickleball retail stores? What is it about this paddle that could shake up the pickleball industry?
“In a word,” says Johner, “price. This paddle is equally as good as most of the so-called premium paddles that sell for two and three times as much. Add to that Wilson’s one-year warranty and Wilson’s distribution capabilities and I can foresee this paddle becoming the top selling pickleball paddle in the world within 12 months.”
Wilson’s first foray into the pickleball market was not entirely successful, notes Johner. “Their original paddles were thin and brittle, so the failure rate was pretty high. Wilson stood behind these paddles and replaced every one that came back under a warranty claim, but the damage to the brand and to the retailers who carried them was pretty bad.”
The failures of the first generation of Wilson pickleball paddles allowed their competitors to brand them as Chinese-made junk, says Johner. “Whether that was fair or not, the label stuck.”
With the release of the new Profile, though, Johner believes that Wilson is about to shed that label for good. “This seems to be a quality paddle,” admits Johner. “They have made some really good decisions this time. It’s a half inch thick, which is good. It’s a polymer core, which is great. And it’s exactly the right price.”
While everybody else is going up in price, Wilson is coming down. “At this retail price,” predicts Johner, “Wilson is going to sell a ton of them.” All that remains to be seen is how satisfied customers are with it once they have it.
It doesn’t matter what you are buying — racquets, shoes, string, accessories — price should not be your most important consideration. If it is, you will almost certainly make a poor decision.
In the past 24 hours, for example, we have had two customers make poor decisions because they had price-focused tunnel vision. One spent twice as much as she should have because she refused to consider a less expensive pickleball paddle that was perfectly suited to her needs. Another saved $40.00 but walked away with shoes that will actually detract from his on court performance and may actually lead to injury.
We understand that price has to be a consideration at some point in the purchasing process. That is completely reasonable. But it should never be a starting point.
Sports are about performance. The products that you purchase for sporting activities must not hinder or detract from your performance.
All too often, customers come into our store with the preconceived notion that expensive is good and cheap is bad. While this may be generally true (most products are priced according to their input costs), it is not always the case. Sometimes, the better option is the cheaper one.
How can you know? Come into our store and ask our experts.
Staff at Racquet Network are trained to ask questions. They want to know what level you will be playing at and the context you will be playing in. They will also want to know what problem you are trying to solve. Once they have this information, they will be able to help you select some products that fit your needs.
Often, our staff will come up with a category of products that will support your performance goals. And within that category, there will be items at different price points. At that point, price considerations become appropriate. But not before. Otherwise, you run the risk of buying the wrong product just because it is offered at the right price.