What Material Is Best For Pickleball Paddles?
If you ordered something off the menu without a description, it could negatively affect your experience of that restaurant. Similarly, Picking the right pickleball paddle means knowing what goes into some of the best paddles, whether you’re going to enjoy those materials, and how they will affect your performance. So, what’s the best material for pickleball paddles.
Polymer is the best pickleball paddle material because it strikes the perfect balance between power and finesse. It exists in 90 percent of paddles and gives the greatest advantage when playing at the net, an integral part of a game. It’s quieter and more inexpensive than other paddles, too.
Each paddle material has subtle nuances that will surprise you and make you think twice about your current choice. Let’s explore the characteristics of wooden, composite, and graphite paddles and compare what they can offer you. We’ll also delve into the material cores to discover how they affect your performance.
What Material Is Best For Pickleball Paddles?
The material of a paddle can significantly impact your playstyle and influence factors like power, finesse, control, technique, and weight. These differences may not be apparent as someone starting or a novice, but as you gain more experience and become a professional, the differences will become much more apparent and shape your individual skill.
The Importance Of Paddle Material Thickness
The thickness of a pickleball paddle (including the paddle core) gets measured in millimeters (mm), ranging from 10 – 19 mm. Thicker materials translate into a higher level of control when the ball meets the paddle.
However, thick materials demand you trade power for more precise ball placement and slower speeds with your power shots. On the opposite end, thinner material gives you more powerful hits at the expense of losing control and finesse.
You’ll enjoy more power in your paddle if you enjoy a high-risk, high-reward playstyle that’s more on the aggressive side. It will enable you to stay on the offensive and overwhelm your opponent while paying little heed to defense.
Those who like a more patient and calculated game while looking for the right opportunity to pounce will want to opt for control rather than power. The playstyle is more neutral-defensive but can still be potent in the offensive when you take the right opportunity.
Material On The Face Of The Paddle
The two most popular materials for paddle faces are fiberglass and carbon fiber. What are differences of carbon fiber vs fiberglass pickleball paddle? Fiberglass offers more powerful hits and is more explosive when the ball bounces off the pickleball paddle surfaces. Additionally, it also has a smaller sweet spot, the area on the paddle where you want the ball to connect for the best potential for a successful swing.
Carbon fiber, however, sacrifices power for control and gives the paddle wielder a better “feel” during your game. It’s more comfortable to hold doesn’t have the same level of reverberation when the ball meets the paddle.
Don’t Forget Your Overgrip
A soft, cushioned, clothlike tape stretched over the paddle’s grip is known as an overgrip. Overgrips come in various thicknesses, and as a result, they can feel very different.
Thin overgrips give a targeted grip in a specific handle location while adding less grip.
Thicker, cloth-style overgrips, such as Tourna-Grip, can increase the grip size by almost one full handle size. Additionally, bigger overgrips can add up to half an ounce to the paddle’s weight. The “rounding” effect of thicker overgrips is an issue. You’ll lose a sense of the angles on the handle, which might make grip adjustments difficult.
Wooden paddles are the heaviest and least expensive paddles that you can get. They are an excellent choice for new players who want to try the game but are uncertain if they wish to invest in expensive equipment. That said, their weight may feel uncomfortable for some players, and if it’s too heavy, it can affect your ability to connect successful hits.
Players who want to take their game to the next level and a paddle upgrade should consider fiberglass vs graphite pickleball paddles. These modern paddles consist of advanced materials that provide more control and power while staying exceptionally lightweight compared to traditional wooden paddles.
Wooden paddles are unique in that training with them is like attaching weights onto your body when you jog. It helps to accentuate your fundamentals, like your footwork, perfecting your sense of gravity, especially for tall people, and your hand-eye coordination for combining your ability to watch and connect the ball with the paddle.
Wood is also weaker than composite or graphite, so you will need to swing it more forcefully to get the same amount of impact. Wooden paddles also have a much tinier hitting area that helps refine your accuracy and build the muscle memory necessary to respond to certain shots.
Lastly, it also means that the sweet spot for hitting the ball is much smaller than on more oversized graphite paddles, meaning you have to be on-point with every shot to maintain the best chance of staying competitive. It comes into play when dealing with volleys; you have to anticipate them, do some split-stepping, and position yourself for the best shot.
Graphite paddles are very popular because of their superior strength and the amount of power they offer without giving up high levels of control.
People often associate weight with power a lot of the time: the heavier the paddle, the more power, and speed you get. However, graphite is a unique material in that it disrupts this line of thinking. Its attributes allow it to remain robust and maintain powerful hits with a thin later of material akin to a fingernail and lighter paddle.
In other words, these paddles can remain lightweight yet offer the power of a heavier paddle. It’s why many professional and serious pickleball players prefer a graphite paddle.
Of course, it doesn’t mean that only professionals should be privy to graphite paddles; since graphite pickleball paddles are both light and robust, they suit all skill levels, giving fast action off the paddle. However, keep in mind that graphite paddles are the most expensive kind of paddle.
Composite / Fiberglass Paddles
Fiberglass paddles, sometimes called composite paddles, focus more on precision than power.
It’s probably the most common facing you’ll see on the courts. It’s not as strong as graphite or carbon fiber but has more finesse and control.
Composite paddles are a happy medium, existing in the mid-range of price, yet they come in various weights and sizes. The lightweight flex of the material offers pinpoint accuracy in your pickleball play. So, if you find that you want better ball placement and wish you could get the ball to better travel a certain way, consider trying a composite paddle.
The Honeycomb Design
When you look closely at a paddle, you may notice that the surface of the paddle consists of small hexagonal shapes – this is called a honeycomb design. Lining them up close together makes for a much more formidable piece of pickleball equipment.
Firstly, the concentrated areas of hexagonal shapes help remove a lot of the weight in the paddle. Perhaps more importantly, it creates exceptional strength and a vital structure that gives the paddle a more powerful swing. Therefore, honeycomb designs aim to provide plenty of power without making the paddle uncomfortably heavy.
Heavy paddles were initially a problem when only wooden paddles existed because they could sometimes weigh 20 ounces. Thankfully, modern paddles like composite fit comfortably in your hand at 7.5 – 8 ounces, which is why composite paddles are so popular.
A Blend Of Graphite And Fiberglass
Many manufacturers blend graphite and fiberglass materials for a durable paddle that can still offer control. The process helps to cut down on manufacturing costs since graphite is costly. For this reason, for example, the Graphite Z5 paddle is more expensive than the Composite Z5.
When a company advertises a carbon fiber face, they invest in a high-quality material that is mostly graphite and generally woven for longevity. They usually come at a higher cost.
Pro-Black Lite’s Diamond paddles are an outstanding example of a carbon fiber face that has been meticulously engineered down to the molecular level to provide superior ball placement. Vulcan and Electrum also use carbon fiber of high grade.
What Are Paddle Cores And How Do They Affect Paddles?
The core of a paddle affects its power, control, and the amount of bounce it generates when the paddle meets the ball. Additionally, some cores are much louder, while others are pleasantly soft.
Nomex is the most explosive and powerful core material available in pickleball paddles. Additionally, they also happen to be the loudest core material. Examples of paddles with this core include the Onyx Z5 and Gamma Atomic.
Nomex found its roots in the first-ever composite paddle back in the 1980s. A Boeing engineer who had access to large quantities of Nomex made the first pickleball paddle. Afterward, Nomex material made its way to airplanes and firefighter helmets as a fire retardant.
The effects of using Nomex cut the total mass of the paddle in half, giving them a significant advantage. Nowadays, you seldom see Nomex paddles because they rate incredibly high on the power scale but fearfully low on the control scale.
For example, if a powerful shot is heading your way and you block it with a Nomex paddle, it will bounce off the paddle, possibly hitting you in the face. That said, some people still enjoy the challenge and risks involved with such a paddle and gladly wield it in their conquest for victory.
It’s also worth mentioning that Nomex paddles are loud paddles, which may be a problem for some players.
Aluminum claims the title as the finesse core. Typically, aluminum cores are very lightweight and feel handle-heavy. If you were to swing a paddle with an aluminum core, it might feel like most of the weight exists in the handle rather than the paddle’s face. Examples of paddles with this core include the Selkirk 300A XL.
Although this means you’ll get less power, you’ll gain a surprising amount of finesse and control rarely available in other competitors. Aluminum cores are also great for getting nice dinks or cross-court dinks or when someone is bombarding you with power shots.
These lightweight paddles are especially helpful for people with severe limitations to their arms or wrists, such as tennis elbow or arthritis. When aluminum paddles meet the ball, they tend to have a short, high-pitch sound.
If you think you’ve heard the word “Polymer” before, then you’d be right – it’s plastic. “Poly” means mini, while “mer” means unit. These paddles consist of mini-units of plastic that make it its hitting surface.
Most pickleball paddle manufacturers use a type of plastic called polypropylene. It’s a robust, durable, and flexible plastic in about 90 percent of all pickleball paddles. It contributes to your performance by offering the perfect balance between Nomex and Aluminum cores. In other words, polymer cores have a healthy amount of power and control.
Since pickleball is a very opportunistic sport that demands you to stay on your toes, smashing the ball is not always the best option. Instead, a large part of the game happens at the net, which requires a certain level of finesse and control to outplay your opponent. For these reasons, a polymer core is highly advantageous.
When the pickleball ball meets a polymer paddle, the sound is much duller and quieter than aluminum and Nomex cores.
Why Is Paddle Weight Important Regarding Material?
The best weight range and weight balance won’t be the same for everyone, but you can significantly improve your game with the correct mass.
If you were to try and balance your paddle on two fingers, you might need to place your fingers nearer to the handle if it’s handle-heavy or the head if it’s head-heavy.
What this means is when you swing your paddle, it might feel heavier towards the head of your paddle or towards the bottom at the handle. It is often enough to cause players to miss certain shots or use too much power during a shot, altering the outcome of a game.
Your paddle might be too heavy when you have a habit of hitting the ball too late, and it will be physically uncomfortable. The ball might travel high up into the air and out of the court when you do overhead shots. Similarly, paddles that are too lightweight for you will hit balls straight down during overhead shots, or you’ll hit your shots too early.
The best pickleball paddle material will match your specific playstyle. Wooden, graphite, and composite paddles are heavier with more power and less control. On the other hand, aluminum paddles are very light but offer more finesse and control for less power.