In our experience, the three most common keywords sought by pickleball paddle customers are:
In general, customers can get two of these three features in any paddle:
- Cheap durable paddles are not made of graphite.
- Cheap graphite paddles are not very durable.
- Durable graphite paddles are not cheap.
So far, nobody has been able to make a graphite paddle that is both durable and cheap.
Durability Key for Beginners
The most important keyword for beginners, in our experience, is durability. Why? 1) Beginners do not seem to understand that pickleball paddles wear out. In fact, most beginners seem to think of their pickleball paddles as lifetime purchases. 2) Beginners are harder on their paddles than experts. They hit the ground more often, they drop their paddles more often and they tend not to store their paddles properly because they have not yet learned how important that is to the life of their paddles. So for these reasons, we strongly recommend that beginners choose well-made paddles with edge guards.
Best Value Not Always Lowest Price
Cheap paddles are not durable paddles. Anybody buying a cheap paddle is fooling themselves if they think they are getting a deal. Cheap paddles are cheap for a reason. Almost without exception, cheap paddles are cheap because they are cheaply made. Yet, beginners usually want to start with cheap paddles because they are not yet sure whether or not they are going to like pickleball. For customers in this category, we suggest buying a quality used paddle from another player who is ready for change or consider Manta’s entry level paddle: Manta Custom Pro for about $100 CDN.
Truly durable pickleball paddles are not cheap. They cost more because they are made better and will last longer. Manta, in our opinion, makes the most durable pickleball paddles on the market today. Manta is the leading Canadian manufacturer. They make several models with graphite faces and rigid nylon (Nomex) cores. They also make paddles that are legal in all major tournaments in Canada and the USA. Most importantly, though, they are known for making the most durable pickleball paddles on the market today.
First of all, there is no such thing as a 100% graphite paddle. In order to make graphite sheets for pickleball paddles, graphite has to be mixed with epoxy. Only then can it be turned into rolls of graphite sheets which can in turn be shaped into paddles and other things.
Second, not all graphite is of equal quality. Like all other man-made materials, there are different grades of graphite. There are also different types of epoxy. So depending on the grade of graphite and the type of epoxy used, the finished product can range from excellent at best to junk at worst.
Sadly, most of the graphite being used to make pickleball paddles in China right now is of the lowest grade. At the same time, Chinese manufacturers are learning about pickleball on the job and are still experimenting with different epoxies and different graphite/epoxy blends. As a result, each batch of pickleball paddles they make is an experiment and the customers who buy them are effectively lab rats.
Good quality graphite paddles are available from many manufacturers, but they are not cheap. And unfortunately, even the best graphite paddles are not as durable as the edged composite paddles made by Manta.
Cheap Graphite Paddles
The Holy Grail in the pickleball paddle manufacturing industry is a cheap graphite paddle that will last a long time in the hands of intermediate players. So far, that dream remains unrealized. In general, the more graphite a paddle contains, the less durable it tends to be. In fact, the most durable pickleball paddles on the market today are still made of the same material they were making them out of 50 years ago: wood. Wooden paddles also have the benefit of being cheap.
Look for Demo Days
If you’re not sure about which paddle is right for you don’t be afraid to ask for a demo to try. There are plenty of placed that will run a “Demo Day” at a local club or tournament. Try a wide range of paddles to find one that is most comfortable for you.
If there are no demo days going on near you send an email to your local club or suppliers and ask for one. You’d be surprised how quickly you can get a demo arranged.
The Best Option Overall
While paddles made this way are not as cheap as many paddles available on Amazon, they are the most durable paddles the market has to offer. Their Nomex cores make them relatively light and playable. Their fiberglass facings make them durable. Their polymer edge guards protect them where they are most vulnerable. As a result, customers who buy these paddles can be sure they are getting the best overall value for their money.
If your primary concern is a cheap paddle made of something other than wood, then by all means consider an all-graphite, Chinese-made pickleball paddle. Just please do not expect it to last long and please don’t complain when it starts to fall apart because like everything else in life — you will get what you pay for.
Playing Styles and Other Considerations
Singles Players: Since players need to hit the ball further when playing singles than when playing doubles, singles players benefit from using larger, heavier paddles.
Beginners: The same is true for players who stay back and do not go to the net. Since players who stay at the back of the court need to hit the ball further, they need to use heavier paddles.
Experts: Lighter, smaller paddles are best for advanced players who spend a lot of time at the net volleying.
Tennis Elbow: Light paddles contribute to tennis elbow because players who use them have to swing harder. Players who play from the back of the court with light paddles are more likely to develop tennis elbow than players who use heavier paddles.
Paddle Vibrations: Anti-vibration features are not necessary in pickleball paddles. The ball is not heavy enough to cause shock damage. In fact, most tennis elbow issues are caused by poor technique, not by racquet design.
Grip size: Small grip size contributes to the development of tennis elbow. In order to avoid tennis elbow, look for larger grip sizes and heavier paddles. Also think about taking a lesson from a certified professional (not just some guy who’s a good pickleball player). Certified professional instructors are genuinely concerned with your health and watch for issues in your strokes that may contribute to tennis elbow and other injuries.
Here are our recommendations based on playing level, budget, etc
Best Budget Paddle
For budget conscious players or those just starting out, you can’t go wrong with the Manta Custom Pro paddle. It’s priced under $100 and its built to last.
Best Next Level Paddle
Manta Extreme .5 / Manta Extreme .5 Lite
The Manta Extreme .5 offers the option of the standard and Lite versions for those looking for a lighter, quicker paddle. Excellent for the soft game as you get more advanced in technique. Also available with a smaller grip size.
Best Performance Paddle
Manta’s top performer; this paddle will not disappoint. It provides the perfect balance of power and control and available with several weight options in a full length paddle.