What size paddle do you need? Pickleball paddles are limited by a size formula similar to that used by airlines: the paddle cannot be longer than 17 inches, and the combined length and width of the paddle cannot exceed 24 inches. A standard paddle is 16 inches long and 8 inches wide, but some extended paddles use the full 17 inches and tend to have more power than wider options. There are no restrictions on the thickness of the paddle; thin pallets can be about a third of an inch thick, while thick pallets can be up to three-quarters of an inch thick.
What does “pop” mean? You will see me use this term several times in this guide. Pop is pickleball language to describe how aggressively the ball bounces off the face of the paddle. You can think of it as an analogue of how a basketball is “bouncing.”
Are they heavy? There is no rule regarding the weight of a pickleball paddle, but almost all paddles hover around 8 ounces. I went out of my way to test the widest range of paddles I could find and ended up testing paddles that were about an ounce apart from each other. Lightweight paddles tend to weigh around 7.5 ounces, while heavy paddles weigh around 8.5 ounces. The distribution of this weight is more important: paddles that offer more power tend to be very heavy. I prefer paddles with a balanced feel.
Do they all have the same shape? Pickleball paddles tend to be quite similar in shape. In my testing, I tried several outliers, including a Joola paddle with a rounded shape more like a tennis racket, and several Selkirk paddles with a cutout between the paddle face and handle designed to minimize resistance air. I think the standard form is always the best.
What are they made of? Old-fashioned wooden paddles still exist and you can get one Wolfe Wooden Paddle for $12 at Amazon. Surely there is someone who can hit you and the best player you know using a Wolfe. I started playing with cheap fiberglass paddles. You can get a beginner’s set for $40 (see below) and it may take six months before you feel the need to upgrade. That said, the paddles recommended here tend to have a carbon fiber face, which is stiff and lightweight, providing plenty of pop. I have also tested graphite paddles which are cheaper, heavier and softer than carbon fiber. If your budget doesn’t allow you to start with carbon fiber, I recommend starting with cheap fiberglass and then moving up to carbon fiber. Note that when I mention materials, I’m talking about what is used for the face of the paddle: almost all paddles have a similar honeycomb-shaped polymer core. More expensive paddles tend to cut this core in a way that creates even gaps on the edge and use heat pressing to seal the face to the core.