A Top-End Paddle
From the outside looking in, it seems a bit crazy to pay nearly $300 for a paddle. But when you look at the technology, materials, and playability differences between the top and low-end, it begins to make sense.
High-grade carbon fiber, honeycomb polymer cores, spin technologies, dampening and feel technologies, etc. Each brand is pushing the needle to produce the latest and greatest, and the prices merely reflect the massive developments making their way through the industry.
For someone who started pickleball with a low-end paddle, the biggest improvement they can make is switching to something top-end. But buying one is challenging as there are massive and consequential playability differences between each top-end paddle. Finding what best complements one's game is key.
That's where our demo system comes in.
Anyone wanting to buy a new paddle is welcome to come into the store and take home two paddles to try for three days. If the player is satisfied after those three days, they can pull the trigger. If not, they are welcome to demo until they find the one.
But how do you gift "the demo system?" You've got a couple of options.
For one, you could check out some of our reviews, ask your pickleball enthusiast a few probing questions, and figure out which paddle might work best for them. You can buy that paddle as a placeholder for them to open on Christmas Day, then let the person know that this paddle could work, but to find out if they really like it, they must demo.
Or, you could also present them with a gift card for the value of a top-end paddle. This option is certainly more practical but doesn't have quite the charm.
If you don't have the luxury to demo we'll also make some suggestions. A couple of paddles have stood out in 2022. We reviewed the Joola Ben Johns Hyperion CFS 16 ($274.98) and found its capacity to combine elite power, spin, and control quite remarkable.
We were also impressed by CRBN. They faced serious adversity when a batch of paddles was deemed "too spinny" but confronted the issue and released legal paddles with very little playability difference.
Although a top-end paddle is the "best" present you can give a pickleball player, several other options at more reasonable prices will also do the trick.
Protect Your Paddle
Paddles are quite a bit more fragile than tennis, squash, or even badminton rackets. Full carbon paddles tend to hold up pretty well, but those with a TPU plastic bumper can suffer a lot of damage.
While playing, there's little you can do. The paddle will hit the ground, and each time it does, part of the edge will wear away.
Recover your Spin
Over the last couple of years, high-friction carbon top sheets have become commonplace on top-end paddles. The friction helps generate spin, but it also catches ball fibers which accumulate on the paddle face and slowly decrease spin potential.
CRBN has come up with a solution: the Paddle Eraser. Rub it up and down your paddle a few times, and the ball fibers will magically disappear. For only $24.98, you can help someone make their paddle feel like new. It's practical products like these that we love. More innovation like this, please!
We maintain the opinion that tennis shoes (especially lightweight, flexible ones) are fantastic for pickleball, but now we're offering some pickleball-specific court shoes.
Coming in at $139.98, the K-Swiss Express Light Pickleball All-Court shoe represents fantastic value for money in a comfortable, lightweight, and supportive package. The brand's Pickleball Supreme All-Court ($179.98) is more technologically advanced and offers better durability and support.
While tennis shoes remain more than useable on a pickleball court, the main difference we've noticed is a slightly higher emphasis on lateral support. We're excited to see these pickleball-specific shoes continue to evolve.
The Intro Paddle
Pickleball brands kicked their lower-end paddle game into overdrive this year. If you know someone just getting into the sport and looking for their first real paddle, here are a few of our favorites.
It's not new from this year, but the Head Spark Elite V4 for $64.98 represents ridiculous value for money.
In comparison, other paddles around this price point will be made of plastic, sometimes wood, but never from a similar composite core to some of the $200 offerings. With its high-quality construction, this paddle will give players 80% of the playability experience they can get from a paddle with a similar profile at the top end. It's perfect for someone just getting into pickleball.
It's a big step up in price to the $189.98 Selkirk Omega Max, but now that paddles are eclipsing the $300 mark, performance like this, at this price, is quite remarkable. It has a full carbon construction and a very spin-friendly abrasive top sheet. It's technically an introductory paddle as it's got the "SLK" branding, but nothing about its performance or playability screams cheap. For a much more economical, traditional feeling and maneuverable paddle, try the SLK Atlas ($109.98).
Protect Your Eyeballs
We finish off the list with a pair of fantastic sporty sunglasses.
Not only can Goodr sunnies ($39.98 - $49.98) protect someone's eyes when looking into the sun on that overhead putt away, but they also double up as great impact eye protection.
Pickleball is played at close quarters and with high intensity; it's in the game's nature to take a few hard plastic balls to the face. Not everyone will want to play with a pair of glasses, but those who do could save those precious eyeballs from an unwanted collision.
Happy Gift Giving!
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