Feet Should Come First
If you're new to court sports in general and are interested in starting pickleball, your first thought is probably a paddle. Seems reasonable. However, while a paddle is certainty needed, a good pair of court shoes is a better first purchase. Just think: in doubles play you might not hit the ball every time it crosses the net, but you will certainly move your feet each time it does. A good court shoe will set you up for success from the ground up.
Court Shoes vs Running Shoes
Now you might be thinking: "Can't I just wear my running shoes to play?" While you wouldn't take your court shoes out for run or in the trails, the same can be said for running shoes. Turned ankles and other unpleasant injuries await if you try and move around a pickleball court in running shoes. Court shoes are built for a specific purpose: to provide a combination of sturdiness and support on the court and in my opinion, very much worth the purchase.
Broadly speaking there are two types of court shoes that you can use to play pickleball.
1. Indoor Court Shoes
The first are shoes specifically designed for indoor play on wooden gym floor surfaces. These shoes will typically have gum rubber outsoles and offer extra grip when appropriately cared for and used on clean, well-maintained surfaces.
2. All-Court Shoes
The second type of shoe will be designed for, say, tennis play on a hardcourt surface. I tend to wear my hardcourt shoes on all types of surfaces, indoors and out, as it is rare to find a perfectly cleaned gym floor. I find that gum rubber outsoles tend to be better at picking up detritus on indoor surfaces.
When it comes to fit, make sure you try on lots of different makes and models, practice moving around in them in the store (starts and stops, forward and backwards, side-to-side), rely of the fitting expertise of the Rackets & Runners staff, and ultimately trust your own feeling of comfort in the shoe.
Ideally, the only time you should be wearing your court shoes is when you’re playing. This prevents them from picking up unnecessary debris that will affect their grip.
Shoe Life After Court
Although they are an expensive purchase, court shoes have a good life after the court. A retired pair make a perfectly suitable pair of shoes for use in the gym (unlike your average runner).
Socks Play A Key Role
Complementing a good pair of court shoes are a good pair (or better still, pairs) of athletic socks. I love the Feetures brand socks and find them both comfortable, well-fitted and long wearing.
If you find yourself playing for an hour or more at a time (particularly in summer), then one of the simplest things that you can do is switch out a sweaty pair of socks for a clean and dry pair. This will further prevent blisters or avoid the feeling of sloshing around in a wet shoe.
Some folks will go further and switch out shoes during an extended play session, although this is obviously a more expensive proposition.
Picking the Perfect Paddle
Once you have your court shoes and some quality socks, a paddle should be your next investment.
Paddles come in various shapes, made from various surface and core materials, and across a range of prices. Current pickleball regulations specify how textured the paddle's surface may be, how 'springy' the paddle is when hitting a ball, and how large the hitting surface is.
In practical terms this means that the number of factors in play that determine a paddle’s feel is fewer that the choice a tennis or table tennis player is faced with when buying and stringing a racket or assembling a paddle from a blade and various rubbers, glues etc.
A beginner will be fine with a relatively inexpensive paddle as they get a feel for whether they want to make a long term commitment to the game. Players coming from a tennis background who have double-handed shots might look for paddles that have extended handles.
Intermediate players, who have a good sense of the strengths and weaknesses of their game, can take one of two approaches to selecting a paddle.
1. The Perfect Complement Paddle
Those that are looking to play with more control and perhaps looking to defend or counter-attack may play with a wider-bodied paddle, maybe with a graphite surface that tend to be a little better at taking pace off a driven ball.
Those that enjoy hitting hard might look for a paddle that has a bit more ‘pop’ from a combination of fiberglass surface and honeycomb core and a longer paddle length providing more leverage.
2. The Room to Grow Paddle
The alternative approach is to find a paddle that you can ‘grow in to’. A control player might look to a surface and core combination that they are comfortable blocking and controlling hard driven balls with, but then opt for a paddle shape that lets them generate a bit more power when they want to swing a bit more (i.e. a slightly longer body and handle). This will let them develop their power game whilst still keeping the good aspects of their control game.
Of these two approaches I’ve tended to go with the second when selecting my paddle. However, as with shoes, it’s important to give a give yourself a chance to get a feel for a new paddle before committing. Rackets & Runner’s offers a unique demo program to allow you to test drive a paddle to determine what paddle you are comfortable with before you buy.
Don’t forget to demo your paddle with the ball that you are going to be playing with most often. You might find that this affects your paddle preference. Balls used outdoors tend to be heavier and more rigid than those used indoors, and even different types of outdoor balls may have quite different feels.
Getting yourself in the right gear can be overwhelming, especially if you are new to the sport. As always, the fit experts at Rackets & Runners are here to help or answer any questions.