Head paddles have always represented excellent value for money, as they consistently come in under the industry standard for top-end prices.
As most paddle brands are pushing the $300 mark, Head's new lineup remains right around $200, which is fantastic considering their improvements and new technologies.
Head's flagship paddles feature a very gritty and durable SPINON surface texture that significantly amplifies spin potential compared to the previous versions. The Gravity and Extreme both feature FOAMEDCORE inserts at 3 and 9 o'clock on the paddle face, designed to enhance stability.
Since the dust settled a few years back, Head has focussed most of its R&D on these three silos: the Gravity, Extreme and Radical. (We don't yet carry the Radical, but it is on our radar and could be coming soon.)
These directly mirror the names of some of the Austrian brand's most successful tennis rackets, but the marketing behind the names is different.
Head's exact wording is: Extreme = Extreme Control, and Gravity = Enhanced Sweetspot.
While I think certain aspects of the quick marketing blurbs can reflect the paddles' playability, I think it's more than necessary to explain what exactly each line has to offer beyond "control, and sweet spot."
Before I detail what makes each paddle different, I want to cover a playability characteristic in which they both excel: SPIN.
With the new SPINON technology, the flagship paddles have gotten leaps and bounds better than their predecessors. This marks a huge and necessary improvement that will undoubtedly help Head find its niche because excelling in spin is no longer a positive; it's simply 100% necessary.
The SPINON top sheet is very impressive because it might not have that wow-factor feel of the crazy gritty top sheets (think CRBN or ProDrive), but it has a sort of chalky texture that interacts well with the ball to produce tons of RPMs. The paddles don't crack the top 5 in spin potential, but they perform right under those. Also, because the material isn't so gritty out of the box, it loses less of its texture over time, making these paddle's spin profile more consistent throughout their lifespan. That's always a plus.
Take one look at this thing, and you'll notice; it's not like other paddles. The Gravity Tour still weighs 8.1 ounces, but it's a bit shorter (15.75 in.) and has a very bizarre shape.
The idea behind the Gravity's V-shaped head is to create a bigger, more stable sweet spot, which it certainly accomplishes. Like the Selkirk Vanguard S2, the sweet spot here is large and forgiving. The paddle excels at the net because you don't need to be always on top of your game when making contact with the ball. The Gravity gives you a margin for error that will help most players feel like they can quickly get into a comfort zone during dink-fests, and the paddle will never let them down.
The Gravity has a 14 millimeter core which provides a reasonably plush response. That further enhances its performance at the net as you get great control and feel for the ball.
Also, because the sweet spot is so big and there is so much mass farther up the paddle (V-shape), you get fantastic leverage over the ball and plenty of power. The Gravity is the most powerful Head paddle.
Unfortunately, what you gain in leverage, sweet spot, and power, you lose in maneuverability. It may be a quarter of an inch shorter than the Extreme, but the shape does make it significantly more sluggish. You'll have to work on your reactions and fast hands, but the benefits make that a sacrifice many will gladly take.
This is Head's most "different" top-end paddle, and the one that could do with some work, but also has incredible potential for growth. The Extreme Tour Max is 16 inches long, weighs 8.1 ounces, and features a very thin 11-millimeter core.
That core thickness puts it right alongside some of the thinnest paddles on the market, like the Gearbox CX11s and Selkirk Vanguard Powers. As you would expect from something so thin, the response off the paddle bed is instant, extremely poppy, and firm. Players who like thin paddles (like me) will love this sensation as it provides an ultimate connection to the ball on groundstrokes and optimizes spin potential. This paddle is very, very spin friendly, the most in Head's lineup.
The thin core and poppy feel should theoretically make it very powerful, but unfortunately, the Extreme is too flimsy in stock form to pack a solid punch behind the ball. The swing weight is extremely low, and it's not a long paddle, so it can't compensate for that low swing weight with additional leverage. I'm a bit disappointed Head hasn't included one extended paddle in their lineup, and I think the Extreme has excellent potential to be that paddle in the future. Make the Extreme as long as possible, with a bit more weight concentrated at the top, and Head would have an elite groundstroke paddle.
What you get with the Extreme's relatively short length, thin profile, low swing weight, and cutout design at the top is one of the quickest paddles I've ever swung. In fact, I can't really think of any paddle that even comes close.
The Extreme is rapid. You can react lightning fast at the net and control it super quickly with minor tweaks of your wrist. Add to that the cutouts at the top of the paddle face which are perfectly designed to limit contact with the ground when digging out low shots, and you have a paddle that will help you get to balls you never thought you could before. I love the Extreme's design, and I'm glad Head is sticking to its guns, as there is so much potential for this paddle in the future.
Of course, you can mitigate the racket's flimsy nature mentioned earlier with some lead tape. Customization is becoming more and more popular in pickleball and the Extreme will quickly become very competitive if you get it right. Ad 1/4 inch strips at 12, 3 and 9 o'clock and you'll instantly feel a boost in stability, power, spin and control; basically every metric.
Head Extreme Elite
There is one other paddle in the Head lineup that is certainly worth mentioning. Now, this one isn't top-end so it won't be competitive if you take a microscope to the most technical categories, but it represents some of the best value for money in the industry at the moment.
The Extreme Elite has an identical shape to its top end Tour Max and Tour Lite siblings, so all the benefits mentioned earlier, also apply to the Elite. The biggest sacrifice you'll make coming down from those paddles, is the GHS carbon hitting surface.
What you do get, is the same OTC honeycomb polymer core, for almost half the price at $99.98. To get that quality of core on a paddle under the $100 pricepoint (oh you bet $99.98 is under $100), is pretty much unheard of, so you really can't go wrong with the Elite. Plus it can be the perfect springboard to make your way into the top end Extreme paddles once you decide to make that leap.
Going Their Own Way
What I like most about Head's pickleball paddles is that they aren't just copy-pasting what's everyone else is doing in the industry.
Head is sticking to its designs and improving them with each generation. The current top-end paddles are all significantly better than what was available in the past, but I still think there is room for improvement and further innovation as the brand continues to find its place in the industry. The Extreme, in particular, has such a fantastic and unique design to build off of, and a few tweaks here and there could make it a genuinely top-tier paddle in the future.
If you'd like to try any of the paddles, grab a demo in-store, or check them out online.