Choosing a pickleball can be a bit overwhelming. You walk into a store, find the pickleballs wall, and staring back at you are ten different, and not so different looking wiffle balls.
Pickleballs are interesting. So darn interesting. Obviously, I’m being a bit facetious. Actually playing the game of pickleball is far more entertaining than discussing the intricacies in the ball, but that’s not to say they are not important. So what exactly are the differences in pickleballs? In this article, we’ll take you on a journey to navigate through the maze that is, picking your pickleball.
Indoor vs. Outdoor
The first, and most obvious difference, is the indoor vs. outdoor pickleball. It’s the simplest way to separate pickleballs, and probably the most important.
Outdoor pickleballs are far more common, and are distinguishable for their higher number of smaller holes. Outdoor balls usually have around 40 perforations. Why drill more holes in an outdoor pickleball? The answer is wind. With more, smaller holes, wind has less space to blow into the ball, and push it around from the inside.
An indoor pickleball has fewer holes (usually around 26), making it much more durable. More material means less of a propensity to crack, and wearing one out involves it going soft, rather than going full on caput.
Indoor balls are also made of much softer plastic than outdoor balls. Gym floors make the same ball bounce higher than on an outdoor tennis court material. That softer material is simply used to balance things out in slowing the game down, but also helps the ball last much longer before it cracks.
The final major distinction between indoor and outdoor balls is the weight.
An outdoor ball is generally heavier (.9 ounces), compared to an indoor ball (.8 ounces). This added weight helps push it through the outdoor elements, but also allows play to go harder and faster. There is a bit of a cap to the speed at which you can play pickleball with an indoor ball, not with an outdoor ball.
Fast vs. Slow
That lends us perfectly into our next major distinction; fast vs. slower balls.
We already know that outdoor balls are quicker than indoor balls, but they're not all the same. There are categorized “fast” balls for outdoor play, balls designed to accelerate the game even more, and respond more precisely to a players’s stroke. These balls are also easily distinguishable, albeit not quite as easy as indoor vs. outdoor balls.
Fast balls stick out for their glossy finish, and the difference is noticeable immediately. Not only do fast balls bounce quicker and lower than soft balls, they also respond much better to different varieties of shot. This improved responsiveness is most noticeable when playing with spin. Where a soft ball might die in the paddle bed, a fast ball will rocket off with the RPMs you decide to put on it.
These balls are also less forgiving. Because they’re so responsive, the slightest mistake will send them off to Narnia. They are also far, far less durable. Not only is the plastic thinner, it is also more brittle. These balls will crack, sometimes after only an hour. Trust me, that’s a good thing. Before they crack, they oval so much they become nearly unplayable. You’ll know when your fast ball goes bad.
You might be sitting here and thinking, wow, fast balls sound a bit brutal.
Well, for competitive players, they really are the only viable option. Once you play with a fast ball, the response, pace of play, and general higher quality experience will make other balls feel mushy, and you won’t want to play with them. That’s why competitive pickleball tournaments exclusively play with fast balls.
Historically, Onix and Dura have dominated pickbleball sales. And between the two, it’s always been easy to distinguish. Onix makes slower balls: the indoor Fuse In and the softer outdoor G2. Dura makes the wildly popular “Fast,” which, as its name might suggest, is fast fast. It’s the most common competitive ball, and has quickly become the most popular ball amongst pickleball aficionados.
Recently, Franklin decided it wanted a piece of the pie and released the X-40. With a glossy finish, the X-40 is also fast and rivals the Dura Fast in playability. It has certainly gained in popularity, and started making its way onto the competitive scene.
Yellow, Green, Blue, Pink?!
You’ve probably looked at tennis balls before and thought, wow, they’re all just yellow, how boring. Maybe you haven’t thought that. Maybe that’s just me. But I digress.
But there’s a very good reason tennis balls are always yellow: visibility.
It’s just a fact that bright yellow contrasts best with the blue, green, and sometimes rust colour of tennis courts. For that reason, outdoor pickleballs are mainly yellow, sometimes neon green. They don’t stray much from those two colours, and that’s probably for the best.
Indoor balls are a completely different story.
Try holding up a yellow ball to a maple or poplar wood; it basically disappears. Different colours are much more popular, but we haven’t quite settled on which is best. Like with anything pickleball, there are a number of opinions. Some will die by the blue Franklin ball, while others will argue, that it’s the pink Penn ball.
At the end of the day, anything bright that isn’t yellow will probably do a good job, I’m sure you too will develop your own opinion one day.
Who would have thought that an article about pickleballs could be so darn interesting. Me! Hopefully I could help navigate you through the whirlwind of options out there.
If there are four key takeways I want you to remember, they are these:
Indoor: big holes, fewer holes
Outdoor: small holes, lots of holes
Fast = glossy
And indoor: don’t use yellow!
Have fun out there!
R&R carries a wide selection of your favourite pickleballs.