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R&R Pickleball Paddle Awards 2023

We round out 2023 with our awards highlighting the best products of the year. What paddles came out on top?

R&R Pickleball Paddle Awards 2023 Featured Image

We've welcomed many new pickleball players from across Canada (and North America) this year, with our paddle wall and YouTube channels growing exponentially. To everyone who has joined the Rackets & Runners community, thank you from the bottom of our hearts!

The quality of paddles is improving at the rate of knots, and while 2022 was a good year, 2023 blew it out of the water. With more players picking up pickleball, the overall level has increased, so paddle quality has naturally followed suit.

It's been an especially impressive year for the power and spin side of things, with thermoformed unibody paddles dominating in that regard. We've also seen developments in paddle size and shape, and the options available today are pretty astonishing.

There is, of course, an elephant in the room that we must address — we've only tested the paddles we carry. For one category in particular, this could be a bit of an issue, and we may need to correct that in the future, but more on that when we get there.

Without further ado, let's hand out some awards!


Best Paddle for Spin

We're going to start with spin because it is the area that's seen the most improvement in 2023, and most of that is thanks to the rise of unibody thermoforming as the method for making paddles.

Thermoformed paddles are extremely rigid, so the transfer of energy from your stroke through the paddle into the ball is as seamless as possible, so you can create plenty of spin.There have been tons, and I mean tons of thermoformed paddles released this year, but the one that stands out above all the others is the Vatic Pro Flash.

The Vatic Pro Flash is thermoformed and has a Toray T700 top sheet, so spin is incredible, but what separates it from nearly every other paddle is its hybrid shape. The Flash is 16.3 inches long, right between a standard and elongated paddle. That means you get most of the leverage and top-end spin of a longer paddle with the maneuverability and "whipability" of a shorter one.

In terms of spin variety, there is no better paddle.

You can hit powerful, spinny groundstrokes from the baseline but also hit flicky, roll volleys to dominate your opponent at the net. Also, because it's so short, you can easily whip it through contact even when you're scrambling to get a ball, so you don't need to set up the perfect shot to hit elite spin.

Of course, SixZero's Double Black Diamond is very similar, but I've always felt more spin with the Flash, and in terms of value, it's a level above.


Best Paddle for Power

We may need to revise this category in a couple of weeks because we'll be receiving our entire shipment of Gearbox Pro Power paddles, but for now, the best power paddle of the year is the Joola Ben Johns Hyperion C2 CFS.

Like spin, power potential has increased leaps and bounds this year, especially with what many reviewers call "pop." Pop is a paddle's inherent potential to produce pace and depth with minimal effort. It is especially useful at the net because it helps hit penetrative volleys without a full swing.

Every thermoformed unibody paddle has incredible power, but the Hyperion C2 separates itself from the rest because it has such a big sweet spot and an incredible feel. Joola paddles may come at a high pricetag, but their Hyperfoam Edge Guard and premium honeycomb core put them a cut above the rest in those playability characteristics.

It's also worth pointing out that no power paddle is complete without great spin. Some paddles are more powerful than the C2, but because they are less spin-friendly, they have too much uncontrollable power. Power is useless if you can't keep the ball between the lines, and because the C2 strikes the perfect balance between power, spin, and feel, it takes home the award.

Best Paddle for Control

Control was not a point of emphasis this year for paddle manufacturers; it's as simple as that.

Because power and spin became so trendy, every brand focused most of their R&D on those two characteristics, so control paddles were few and far between. You'd think, then, that the best control paddle of the year may not be that good, but that couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, the Selkirk Luxx Control Air may very well be the best paddle of the year. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.

Selkirk is the one brand that keeps doing its own thing regardless of what's trending in the industry, and the Luxx Control Air is proof that they should keep doing that. This is by far the easiest Rundie to present because it blows the rest of the competition out of the water – it's also probably the best control paddle ever.

When it comes to soft control on dinks, resets, and drops, it's a cheat code, much like the Vanguard 2.0 paddles, but where it separates itself from paddles like that is in overall playability.

Soft, thick paddles have lost so much popularity over the last year because they lack feel and responsiveness when going for faster-paced shots. While the Control Airs aren't quite as responsive as 14 and 16-millimetre thermoformed paddles, they are much better than the other paddles with similar amounts of control. After a brief adaptation, I felt total confidence going for big spin shots, which I had never felt with other paddles this good in the soft game.

It's a paddle we believe a lot of players should try because it complements proper pickleball technique, but it also doesn't sacrifice too much of the playability we've come to enjoy from these modern, power, and spin paddles. I wouldn't be surprised if we saw a mass migration of pro players to the Control Airs. 


Most Disappointing Paddle

I must preface this "award" by saying while this paddle may be disappointing, it's not a bad paddle. There was a lot of hype surrounding it (for obvious reasons), but it didn't quite live up to it. If you've watched some reviews, you probably already know it's the Joola Perseus CFS 16MM Ben Johns.

Now, many people love this paddle, and I completely understand why, but where it's disappointing is in the expectation we had for it versus the reality of its playability.

The Perseus was released when paddles like the Double Black Diamond, CRBN1X Powers, and Vatic Pro Flashes had completely taken over sales with their industry-breaking power and spin. When we saw that the Perseus was also thermoformed and unibody, we expected the same playability, but that's not what we got. 

The Perseus has noticeably less spin and power than any of those paddles, and because we were expecting it to rival them in that regard, we were disappointed. The thing is, the Perseus wasn't made to play like those paddles. Ben Johns plays with more softness and touch, and the Perseus is better than them in that regard.

So, after taking a step back and appreciating the Perseus for what it is and not what we thought it would be, it's objectively great and one of the most well-rounded paddles on the market right now, but that doesn't change the fact that initially at least, it was the biggest disappointment of the year.


Best-looking Paddle

Let's switch gears before we crown our best paddle of the year and discuss paddle design.

One thing that has been very annoying with the rise of raw carbon thermoformed paddles is that they all kind of look the same. Don't get me wrong, the all-black look is sleek, but it gets kind of boring after a while. That's why I was thrilled when I unboxed the first Pickleball Apes Pro Line Energy.

The design isn't too over the top, but there's no denying it: the black carbon and red Kevlar weave is stunning, premium, and looks fantastic on the court. There's something incredibly "pro" about the look when holding it in your hand, and it also helps the paddle stick out as unique in this saturated raw carbon market.


Best Paddle of the Year

It's time to crown our champion.

With so many paddles coming out this year, this is about as competitive as an award can get, and I had to give it a lot of thought, but the best paddle of 2023 is the Ronbus R3 Nova

The Nova is special. Between January and May, the industry went all in for power and spin with little regard for softness and control. Most players were happy with that sacrifice, but the next challenge was combining the two without sacrificing much of the other. That's where this paddle is elite and in a world of its own.

Thanks to an innovative molding process, Ronbus was able to soften up the feel of the Novas without sacrificing much, if any, spin. Power is noticeably lower than on Gen 2 thermoformed paddles (still much higher than on something like a Luxx Control Air), but that's a sacrifice many high-level players will be more than happy to make for such a better control profile.

The Nova clearly represents the next step in paddle development, and while the Pickleball Apes Pro Line Energy paddles are also fantastic for all-around playability, they are not as good as the Novas.

I did go back and forth between the Nova and the Control Air because both are so good at so many things, but the Nova represents consumer and player preference a little bit better because the industry is trending so hard toward power and spin. 

What a year we've had!

We can't wait to see what 2024 has in store for us; it's sure to be another good one.

If you want to demo any of the paddles, you can visit our in-store or check them out online.

Happy Holidays!


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