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Pickleball's Hidden Gems

It's easy to default to established brands when looking for a paddle. They have the best marketing, the most proven success, and, quite honestly, make some of the best paddles money can buy. With that said, there are plenty of brands out there making unique and excellent value paddles that can rival the best.

Pickleball's Hidden Gems Featured Image

Some lesser-known pickleball brands are producing equally great products as the big giants. Sometimes at far more competitive prices, "Secret weapons," you might say.

At Rackets & Runners, we've given plenty of love to big paddle brands like Selkirk, Gearbox, and Joola, and with good reason. These big brands at the forefront of pickleball paddle development and constantly push the needle in terms of performance. But that's not to say that the lesser-known brands are far behind.

It's time to give those up-and-coming brands some well-earned recognition. Let's highlight a few standouts on our wall.

A note to start: we'll only be highlighting flagship paddles. Top-end paddles are where each company emphasizes their desired brand and style, and focuses most of their R&D.

For more variety of paddle prices and tiers, check out our favorite paddles for every level.

 

Diadem Pickleball

Diadem has built a cult-like following for their unique tennis string designs, and they've entered the pickleball market in a similar way.

Their Warrior paddle differs from others on the market, giving players yet another option in the plethora of paddle designs. Specs-wise, it's similar to many of the more "advanced" options. It's 16.4 in. long with a long handle and a heavy 8.5 oz. weight. Expect the Warrior to feel similar in hand to paddles like the Joola Ben Johns CFS or Gearbox CX11E 8.5oz Power.

Like with most paddles, the playability difference comes from its unique core. At 19 mm, the 3 X L-Core is thick but has a more bouncy response than what you might expect from this design. It's not a "hard" response like on thin paddles but provides a similarly powerful feel. As you might expect from something with such a thick core, it remains very controlled. However, that bouncy response takes away from some of the plushness many players like at the net.

Couple the powerful core with your now classic, gritty top sheet, and you've got a paddle that can hold its own in any spin, power, and control metric. It's certainly not cheap, coming in at $249.98, but it competes in playability with some of the best paddles and provides a different feel to its competitors.

The Diadem Icon is also worth highlighting.

Although very different from the Warrior, it also provides a unique playing experience. Its core is 11 mm., so quite thin. You get all the aerodynamic benefits of a thin paddle, but the Icon feels a bit plusher and more touch-oriented than the comparable Gearbox CX 11E 7.8oz Control.

$159.98 $199.98
 
$159.98 $199.98

Gamma Sports - Pickleball

Gamma is another brand known primarily for its tennis string.

In pickleball, the Gamma 505 leads the way as their flagship and has similar specs to most advanced paddles. It's 16 ⅜ in. long, weighs 7.6 oz, and has a long handle with a relatively small face. The 16 mm. core is on the thicker side but not as extreme as something like the aformentioned Diadem Warrior.

With Gamma's NeuCore and Textured Graphite surface, you get a playing experience that does most things well without standing out in any particular metric. Think of this paddle as a sort of jack-of-all-trades. Although the core is thick, I found the response harder than expected. This gave me more power potential on serves and from the baseline. However, it took away some of the touch and feel on dinks and net play. The spin potential is also excellent and remains consistent throughout much of the life of the 505, but perhaps it isn't as elite as what you can get from other paddles.

One of my favorite playability aspects of the Gamma 505 is its uniquely raw feel.

On many top-end paddles, the carbon top sheets and fancy core technologies can mute the response off the paddlebed. It's a sensation I have come to expect, and I understand its benefits, but I really appreciate the vibrations that come off the Gamma 505. To me, these types of vibrations give the most positive and negative feedback. When you hit the ball well, the vibrations are minimal. When you miss the sweet spot, the vibrations are stronger and force you to improve your contact in the future.

The Gamma 505 also represents very good value for money. Paddles have increased in performance but also in price. At $229.98, the 505 stays reasonable.

$183.98 $229.98

Gamma also utilizes their NeuCore on the Compass, Hellbender, and Legend, which differ in shape and weight, so any player can find a paddle that works for them.

$159.98 $199.98

Poach

Not a tennis string brand, whew…

Poach Pickleball was started in Victoria in 2020 by pickleball players who wanted top-end paddles accessible to all. Their Power and Control series come in at $159.98, making them nearly half the price of some other brands' offerings (*cough, Vanguard Power Air, cough*).

Poach has three lines of paddles within the Power and Control series, and each name denotes a different shape. The Podium is an elongated paddle with a standard-length handle (think Selkirk Invikta). This is probably the most standard paddle shape nowadays and one that most advanced players will feel right at home using.

The Defender is Poach's shorter, more maneuverable, and forgiving option, and one that beginner and intermediate players, or even those who've grown accustomed to this shape, will prefer.

The Havoc is also elongated but has a shorter head and longer handle. Of course, this lends itself to those players who use two-handed backhands, but the smaller head also makes the paddle slightly less forgiving but a little more aerodynamic and precise. These three shapes are the most popular amongst pickleball players, so kudos to Poach for making it so simple to choose.

The only difference between the Power and Control series is the material used for the top sheet. Carbon has a softer feel and is used in the Control line, while the Power line uses the more explosive and responsive feeling fiberglass.The Control series is much more muted than the Power series, giving that extra feeling of plushness and control, especially when dinking.

 

The Power series certainly feels explosive, although there is a slight disconnect between the relatively thick core and the springy response off the paddlebed. The two lines have an identical Hyper-Grit surface that is easily one of the market's most spin-friendly. The surface is about as rough as it can be within legal boundaries and has very good durability.

Let's see how this Canadian brand develops in the future…

Demo before you buy

When you go through the demo process you never know which one could become your secret weapon.

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