On a 4 degree, windy and menacingly cloudy January afternoon in Vancouver, with the forecast predicting a 90% chance of rain, the Queen Elizabeth pickleball courts were packed, paddles stacked up in the queue and the rhythmic smack and thud of the ball was as loud as any summer evening.
Pickleball is here and it is here to stay.
Believe it or not, that’s the popularity of a sport that can be played both indoors and outdoors to accommodate for unfriendly weather. North Americans, but Vancouverites in particular, are becoming die-hard fans of the ever evolving game, and what’s more? Pickleball can be played by any age group, between any level and truly be competitive for all. Unlike its older cousin, tennis, pickleball is easily played with friends of diverse sporting backgrounds. A beginner can quickly become an avid competitor with just a little practice.
In this article, R&R's Luca Berg highlights which three paddles most complement diﬀerent players at the introductory (beginner) level and the intermediate/advanced level.
Best Beginner Pickleball Paddles
Franklin Aspen Kern Paddle - $159.98
Those of you who have a penchant for ﬁnding the best value for money may have just found the perfect paddle in the Franklin Aspen Kern signature paddle. This paddle combines a light weight (7.5-7.8 oz) with a compact, forgiving shape to create a stick that is quick and maneuverable, just what any new player needs when looking to develop the quick reactions and complex timing pickleball demands. Unlike other paddles on this list, the Aspen Kern is certainly not what one would call “cheap”, however the quality of the materials, and feel of the ball, more than justiﬁes its higher price tag. The carbon ﬁbre layer, and “Max Grit” surface technology allow for top end levels of spin potential, and the thin proﬁle of paddle creates a crisp and powerful response as premium as any other paddle. It’s the most expensive paddle on the beginner’s list, but the least expensive top end paddle out there.
Gearbox GH7+ - $119.98
The Gearbox GH7+ is Gearbox’s lower end honeycomb core oﬀering. In accordance with the brand’s “full carbon is better” take on a pickle ball paddle, it makes sense that Gearbox should market its “takedown” as a paddle with a more traditional core, and a ﬁbreglass casing. Somewhat ironically, it happens that Gearbox also does a fantastic job of making honey comb cored paddles that, yes, feel drastically diﬀerent to their top end carbon oﬀerings, but also pack in all the beneﬁts of a thicker, softer core (13 mm) that is perfect for beginners. Traditional honeycomb cores will teach new players to play pickleball the “proper way” allowing for more touch and feel at the net by being more forgiving and playable for players with hands that may not yet be able to control the jump oﬀ the paddle bed from a carbon Gearbox paddle. The GH7+ also packs in a compact, forgiving shape, but has a bit more heft for added power at 8.0 ounces.
Head Spark Elite: $64.98
The Head Spark Elite is a pickleball paddle that, in the right hands, could do damage to any opponent on the other side of the net. The same cannot be said for other paddles that are found in this lower price range, and it is a testament to the trickle down technology certain brands are willing to include in their price point paddles. The diﬀerence in performance between this paddle and our $280 oﬀerings will be less than the diﬀerence in performance between the Spark Elite and a $30 plastic paddle. With a 13 millimetre honeycomb composite core and an 8.0 ounce weight, it will feel and perform as a basic pickleball paddle should; as a blank canvas perfect to be used as a platform for any beginner to kickstart their pickleball journey, and develop whatever game they ﬁnd most suitable. You won’t be getting the technical intricacies found in higher price ranges, but for under $70, you can’t go wrong with the Spark Elite.
Best Intermediate/Advanced Pickleball Paddles
2021 Amped Epic Midweight - $194.98
The Epic shape from Selkirk is about as traditional as it comes for pickleball paddles. It is neither elongated nor extremely wide. Its handle doesn’t stand out like the very short Omni or the longest in class Mach 6. If you were to draw a cartoon of a pickleball paddle, it would look something like the Epic. Some might consider that boring, but I think of it as a perfect platform to further develop a players’ game. The Epic is the paddle for an intermediate level player, willing to spend big on their now time-consuming hobby, and wanting a paddle that will work with them as they continue to develop. Its average shape, and traditional, soft, Selkirk feel, will give them the perfect Swiss army knife to play competitively from the baseline, and quickly at the net. While the Amped technology in the paddle may not have all the bells and whistles of Vanguard 2.0, it has proven over its lifetime to be a fan favourite and best seller for its crisp, but very comfortable and still cushioned feel.
Gearbox CX11E 8.5oz Power - $259.98
Gearbox have always done things a little diﬀerently. Now everyone is following suit. They were the ﬁrst brand to mainstream carbon in their paddles, and with it, introduce the sexiness that the material brings to any sport. Everyone wants a carbon paddle; the CX11 might just be the culmination of years of perfecting an already elite level paddle in the GX6. With the introduction of carbon, companies were able to mold and shape the feel of their paddles far more precisely than they had been in the past. Gearbox did just that with the CX11. It plays a touch crisper and more connected to the ball than its predecessor, and seems to access spin easier as well. This long, heavy paddle will provide all the power and punch a player could ask for, and while the instant response synonymous with Gearbox 11mm paddles may not be forgiving at the net, in the hands of an advanced player, it truly is a weapon to behold.
Selkirk Vanguard Hybrid 2.0 Mach 6 - $279.98
For all the power and spring a player feels when playing with the CX11, the Mach 6 Vanguard 2.0 perfectly demonstrates how carbon can be tinkered with to create opposite feels. If the CX11’s carbon is stiﬀ and tightly woven, the Mach 6 is soft, thick and plush, with incredibly long ball pocketing that makes you feel like you’re catching the ball, holding it for a split second, and dropping it in the kitchen, away from your opponent’s reach. Compared to its predecessor, this new Mach 6 with Pro-Spin Texture feels signiﬁcantly more spin friendly, but also more connected to the ball. On the ﬁrst generation of Vanguard Hybrid, the whole paddle bed felt very good, but nowhere did it make me go “wow”.
With 2.0, they’ve given us that sweet, sweet spot; you will feel a pop when you hit it, and you will be rewarded. Much like other advanced players’ paddles, the Mach 6 is elongated and fairly heavy (7.8-8.3 oz). While it has signiﬁcantly more control than thinner paddles in that category, it still has the capacity to power shots past opponents, but truly excels at the ﬁnesse and touch of pickleball. The paddle does not make the player, but in the case of pickleball, it is very important to pick one that complements your game.
In the case of a beginner player, and even for some intermediates, a paddle not speciﬁcally focused in one area will allow the player to be creative and explore both strengths and weaknesses. Once a player has committed to the sport, and has a better understanding for what they want, there are certainly paddles out there that will complement strengths, negate weaknesses, and allow one’s game to thrive.