Maybe you’ve heard the rhythmic thud and pop of familiar wiffle balls in your neighbourhood. Maybe you’ve driven by Queen Elizabeth Park and seen the crowd of players near the tennis courts. Or maybe you’ve even walked into Rackets & Runners and seen the expansion of our southbound wall over the last few years and wondered, “what in the world is this sport called Pickleball?”
The bottom line is: pickleball is the fastest growing sport in North America. It is engaging, competitive, and above all, a heck of a lot of fun. Pickleball is here, and it’s here to stay. Although it has been around since 1965, the game has exploded in popularity over the past few years. And with that explosion has come a rapid and impressive development of new pickleball paddle technologies, which complements the diverse styles of play in the game. Without further ado, here are our picks for the top five pickleball paddles of the summer.
1. Selkirk Vanguard Power Mach6 - $279.98
Up first, but in no particular order, is the Selkirk Mach6 Vanguard Power. Vanguard technology made a huge splash in the pickleball world when it came out in 2020, and with good reason. The graphite top layer, combined with the honeycomb composite core makes for an extremely plush and expansive, yet still very precise feeling, sweet spot. In many ways, Vanguard has redefined the pickleball sweet spot, making contact more forgiving throughout the paddle bed, while maintaining a connected sensation in the middle of the sweet spot.
The Mach6, and in particular the Power series has revolutionized the elongated paddle concept. While the paddle head itself is very small, experienced players will have no difficulty generating power and precision, while the extra length in the handle will allow for a two handed backhand and more swing-weight to more easily put balls away at the net and from the baseline. “Power”, in the Mach6’s name, represents the thinner profile of the paddle, and in contrast to Selkirk’s more traditional, thick paddles, allows for a more instant response off the paddle bed, leading to more spin potential and power, but taking away a bit of touch and feel.
2. Gearbox GX6 Power – 8.5oz Joey Farias - $194.98
As mentioned earlier, the thickness of the paddle directly correlates on a spectral plane to the power, spin and touch. Thicker generally equates to more touch and feel, while the inverse is true for thinner paddles (more power and spin, less touch and feel). When it comes to the ultimate in power and spin potential, there are no paddles that interact with the ball quite like the GX series from Gearbox, and in this case, the Joey Farias signature paddle. Not only does this paddle feature the thinnest construction, it is also fully constructed from carbon fibre, leading to one of the most instant and direct responses from the paddle bed.
As a tennis player, I found the Joey Farias signature paddle to respond most like a tennis racket. Because of the shorter dwell time in the paddle bed, the ball loses none of the energy I put into it, and responds exceedingly well to my full, modern tennis-esque strokes. While the touch of this paddle suffers compared to the thicker, honeycomb core paddles, I, and many other players, are more than happy to work harder at the net and create my own feel to gain the most in control when the rallies are moving fast from the baseline. At 8.5 ounces, and with an elongated frame, the GX6 8.5 Power also has the put away power and stability its name suggests.
3. Franklin Ben Johns Signature Paddle - $159.98
In the world of pickleball, Ben Johns needs no introduction. His pace and power from the baseline, along with his agility and precision at the net, make him one of the best singles players in the men’s game. In many ways, his signature paddle reflects that game perfectly. Lying somewhere in between a thick and thin core and with a fibreglass, textured top layer, the paddle is certainly a jack of all trades. Although I don’t get the power and spin potential from the baseline like I do with the GX Gearbox paddles, the response is still very crisp and I always feel connected to my shot, knowing exactly where it is going to go.
The Ben Johns paddle also comes into its own at the net. Because of its medium thickness core, the ball dwells in the paddle for a split second longer than the earlier paddles on this list. That extra dwell time allows for more precision and provides the classic point and shoot potential of more traditional paddles. Following the theme of the earlier paddles, the Ben Johns signature paddle has an elongated frame and a heavier weight (7.7 ounces), again, allowing for all the plow through and put away power you could ask for. Coming in at $159.98, the paddle also represents incredible value for money.
4. Head Gravity LH Pickleball Paddle - $179.98
The next paddle on the list follows a more traditional profile. It has a thick honeycomb core and a soft graphite top layer. The thicker core allows for incredible pocketing for touch shots both at the net and from the baseline. If precision is what you're after, you will get it with the Gravity. This paddle also features a more compact 15.75-inch length. What the shorter length sacrifices in put away power and swing weight, it makes up for in maneuverability. The gravity is quick; it will never slow you down when reacting to a volley, or lunging for a dink. New for 2021, the Gravity line of paddles from Head now come with the option of a long or short handle.
My suggestion: if you want the possibility of using two hands on your paddle, go with the LH. If you prefer to have a bit more real estate in your paddle head and only have one-handed strokes, you will be happier with the short handle variation.
5. Selkirk Amped Invikta Paddle Midweight- 194.98
Finally, our last paddle recommendation is the Selkirk Amped Invikta. We at Rackets & Runners fondly call this paddle the “Pure Drive” of pickleball paddles, alluding to its incredible popularity, ease of use, and jack of all trades characteristics. I chose to highlight the non-Vanguard edition of the Invikta because I thought it very important to point out that Amped technology is by no means a takedown to Vanguard. While it may not claim the fancy R&D bells and whistles that Vanguard does, Amped characteristics are more subdued and traditional. Think of Vanguard as precisely what its name suggests; a cutting edge, intensively researched, mould-breaking “idea” whereas Amped remains true to the sport, and not unnecessarily gimmicky.
Where “Amped '' and “Vanguard” differ the most is in the feel on contact. While Vanguard feels incredibly soft, plush and forgiving, Amped has a more crisp and direct response that requires more precision from the player. The sweet spot on Amped paddles, and in this case the Invikta, is noticeably smaller than that of its Vanguard sibling, however, in my experience, that sweet spot feels more precise.
The Invikta itself is an elongated paddle coming in at two different weights (Lightweight and Midweight). Like the other elongated paddles on this list, it offers great plow through while also maintaining incredible touch and control due to its thick core (historically a signature of Selkirk paddles). It is also worth noting that Selkirk offers a variety of different shapes within its three top of the line technologies. Here I have highlighted the Mach6 and the Invikta, however, with both the Epic and the S2 featuring a more traditional shorter and wider profile, there is surely a Selkirk paddle out there for everyone!