We've all seen viral videos of famous people trying their hand at pickleball and falling in love with the sport like the rest of us. The fact is, pickleball is amazing, and it's growing exponentially, so it's no surprise that paddle manufacturers keep popping all the time.
Of course, with everyone wanting to make the latest and greatest, you're bound to end up with some flops, but that's not the case with ProDrive. The Florida company has come into the market with a huge splash, not only following the rapid trajectory of paddle development but coming up with its own innovation.
The only model currently available is their "Drive" paddle. Yes, the "ProDrive Drive" is a super confusing name, but if that's the worst they've got for us, I'm all for it. It has a 19 mm core, weighs 8.5 ounces, and is 16.4 inches long. ProDrive developed the Drive with the help of pro players and global engineer Henrik Andersson to construct a paddle that was both powerful and touch-friendly.
With the core technology in most paddles right now, you usually have to pick between power and touch. A thicker core gives you a prolonged sensation of the ball sinking into the paddle bed, making it feel like you can guide your touch shots where you want them to go. The issue is that the more time your ball spends in the paddle bed, the more energy it loses. That means the thicker your paddle is, the less powerful it becomes.
On the other hand, thin paddles tend to feel quite launchy, so they can be a bit uncontrollable for some. Power is great, but if you can't control your dink, you won't get anywhere in pickleball.
So what exactly has ProDrive done to address that issue? They've added two layers of kevlar sandwiching the traditional honeycomb polymer core. It's a brand new material for pickleball, and we all saw how carbon did when it was introduced to the sport. ProDrive is taking a huge leap, and the resulting paddle feels like nothing else.
Touch and feel
I'm telling you right now; there is absolutely no sensationalization going on when I say that the Drive feels like nothing else out there. Sure, it's 19 millimeters thick, but it has a crispness and instantaneous response that I've never felt on such a thick paddle.
My number one gripe with thick paddles is that I lose connection to my shot when hitting groundstrokes. Because so much energy is lost on contact, I don't know how the ball will react when it leaves the paddle bed. That sensation wasn't there on the Drive. I felt super connected to my shots, and the response was more similar to what I feel when hitting a 10-12 millimeter paddle.
That being said, when I wanted to hit more dink-oriented dropshots, there was still a sensation of plushness that I don't get with thin paddles. It seems like the kevlar helps the core adapt to different shots. If you need it to liven up when hitting hard, it will do that, but if you need it to soften up for better touch, it's got you covered.
That's not to say that the paddle has the perfect feel. I still think that if you're looking for top-end touch, a classic thick paddle is optimal, and if you're looking for the ultimate ball connection, the thin ones are a bit better. Think of it like a hybrid car: you can't get the power of a Ferrari or the efficiency of a Tesla, but you can get pretty darn close to both.
To me, control is twofold. You've got your more traditional control which is the ability to guide your touch shots where you want them to go, but you've also got your baseline control, which is a sensation of ultimate connection to your groundstrokes. Traditional control usually comes at the expense of baseline control, but not with the Drive. Yes, its firmness will affect some of the "guidability" you get with a thick paddle when dinking, but it still doesn't have that somewhat wild feel of a thinner paddle. And again, because it's so crisp, you always feel super connected to your shots.
ProDrive's number one goal was to make a thick paddle more powerful. They've certainly accomplished that.
As I said earlier, when you're going for power shots, you don't have that sensation of energy loss on contact, which translates to a more powerful feel. It's a rocket launcher and the hardest-hitting thick paddle I've used.
The specs also play a role in making it produce so much power. It's heavy, long, and has a high swing weight, so you get a ton of leverage to spray your balls around. I loved this paddle when I was sitting on or behind the baseline and wanted to use deep shots to keep my opponent on a string before making my way to the net.
You were probably already thinking it, and it's definitely the case, the paddle is not very maneuverable. That's not to say it's sluggish, but it's what you would expect from such a thick, long, and heavy paddle. It's a sacrifice that, at this point, most players know they'll have to make to achieve a certain feel, and it's not any better or worse than other paddles at this spec.
Nope, the kevlar doesn't have any magical effect on maneuverability. That would have been nice, but for those of you who have gotten used to this paddle style, you can ignore this.
When you've got a paddle this powerful, you need spin to control it. Otherwise, you'd launch balls to the stratosphere, and they'd never come down. Luckily, the Drive has one of the grittiest and most durable carbon top sheets I've seen on a pickleball paddle. These have become industry standard, and ProDrive is giving us one of the best.
The paddle is super spin-friendly, arguably more than other thick paddles. The high energy return from the kevlar core also translates to its spin potential, and you can generate a ton of RPMs to control those deep baseline groundstrokes.
If you want the best jack-of-all-trades paddle, this is it. The way it combines elements of the thin paddle world with the thick one is truly revolutionary, and while the paddle isn't perfect, I'm super excited to see how ProDrive develops in the future. Right now, the paddle is at a solid 85% of the playability benefits on each end of the thickness spectrum. Nothing else can say it's 85% as good for power and response as a thin paddle while also being 85% as good at touch shots as a thick paddle. If ProDrive can push that up to 90% or even 95%, it could truly break the game, but for now, they can be proud of having created one of, if not the most, well-rounded paddles out there. If you'd like to try out the Drive, come into the store to take out a demo or check it out on our website.