PADDLE TALK 2020
By Coach Joe Palmere 4/18/20
MY GOOD FRIEND MARK WYMOR MAY BE RIGHT, I DO HAVE TOO MUCH TIME ON MY HANDS, ESPECIALLY WHEN I START EXPERIMENTING WITH PADDLE PERFORMANCE TESTING.
Sorry to say an article that I wrote on center of gravity weight balancing of a pickleball paddle in my early pickleball days, was republished on a celebrity pickleball players YouTube site. No credit or mention of the author of origin. That taught me to have my work copyrighted ©.
Many paddle gurus speak or write about composite paddle performance based on the differences in core and surface materials. The core is the spacing material between the outer surfaces. This spacing material is not a solid heavy mass, except for the all wood beginners paddles. The core is based on the natural bee-hive honeycomb cell design.
Man-made honeycomb core cells are primarily hexagonal ( 6 sided ) hollow shapes formed between thin vertical walls. The material has minimal density, strength in tension and high out-of-plane compression properties.
Most composite paddles are made with 3 different honeycomb-like core materials . . . Polymer, Nomex and Aluminum
The first composite pickleball paddles used Nomex honeycomb core cellular construction. Nomex is still the leading core material in today’s paddles. This type of core begins as a cardboard-like material formed in a honeycomb design, before it is dipped in resin.
The resin creates a honeycomb of very durable material that is then laid in between the two faces. This design of honeycomb cell is smaller, denser and lighter than other core material. The smaller denser cores are what produces the power. They’re easy swinging but the core generates a lot of power.
The Nomex core paddle “center of gravity” (COG) is more horizontally and vertically centered over the face, which places the sweet spot close to dead center on the surface. Nomex core paddles can deliver backcourt power drives and hard crushing smashes up at the net. Nomex core paddles are the loudest all paddle cores.
Amarid Cores offer a cheaper option to Nomex for beginner to intermediate players looking for power in their game.
Aluminum core paddles are lightweight and produce a weaker response. Finesse players, of the control game at the net, often prefer the weaker reaction of the aluminum core for optimum ball control, and its ability to take pace and power off incoming balls.
Aluminum core paddle center of gravity (COG) is more towards the handle, making it easier to swing. This eases stress on the wrist, elbow and shoulders of older players or players with injuries.
Polymer is the term used to describe plastics, which are synthetic polymers. Generally, plastics are flexible and durable. A Polymer Core paddle combines the best features of Nomex and aluminum, which is power and control. Neucore Poly and Sensa Poly are part of the polymer core family.
Now we look at the three most common exterior surface paddle materials.
Thin sheets of graphite, fiberglass and carbon fiber sandwich the core material on each outer side. Paddle surfaces are commonly referred to as the “face.”
Graphite paddle surface material is strong and provides great ball control but you’ll sacrifice a bit of power.
Fiberglass is the most common facing on the courts. Its strong as graphite or carbon fiber but has more power.
Carbon Fiber surface is similar to graphite but more durable, this material provides the ultimate in ball control but lose a bit of power.
Choosing Paddle Core and Surface Material Combinations
Combining the core material with the surface material determines the playability of the paddle. Paddle playability is a matter of personal preference.
When choosing a paddle you need to know what style of game you play. Are you a backcourt banger or a finesses soft dinker at the net ?
Most beginners to low level intermediate players play the banger game. Most high level intermediates and advanced players are finesse players up at the net.
Nomex Core with a Graphite Surface Paddle combines the power of the Nomex honeycomb core with the ball controlling effects of a graphite surface. The marriage of these two materials in a paddle, delivers a controllable hard ball backcourt drive, or a long precise drop shot to the opposing kitchen. At the net, this paddle can produce soft dinks, or hard pace changing volleys put-aways or reset the point. Needless to say this “beast” is best played in the hands of a skilled player. It is not meant for the beginner or low intermediated player.
Aluminum Cores with a Fiberglass Surface Paddles are lightweight and deliver a weaker response with optimum ball control. Another plus is its ability to take pace and power off incoming balls to reset the point.
Finesse control players at the net, often prefer this combination for their style of play. These players are often masters of the “third shot drop” from the backcourt that lands into the opposing NVZ, and seldom need to execute a long line drive to get to the net.
Polymer Core with a Carbon Fiber Surface Paddle is flexible and durable. This combination is the ultimate in ball control. but you sacrifice some power. In the hands of an experienced player in the intermediate to advance range, this paddle got game.
We discussed paddle construction but did not address the importance of the grip size or weight. Grip circumference size and paddle weight are important comfort features when selecting a paddle. These features will be discussed in a follow-up post.
My Perspective on Paddle Cores & Surfaces
There’s a paradigm in pickleball that proclaims a skilled player can play well with most any paddle core and surface combination, because he or she has learned the technical mechanics of each stroke and how to control the ball by properly aligning the paddle and executing a near flawless swing that follows the path of the ball to the intended target. This is not to say that the right paddle core and surface combination would not make the task easier.
Pickleball Spin & The Paddle
The one paddle feature that most contributes to spinning a pickleball in a variety of ways is surface texture. The more texture the better. But it cannot exceed USAPA standards. And the paddle must be listed on the USAPA Approved Paddle List. Surface texture also helps with ball control Some have said that surface texture changes the There is one more secret about spin that I have learned, and it’s how you position your wrist. And that’s all you are going to get for now.
During my benching period of 15 weeks and counting, recovering from a right leg Achilles Tendon Tear, that required grafting of health tendon from the big toe to make the repair, I practice most every day with my in-home pickleball practice device, hitting several hundred balls with 5 different types of spin, in preparation for my return to the courts.
Whether or not you are going to apply spin to a pickleball, you need to know how to defend and return a pickleball with spin. That will be a subject for another time. Or when my next Pickleball Book is published, there will be an entire chapter devoted to the science of pickleball spin, offensive and defensive, with original illustrations, visually showing how balls react with different kinds of spin. And what you can to recognize and counter the effects of that spin.
BUT! Most all of us are caught up in the “paddle performance placebo effect” of brand advertising, promising power, ball control, spin and miraculous performance on the court.
I have 8 paddles that are exactly the same in brand, core and surface material. However I customize each of my paddles to weigh an exact weight and I customize the circumference of grip wrapping to be smaller than what I can purchase over the counter. And I can honestly say that no two of those 8 paddles perform the same. I have each paddle numbered so I can tell them apart. Depending on where I am playing indoor or out, the level of play at a specific venue and if I will be playing a control game at the net, attacking the middle of my opponents with hard punch volleys or resorting to an all spin shot game, that will determine which of the 8 I will choose.
So as not to keep you guessing what my favorite combination of paddle core and surface material is, its Nomex close cell core and a carbon fiber graphite surface. I also like the newer paddles with the thicker cores.
My perspective on paddle cores and surfaces is highly optimistic. Materials are starting to change, Kevlar and carbon fiber will be the next generation for surface covers. Cores will be developed from reactive polymers that can absorb and repel force.
I do have one concern. Being a coach who has taught several hundered new player and half that many improving players, I am not a fan of the all wood heavy starter paddles especially for beginners. The add 3 or 4 ounces of weight at a time when someone is just learning the basic strokes of the game and how to swing the paddle. They offer no ball control, and place far too much power in the hands of a new players. Their grip circumference is excessive, causing the user to grap hold of the paddle handle tightly to keep it from flying out into space. This excessive gripping cause a lot of unnecessary unforced errors. Plus the heavy weight of these paddles wear quickly tire new players trying to learn the game. The weight also causes injuries to the wrist, elbow and shoulder joints, especially in older players. It takes twice as long to teach a new player just to hit the ball with a wood paddle than if they were learning with a lighter more resilient composite paddle that was comfortable to hold. I have started requiring new players to come to class with their own composite paddle and 3 indoor pickleballs. They will learn faster, enjoy the lesson and be able to practice at home with their own paddle.
Stay well, stay safe this too shall pass.