PICKLEBALL BASICS

What Do You Need To Play Pickleball?

Pickleball is a played on a court (No not a legal court unless you don’t know how to play well with others and you could end up there.) hopefully a designated one with it’s own lines.  Ususally the court is sharing it’s surface with a myriad of lines so pay attention to the kitchen, which has no stove, fridge or anything you would expect, I digress.  The game can be played either as singles or doubles.  Each player has a paddle (unless parenting is in effect then it is a one sided conversation) and there is one ball in play, a wiffle ball more precisely.  When we are playing at a club, casual, socially or during open play the game is generally played to a score of 11.  The rules regarding game play will be covered in another section under “Pickleball Rules and Game Play”  This section we will cover the basic equipment for a game to be played.   So first up is the court.

Pickleball Courts

Well first item on the list is the court.  There are a number of options and many clubs will have either dedicated pickleball courts or shared courts.  Shared courts usually come in the shape of tennis courts (outside) and badminton courts (inside).    The lines are hopefully painted but might be temporary with court tape or other temporary solution.  Regardless of the location, indoor or outdoor, the dimensions for the court remain the same.  Refer to the following diagrams.

Pickleball Court Dimensions
Badminton Court Dimenions
Tennis Court Dimensions
Approximate Pickleball Court vs Tennis Court visual reference

So here is a visual representation of what the courts sizes are compared to one another.  When converting tennis courts into use for pickleball courts 2 to 4 pickleball courts can usually be converted depending on the surrounding tennis courts area.  Again for tennis courts there are also rules regarding the area around the tennis court as the players are to have room to run the ball down.  In pickleball there does not appear tobe any such guidelines.  Depending on your league that you are in, when playing on badminton courts some will allow the use of the badminton’s short service line (6′ 6″) while others would like a full 7′ non volley line tobe in place.  This is depending on the club and type of play ( drop in versus sanctioned tournament play).

Comparing The Nets

The pickleball net is 36″ at the sideline and minimum 34″ in the center.  In tennis with a much wider court the net is 42″ at the post and 36″ in the center.  Badminton has a different set of guidelines for posts as they are well, it is a different sport on it’s own.  We are here for Pickleball so I will forgo the specifications for badminton and there are more rules regarding the setup for tennis nets as well but I will not cover those rules either.  Pickleball dedicated courts are popping up all over as the sport gains in popularity but for many the use of portable nets is still the way to get the setup done.  One note that I have noticed is that in some areas the bottom of the net is tied up so there is enough room for the ball to roll under the net.  Here I have noticed that there is some conversation regarding whether a player should roll the ball or toss the ball to the server.  I am ok either way, but some people get a little tense and want it one way or the other.

Pickleball Balls

Pickleball Balls

For those who are new to the sport, pickleball uses a plastic hollow ball with holes called a wiffle ball.  There are two types of balls generally used for pickleball.  Indoor and outdoor.  Now there are a number of things to consider when grabbing a set of wiffle balls.  Both balls can be used indoor or outdoor and for certain styles of play sometimes people will want the outdoor ball for indoor and vice versa.  Different types of construction will have a direct impact on the longevity and durability of the ball.  When you look up the balls that are sanctioned for tournament play you can read the numbers that help seperate indoor from the outdoor balls.

Outdoor balls are generally thicker and therefore heavier.  They tend to have more holes (40, the max allowable for USAPA and IFP ball specifications for sanctioned play).  With this in mind the balls are said tobe faster, less bounce and harder to control.

Indoor balls are lighter, softer and have fewer, larger holes ( usually around 26, the minimum number of holes allowable for the USAPA and IFP ),  This makes the indoor balls slower, more bounce and easier to control.

There are a couple of things I would like to touch on with the different types of balls.  When I was researching pickleball balls I did come a third type of ball, the foam ball.  I have not seen (let alone play with one) these types of balls, nor are they sanctioned.  The reason for these balls is to reduce sound (there are some areas that have cranky neighbors who do not like the sound of our sport).  The number and size of the holes for the balls is not concrete either.  The last batch of balls that I picked up have 2 different size of holes that are used and there are a couple of balls sanctioned for play that have 32 holes (no idea if they are smaller or larger) and they are not listed as indoor or outdoor.

Pickleball balls are the affordable part of your initial startup for the sport.  Most clubs and drop in games will supply balls so pay attention to what kind of balls they are using.  Balls also will change over time and with use.  Cracks may develope rendering the ball useless.  Over time exposure to sunlight will affect the durability and characteristics of the ball.  In short a ball can last from a couple of weekends to a full season.  Be prepared to replace them as they are durable but they do have their limits.  Try buying a couple of different kinds of balls to see which match your place style and see how they affect your match.  The colors of the balls do not indicate whether they are indoor or outdoor.  When buying balls keep in mind the surrounding area that you will be playing in.  Get the ball that will stand out best and provide maximum visibility during play.  Green, yellow and white are the most common colors but there are an increasing number of different colors, red, black and blue to name a few.

The Pickleball Paddle

So how does the pickleball paddle stackup against the other rackets?  Well for starters it is a paddle not a racket.  Rackets have strings to help increase the return of energy into the ball for speed and power.  In pickleball there are no strings instead a solid face with no trampoline effect.  The paddles used primarily today have a core, paddle face, edge or edgeless and a handle.  With that being said we will go into more detail for each aspect starting with one of the first things people look for in a paddle, the core.

Originally the paddles that were made and used were plywood paddles.  Wooden paddles are the most affordable (aka cheapest.) and also are the heaviest (dual purpose for parenting or grandparenting).  I have not seen a wooden paddle at a tournament myself but I have seen and used them at a couple of clubs that have them for drop in players who do not have one of their own.  Today an overwhelming number of paddles use a honey comb core with a “face” material.

 

Wooden Paddles

As previously mentioned wooden paddles were the first paddles made and used in the game.  These are usually a laminated plywood paddles with additional pieces of plywood used to build up the handles.  These are great if you are just getting into pickleball and may not want to invest a whole lot of money at first.  These tend to be a little more durable and longer lasting and usually do not have an edge, also making them the original edgeless paddles.  There is all kinds of debate over which paddles are better heavier or lighter.  Wooden paddles are definately the heavy weight champions in this category.  These are ideal paddles tobe used for parenting ( old fashion parenting skill used to reinforce behavior skills in children, frowned upon when used with adults) vs pickleball as the weight of the paddle will help reduce shock and wear to the elbow and shoulder while delivering solid contact.  If need be affordable to replace or have several paddles laying around to make them easily available for parenting.

Paddles With Cores

During the mid 1980’s someone decided to try making a paddle with some aerospace material called nomex.  Nomex was originally developed by DuPont in the 1960’s and has numerous applications in many industries.  From music to race cars, suits and equipment for firefighters and pilots, structural honey comb from ships to planes to space.  It is related to nylon and kevlar as it is a synthetic (made in a chemistry lab) material that is strong, light weight, offers protection from fire, electrical and thermal sources.  As a honey comb structure it is very light weight and used extensively in the aerospace industry.  Which is where it was introduced as a lightweight core material for paddles in the 1980’s.  Originally fiberglass was used as the face material with the honey comb structure sandwhich in the middle.  Since then other materials have been used for the core and the face material but for pickleball, fiberglass face and nomex core are the original and can still be found today.

Cores

Pickleball today uses a variety of materials for paddle construction.  Honeycomb cores today have the same similiar shape and the material can vary.  Some of the more common cores are Nomex, aluminum and polymer (space age plastics, better than regular plastic or just sounds more high tech).  Each has it’s own property that makes it more or less appealing to the other materials.  The three most popular cores out there right now are:

1)  Nomex.  Nomex is an aramid fibre.  These fibres are pressed and using resin to help give these fibres their rigid structure.  Nomex has been around for decades and has all kinds of uses in many industries, too many to start listing here.  At first glance this appears to be like cardboard but don’t let this fool you.  Light, strong and fairly durable.

2)  Aluminium.  Aluminium was the next material tobe incorporated into paddle core construction as a honey comb layer.  Strong, light and with many attributes similar to nomex cores.  A distinct sound when you are using an aluminium paddle.

3)  Polymer.  This plastic, “space age plastics”, or polymer is the latest tobe used as a core material.  Generally heavier than the previous two and softer.  This still allows for a light paddle construction (heavy compared to Nomex and Aluminium).  This is the quietest of the paddles listed so far and faily durable.

Now lately there are companies out there experimenting with different cores, core construction and hybrid cores.  Foam was a material that was used at one point for core construction offering a light and quiet paddle.  The foam was found to compact over time and develope a soft spot over time so they were dropped for some time.  Lately there are a couple of companies that are trying to bring back foam material for paddle construction.  Many of these as far as I can tell are hybrid.  Polymer structure with foam incorporated into the design.  Kevlar is a material that is being tried as a core material and as a face material in a number of paddles.  Solid laminated layers of carbon fibre are being tried and see how they do.  

Paddle Face

The paddle face is attached to the core material using either a resin or epoxy.  Once the face on both sides of the core are attached these are referred to as a “sandwhich board”.  These sandwich boards then simply have the paddles cut out and then the finishing stages are done.  For the most part there are generally two main paddle face materials.

  1. )   Fibre Glass.  Fibre glass is the oldest material for paddle construction and is still a strong and durable material that is ligh weight.  Many  paddles today still use fibre glass for paddle construction.
  2. )  Carbon Fibre.  Carbon fibre is a newer material that is being used in more and more products all the time.  Incrdibly strong for it’s thickness and weight it is used in a number of ways in all kinds of sporting materials.  Many of the high end paddles use carbon fibre for it’s strength and lightness.
Some companies are also starting to try and use other materials like Kevlar and other materials for paddle face materials.  So far fibre glass and carbon fibre are the two predominant materials.