Pickleball is one of the fastest growing sports in America, with a pandemic boom leading to 40% more players getting onto five times as many courts nationwide since 2020. Like tennis for the rest of us, pickleball’s popularity is not only based on how fast and easy it is to learn, but that it is played on a smaller court — making it more accessible for players of any skill level and age.
“Pickleball is a great low-impact cardio, balance and strength workout,” says Ajay Pant, Vice President Racquet Sports at Life Time, one of the largest operators of pickleball courts in the US. “Typically, a new player can be rallying within a half hour.”
And though beginners can try out the loaner equipment found at most pickleball facilities to get comfortable, you’ll eventually need your own paddle and balls. “Because the court is smaller, the paddle is shorter and lighter than a tennis racquet, and the ball is made out of plastic, so it’s very easy to learn and control for most people starting out,” says Ernie Medina, Jr., Vice Chair, USA Pickleball Board.
Thankfully, this gear won’t break the bank. A sturdy, lightweight paddle starts at about $60 and pickleballs run about $2 to $3 each (though they do last longer than tennis balls).
To help you start swinging properly, we spoke to an array of experts and asked for their picks on the best pickleball paddles and balls.
A few factors play a role in choosing a pickleball paddle, according to David Dutrieuille, Life Time’s National Pickleball Director. In addition to budget, you’ll want to consider your athletic background in terms of racket sports, as well as feel and quality of the racket itself. Though a good, sturdy, lightweight starter paddle can cost you around $60 to $80, you may want to splurge on something that will more easily take you into your pickleball future.
“A beginner might not be able to tell the difference between a $50 paddle and a $300 paddle, but a more experienced player definitely can,” says Medina.
Here are some expert picks, no matter what price range you decide on.
Our lowest cost paddle for those just starting to play
For the lower price, Dutrieuille appreciates that the Joola Essentials paddle has a solid feel. It also comes with a padded grip for better shock protection and a well-respected name that he says is supported by the pros.
An affordable, durable smaller paddle for faster play
This lightweight Gamme pickleball paddle has a smaller paddle face for faster hand speed, and Pant likes it because it’s extra durable as well as affordable. The Dart is also approved by the USAPA for sanctioned tournament play.
A budget racket with a longer handle, best for backhand swings
Pant suggests this budget racket because of the grips that prevent your hands from slipping while you play. Plus, the Echo Team’s longer handle lets you more easily work on that backhand while a bumper guard lets you swing safely away.
A forgiving core makes this beginner racket extra responsive
Not only does this good-looking pickleball paddle come in five bright colors, but according to Dutrieuille, the owner of PikNinja uses a community-based approach to accrue an enthusiastic following. The forgiving core makes it extra responsive for beginners — even when you don’t hit the ball right in the middle of the racket.
A reasonably priced paddle for players ready to step up a level
The Halo is a new paddle from Selkirk and Dan Santorum, President and CEO of the Professional Pickleball Registry, thinks it’s a great paddle for players just getting started. “It has a raw carbon face, is really forgiving and is reasonably priced,” he says.
A larger paddle face allows for maximum reach during play
Dutrieuille likes this Invikta Amped paddle because its shape allows for maximum reach, while not compromising on balance. As an added bonus, each Selkirk paddle is also backed by a lifetime warranty.
A splurge paddle with more speed and comfort for those ready to invest in the sport
Dutrieuille likens swinging the Black Ace Pro to driving a Lamborghini — giving all levels of players more power, speed and finesse. “With some of the industry highest quality carbon fiber combined with vibration dampening technology, this paddle left me in awe,” he says.
When choosing the best pickleball ball, it’s important to consider where you’ll be playing. Indoor balls are crafted from softer plastic for longer life and have larger holes for a higher bounce. Outdoor balls, on the other hand, are made out of harder plastic with smaller holes, which make them better for quicker play but also easier to break.
“Both are constructed differently, even though you could use either ball anywhere, they are best suited for the location they are created for,” adds Medina.
A longer lasting, less costly ball
These balls are a favorite at indoor recreational pickleball courts, according to Medina, mainly because they last an extremely long time and cost less. You can nab a 3-pack for under $10 or splurge for the 12-pack for $24
A heavier ball for steadier play outdoors
These Dura Fast 40 pickleballs are heavier, at nearly 1 full ounce, which means they stay steady even in windy weather and tend to play faster — both of which are important aspects for outdoor play. However, Medina also points out that they are made of more brittle plastic and tend to break faster.
How to choose the best pickleball shoes, nets, and more
When it comes to other pickleball gear, Medina and Pant agree that though it may not be first on your mind, shoes are an important consideration. “The biggest concern is cross training/running shoes. Do not wear these for pickleball,” says Pant.
“Running shoes are not designed for side-to-side movement, and many people end up rolling an ankle,” adds Medina, who believes a good pair of shoes, like these K Swiss Express Light pickleball shoes, is akin to cheap health insurance.
And for anyone thinking about setting up a pickleball court in a basement, driveway, or wherever you may roam, it may be worth picking up a portable net, like this Rally Deluxe Portable Net System (on sale for $165) — though Pant suggests using caution tape strung between two chairs before investing.
Now get out there and play pickleball
Can anyone learn to play? Sure can.
Unsure about how to get started? Ernie Medina suggests checking USA Pickleball’s Ambassador directory to find a free introductory lesson. “USA Pickleball, the national governing body of pickleball in the USA, has almost 2,000 Ambassadors all over the USA. Their mission is to help grow the sport of pickleball in their area, and one of those duties includes helping teach newcomers how to play,” he says.
And though it’s easy enough to find videos online or to pick up a copy of Pickleball for Dummies, Medina thinks learning in person is best. If you don’t have time to connect with an Ambassador or get a lesson from a knowledgeable friend, working with a certified coach is a quick way to learn correctly.
“Professional Pickleball Registry has a directory of certified coaches that allows someone to search for a certified coach nearest them. Other certification organizations such as IPTPA or PCI have similar directories or contact info to their coaches,” he says. “Most facilities that have pickleball courts (clubs, wellness centers, gyms, etc.) will also have certified instructors that can get you started the right way.”
And when you’re ready to find a court near you, Santorum suggests checking out the Official USA Pickleball Places 2 Play website, which lets you search by city, state, zip code or location name.
It’s also important to warm-up before you play to avoid basic injuries. It may be a smaller court, but you’ll still want to get your heart-rate going before you start swinging.
“Warm-up and prepare your body through dynamic stretching before you play (arm circles, squats, lunges, monster kicks, lateral shuffle, balance exercises),” says Pants. “You need to warm up all the major muscles you will use while playing.” He also suggests cooling down with static stretches after playing.
Vive le pickleball!