Explained: ​Understanding Delamination in Pickleball Paddles

by Patrick Moore, Joseph Sutton, John Cowley on Oct 18, 2023

Explained: ​Understanding Delamination in Pickleball Paddles

Pickleball Paddle Delamination

The pickleball world is still talking about delamination in thermoformed pickleball paddles, and if you have played with or against one, you understand the negative effects they can have on the game. For those out of the loop, paddles made using a combination of pressure and heat (thermoformed paddles) exhibit fantastic feel, forgiveness, and power. An unfortunate byproduct of this construction style though is the increased likelihood of the paddle of “delaminating” resulting in extreme added power and spin from a trampoline effect that is difficult to control. While more power and spin are performance characteristics we all would like to see in our game, these broken paddles are out of USAP spec, and for good reason. The impacts of people using these paddles in play range from unfair advantages in both recreational and tournament play to serious safety hazards for players on the court. The term “delamination” is being used as a catch all to discuss three distinct possibilities to what is happening to paddles.

What is delamination in Pickleball Paddles?

True Delamination is a mode of failure where a material fractures into layers. In this case, the layers of the paddle face itself separate from one another. The history of paddle manufacturing has shown when a traditional sandwich style paddle delaminates, it causes dead spots, and the paddle no longer plays well. When thermoformed paddles started exhibitingadditional power, some theorized that the paddle face delaminated in the middle while the edges stayed intact creating a trampoline effect. While possible, this theory is now thought to be unlikely.

Disbonding is a failure of the adhesive to keep the face glued to the core. Traditionally, this would have a similar impact on paddle performance to delamination as the parts of the paddle are no longer working as a unit. It is possible that the failure of the adhesive in the hitting zone of the paddle could contribute to the trampoline effect that is giving these paddles the extra pop. If this is true, the question becomes why would so many paddles experience disbonding if adhesive failure was the only problem to solve?

Crush Core is failure of the core itself to maintain its structure and rigidity. The breakdown of the core in the center of the paddle would create just the type of space needed for the paddle face to give and then rebound and return the energy to the ball and create a “hot” paddle, also known as the trampoline effect. It would put extreme strain on the adhesive between face and core which could cause disbonding. Crush core, whether through heat and pressure either weakening the core itself or the bonds that hold it together, is the leading theory behind the “delamination” issue.

The takeaway is that getting to the bottom of the issue is not easy; however, the  PPA  and USAP are working on it. They are committed to providing an even playing field that allows the talent of the players to determine the outcome of the matches. With the growth of the sport, it is more important than ever to get this right. There is still work to be done.

Carl Schmits, Managing Director of Equipment Standards & Facilities Development at USA Pickleball and chair of the EEC (Equipment & Evaluation Committee), says "Ultimately, what this means for the rec player is far from determined. There are not tests that can be held at rec courts, and even small tournaments will not be able to test for these issues. Signs that you may want to call the manufacturer to check on your paddle are if you or someone you play with notices an increase in the power of your shots, or a change in the sound of your paddle during play."

How can I tell if my pickleball paddle is delaminating?

Signs of delamination include visible bubbles or gaps between layers, a hollow sound when tapping the paddle, or a noticeable loss of performance, such as reduced power or control. If you suspect crush core or disbonding in your thermoformed paddle, try the tap test. Tap a pen across the face listening for any major change in tone. Broken paddles will emit a lower, more hollow sounding pitch than a healthy paddle. They can also hit the ball noticeably harder than when the paddle was new.

How can I prevent delamination in my pickleball paddle?

While delamination damage sometimes happens at the time of manufacturing, it can still occur or worsen due to improper paddle treatment. To prevent delamination, avoid exposing your paddle to extreme temperatures, keep it dry, and store it properly. Choose high-quality paddles from reputable brands known for durable construction, and contact the brand who made your paddle if you have questions about whether your paddle could be damaged.

Can I still play with a delaminated paddle?

Playing with a delaminated paddle is not recommended, as it can lead to further damage and injury. While currently tough to enforce, it is also against the USAP competition rules to compete with a delaminated paddle. It's safer for other players and the integrity of the game to replace a paddle showing signs of delamination, particularly in the case of the trampoline effect that can occur on thermoformed paddles.

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