Pickleball Central Expert's Corner: Are Thick Core Paddles Right For you?
We’ve worked with over 100,000 players around the world, and what we’ve learned is this: Pickleball players are looking for a combination of control –putting the ball where they want to put it – and power – having the ability to put a ball away when the opportunity arises. To accomplish this feat, manufacturers have used combinations of core materials, face materials, size and shape to create over 100 models of paddles. The combination of all these elements is what gives each paddle its unique playing characteristics.
Manufacturers have put more resources into innovative designs that bring out the best in their products. There is a trend in the paddle market towards models with thicker cores. Over a decade ago composite paddles became the standard for performance paddles, and they generally used cores that were .375” to .40” thick. In the last 18 months, we’ve seen a dramatic number of new products introduced with cores ranging from .562” to .625” in thickness.
The challenge with “putting a ball where you want it” is that different parts of the paddle behave differently in terms of transferring energy to the ball. Informally, players refer to the place on a paddle where the ball receives the most energy (power) as the “sweet spot.” The most dangerous and ineffective shots in pickleball are shots where you "miss your target." Examples of these are balls that you leave up high for your opponent to attack, shots hit into the net, or shots hit out of bounds. Some paddles have a "hot spot" where the ball seems to "explode" off the very center of the face of the paddle, but that same paddle may feel more "dead" the further away you get from the center of the paddle face. This results in balls being hit inconsistently, some being hit too hard, and some too soft. Engineers model this phenomenon using physics, calculating what is called a coefficient of restitution.
To create more consistency in the energy delivered from a paddle to the ball, manufacturers have produced thicker core paddles. According to Jimmy Blue, Pickleball Paddle Product Manager at Pickleball Inc, that change started in 2013 when Paddletek
introduced the polypropylene core. “Prior to that most paddles were constructed using 0.4” Nomex or Aluminum cores. The change to polymer honeycomb material coincided with a switch to primarily 0.5” thickness cores.” This change was as much about material as it was about thickness, but both factors lead to higher performing paddles. Now the majority of paddles in the industry use some form of polypropylene core.
Other companies saw this trend, and decided to test the performance limits of thicker paddles. While Paddletek tested and released a number of paddles around .5” in thickness, Selkirk went “all in” with .625” thick cores when they launched the AMPED line of paddles in late 2017. The AMPED FiberFlex technology was developed to provide payers with the best possible blend of both control and power. According to Rob Barnes, a co-owner of Selkirk, “The paddles blend of thicker core, FiberFlex uni fiberglass face and a number of options in weights, grips and shapes, makes it easy for players to select their preferred paddle.”
Prince Pickleball Paddles (which are manufactured by Paddletek), introduced the Prince Spectrum Pro and Prince Response Pro Paddles in the spring of 2018. These paddles featured thicker cores using a 9/16” thick core. Noah Kaplan, Vice President at Paddletek, explains that the idea behind their thick core paddles was to provide a couple of key advantages: “The thicker cores give players at almost every level improved shot consistency due to two factors: The first is energy absorption. Whether it’s an opponent’s driving shot at you or a volleyed dink, the thicker core helps dissipate the energy of the ball into the paddle and allows the player to regain control of the play. The second is stability. Not all of us have the accuracy of Simone Jardim, Kyle Yates, or Irina Tereshenko. The thicker core provides more stability across the paddle face for those shots further away from the center or 'sweet spot' of the paddle."
The next brands to introduce paddles with a thicker core were ONIX, Paddletek, and GAMMA. In the fall of 2018 ONIX launched, the ONIX Outbreak, with a .625” core, matching the thickest core paddles on the market to date. When asked about the advantages of thick core paddles, Zach Scheller with ONIX told us, “The biggest advantage we’ve seen is play at the net, especially for volleys back and forth. The thicker core material further dampens the ball energy which gives you a little more feel and control on drop shots, volleys, and dinks.” The Outbreak was the first paddle to combine a thicker core with a woven carbon fiber face material (made from TeXtreme). This combined the traditional softer play attributes of a carbon fiber face with the enlarged sweet spot of the thicker core.
Also in the fall of 2018, Paddletek launched a line of thicker core paddles all featuring .562” (9/16”) cores. The new Tempest Pro model drew inspiration from its .5” core graphite faced counterpart (the Tempest Wave) to create a breakthrough paddle that many players consider the largest sweet spot paddle ever made. This is the result of combining a thick core with a soft playing rigid graphite face material. Paddletek also released thick core versions of its ultra-popular Bantam EX-L and TS-5 series paddles, giving players lots of options for traditional poly-core/fiberglass faced paddles with weight ranges as low as 7.0 ounces, or as heavy as 8.8 ounces.
In early 2019 GAMMA’s thick core paddles (using a technology they refer to as Neucore) were launched, including a variation of their very successful blade shaped paddles– the Compass. Along with the Shard and the Legend, they offer a variety of shapes and paddles surfaces to give even more combinations for players to try. As far as where the industry is heading, Chuck Vietmeier of GAMMA says, “I see new shapes, softer cores, thicker cores and new materials in the future. Players are looking for options in paddles such as longer handles to accommodate two-handed shots, and softer paddles for more touch and feedback.”
Our testing of these paddles here at Pickleball Central, combined with customer ratings from thousands of players, confirm what these manufacturer innovators learned in their labs. These paddles play great, delivering on the promise of exceptional control with a large sweet spot, with enough “put-away” power to finish points. All of these companies are advancing the sport of pickleball by providing players more creative choices when it comes to their equipment. The thick core paddles are proving a success on the courts and providing greater playability than the original non-wood paddles. Large sweet spots, vibration dampening and put-away power are a great combination to elevate anyone’s game.
The proof of the success is in the player reviews you can read about in each of the products on this page. Over half of these paddles are rated 5-stars, and the remainder rate at least 4.5-stars. They are very well received, and come in an exceptional variation of styles including short handle, long handle, ultra-long, wide-body, and everything in between. Face material options include fiberglass, graphite, woven carbon fiber, and hybrid systems using a mixture of face material build-ups.
Try these paddles and see what they do for your game. Click here to see 19 different models of Thick Core Paddles.