The condition of your paddle definitely has an impact on your game.
Paddles don’t last forever and like most things wear out over time. Paddles aren’t like tennis racquets and can’t simply be restrung to restore performance.
Lets put paddle replacement into perspective for the average player. In tennis the rule of thumb for restringing a tennis racquet is, over the course of the year the number of times in an average week you play.
If you play tennis three times a week for an hour at a time you should be restringing your racquet 3 times a year. At $60 per restring, that’s $180 a year to keep your tennis racquet performing at its peak.
Personally I don’t know a lot of pickleball players that only play an hour at a time, and most play two to three times a week. So as a recreational player playing 4-6 hours a week, if you get a year out of a good paddle (and most will get much more) you are well ahead of a tennis racquet in terms of hours of enjoyment and money spent.
How do you know when it’s time to really blame your paddle?
Some say it’s when a paddle doesn’t perform to 100% of its like new condition. I would have to argue that and call a paddle toast when it plays at 75% of spec for a recreational player and 90% for a person who plays competitively.
In a paddle both core and laminate fatigue with use and multiple issues can arise. Dead spots, surface delamination, surface cracks, core fatigue, core collapse and trim separation which all contribute to the paddle under performing.
Does your paddle have signs of physical damage. Damage does not necessarily have to be catastrophic. Things like dents, cracks scratches edge damage etc.. can be more than just minor surface damage and underlying core issues could be present.
I once had a person send me a paddle for what was supposed to be a simple trim replacement because the trim was loose. Turned out the whole core was collapsed around the edge and the paddle was definitely toast. It was suspected that excessive paddle tapping was likely to blame.
Is the surface texture still intact? If you rely primarily on surface texture to spin rather than technique and the coefficient of friction of the paddle surface, a degradation of the texture means your paddle is under performing. If you are competitive you will need to replace the paddle more frequently for ultimate performance. This could be anywhere from two weeks to 6 mouths.
Delamination definitely means your paddle is toast. Does your paddle sound different? Quite often a delaminated paddle will have a buzz or humm kind of like a kazoo (now that’s an old school reference) when the ball hits it in a certain spot. Delamination is where the surface face comes loose from the core. In this picture damage was cased by a severe ground strike on an asphalt court.
This is sometimes easy to detect by knocking on or bouncing a ball around the paddle surface to test the acoustics. All paddles will have a dead zone where the ball makes a thud type sound so what you are looking for is more of a muffled sound. Delamination usually only happens on one side of the paddle first so using the ball drop test, compare the noise on each side. This test is good if there is major delamination however in many cases the paddle will only buzz during play when there is more force of the ball hitting the surface.
If your paddle sounds a bit like a maraca does that mean it’s toast? Not necessarily. If it is a light sound it could just be small beads of resin from manufacturing that get loose and rattle in the core. If the sound is more pronounced and you are being followed by other players imitating a mariachi band, that is a very good sign your paddle probably suffers from significant core damage.
How do you know if your paddle is under performing?
That is a tough question because if you only play one paddle gradual degradation is tough to pick up. When in doubt it may be a good idea to compare the paddle with someone else’s who may have the same or similar. You could also play a new demo paddle if one is available. It will give you an idea on where your paddle is performing with respect to something newer.
So a couple of things to finish up. First, see our paddle care guide and or video for tips on keeping your paddle playing its best. Second, try the bounce test around the paddle. Listen to the paddle sound at ball contact for a buzzing sound. Lastly if you are not sure if your paddle has an issue check with an expert you trust.