Edgeless Paddle Boom Goes Bust

Wilson CHAMP Pickleball PaddleFour years ago, pickleball experienced its first significant materials revolution in a decade. Just as composite paddles replaced wooden paddles in the late 1980s, it appeared that edgeless paddles were soon to replace composite paddles with plastic edge guards.

Apike, the first of the new generation of edgeless paddles, became an international best seller virtually overnight. Two years later, Manta followed suit with the Snowbird Pro and the Liberty. Then, last year, Wilson released two of their own edgeless pickleball paddles: the Champ and the BLX.

By the end of 2013, Wilson’s entry into the edgeless paddle category made it seem as though edgeless pickleball paddles would make edged paddles obsolete. In less than three months, Wilson paddles were the top selling paddles in Canada.

By mid-summer 2014, though, it was becoming clear to retailers that edgeless paddles were problematic. Customers loved them because they were cheap and edgeless. They loved them right up to the moment they started to break down and delaminate. Then they hated them. They hated them because they were cheap and edgeless.

“Edgeless pickleball paddles are not for everyone,” admits Brent Johner, owner of Racquet Network, the largest pickleball paddle retailer in Canada. “Customers who value durability in their pickleball paddles should probably stay away from edgeless paddles.”

As it turns out, the edge guard on pickleball paddles is there for a reason — it protects the edge of the paddle from damage.

“If you look at how pickleball paddles are constructed,” says Johner, “The most vulnerable part of a pickleball paddle is the edge. So it makes sense to protect that edge.”

Johner urges customers to look at squash and tennis racquets for comparison. Racquets in both of those sports have bumper guards built into them that protect the racquets in their most vulnerable areas. “The bumper guards on racquets function like the bumper on your car,” says Johner. “It absorbs energy and protects what is on the inside.”

When a pickleball paddle is dropped on the ground or smacked on a net chord or struck on its edge, the shock waves travel through the paddle and start the process of delamination — the separation of layers that causes a pickleball paddle to go dead and become useless.

“Whenever any of the manufacturers call us for feedback, I advise them to stay away from edgeless paddle and encourage them to think about designing paddles with better edge guards,” says Johner. “So far, we haven’t seen much in the advancement of edge guard technology. In fact the brands with edge guards seem not to be concerned with anything other than how well their edge guards are glued on.”

Johner believes that the next big innovation in pickleball paddle design will recognize the importance of the edge guard in the overall structure and will seek to improve the edge guard as one way to increase paddle durability.

“Edgeless paddles have been a bit of a disaster,” Johner says. “Based on feedback from customers over the past four years, we have decided to minimize the number of edgeless paddles we carry and are focusing instead on carrying high quality paddles with high quality edge guards.”

They are doing this, he says, because customers who are unhappy when edgeless paddles break down often blame his store rather than the manufacturers who made the paddles in the first place.

Junk Paddles Flooding Canada

diadora-pickleballPickleball Paddles Canada is warning readers of a wave of thousands of junk pickleball paddles now flooding the North American market. Most of these paddles appear to be made in two particularly shoddy factories in southwestern China. Some carry the brand names of major manufacturers such as Harrow, Diadora, Viking and others.

The problems vary from brand to brand, but all are related to materials and worksmanship and are consistent with the problems suffered by individuals and/or companies rushing to cash in on the pickleball craze with little knowledge of the game.

Viking (owned by Prince) brought their flashy new line of pickleball paddles to Nationals in Arizona last week. Witnesses at the event tell us that handles snapped off of several Viking paddles after just a few minutes of use by paddle testers. In fact, we are told that Vikings paddles were so fragile that they were pulled from shelves and the Viking booth was closed before the end of the second day.

At the same time, only two of Harrow’s new line of foam core pickleball paddles — and none of Diadora’s — were able to pass the USAPA’s deflection test in October. In fact, Diadora’s paddles tested so poorly that they now have the distinction of having the worst deflection numbers in USAPA history.

reignitefpMajor brands are not the only victims of shoddy Chinese manufacturing, though. Several US and Canadian retailers have ordered junk paddles from the same factories in China and have had their company names printed on their faces. Many of these are now being sold at clearance prices, some clearly labeled as defective, others identified only as “factory seconds”.

Our advice to readers is caveat emptor — buyer beware. In the pickleball world, like everywhere else, you get what you pay for. It is simply not possible today to get a durable paddle of good quality at regular price for less than $80 to $90 CDN, unless it is made of wood.

Good quality paddles cost money to make. That means that they cost money to buy. As anyone who bought a Wilson paddle in 2014 will tell you, low price generally means low quality.

The good news for Canadians is that high quality pickleball paddles are still available. The bad news is that with exchange rates of around 16%, the lowest price for good quality paddles is nearing the $100.00 mark and will likely stay there for the foreseeable future.

Counterfeit Pickleball Paddle Warning

Counterfeit Pickleball PaddlesBuyers beware. Uniker Sport Co. Ltd of Hefei, China, is currently shipping counterfeit pickleball paddles to unsuspecting sporting goods distributors in North America. All of these counterfeit paddles are of inferior quality and many bear the logos of well-known and trusted manufacturers.

The most prominent victim of counterfeiting here in Canada has been Manta World Sports. For several months of 2013, Manta was working with Uniker on the development of a new line of all graphite pickleball paddles. Early in the summer, a large batch of samples was produced and shipped to Canada for testing.

Within a few days of their arrival in Kamloops, it was clear that the quality of the paddles produced by Uniker was far below Manta’s standards. Within just a few hits, handles were breaking off and layers were separating. As a result, the whole shipment was rejected.

Instead of destroying these defective models, Uniker Sport Co. Ltd. started shipping them to unsuspecting distributors in the US and Canada. To make matters worse, they sold them with the Manta logo still on their faces and in several different colors.

“Our first clue that this was happening,” says Brooke Siver, owner of Manta Sports, “was a series of calls from angry customers complaining about defective paddles. Once we investigated — and determined the color of the paddle graphics was not ours — we were able to determine that the paddles bearing our logo were not Manta products. They were defective samples produced by Uniker, rejected by Manta and then sold as counterfeits to buyers in North America.”

Since then, other sporting goods distributors and brands names have also been sullied by Uniker’s counterfeiting scheme. Even a cursory examination of their website gives the impression that they are offering counterfeit versions of the Apike, the Champion, the Stryker and others.

One of the most interesting images on their website is the one shown here. It bears an email address associated with Pickleball Canada and displays the home phone number of Marcel Lemieux, a founding member of Pickleball Quebec.

Pickleball distributors and customers are advised to stay away from counterfeiters. The paddles they are selling may look exactly like name brand paddles, but their quality is far below acceptable standard and, for obvious reasons, they are not covered by any manufacturer’s warranties.

Nationally, most counterfeits are sold person-to-person and most counterfeit dealers sell out of their bags. Reputable dealers who order directly from brand suppliers are generally immune from counterfeiting. However, distributors who attempt to bypass legitimate distribution systems and buy directly from China are susceptible.

Manta Releases 4G Paddles

Manta Destiny 4G Pickleball Paddle

Manta Destiny 4G Pickleball Paddle
Manta Destiny 4G Pickleball Paddle
Canada’s only major pickleball paddle manufacturer is once again leading the way in pickleball paddle innovation globally. Today, Manta Sports of Kamloops, BC, released the world’s first line of 4G pickleball paddles. Unlike their 3G predecessors which were designed with dry foam cores that would shatter into pieces over time, the newest generation of pickleball paddles have cores similar to golf balls. This solid but flexible core ensures that the problems of rattling in 3G pickleball paddles will not be repeated in the new generation.

Manta Fleur-de-lis 4G Pickleball PaddleThis new core technology is a major breakthrough for Manta and for the sport of pickleball. It allows Manta to build a pickleball paddle that will satisfy USAPA deflection standards while giving players an even greater amount of power than the early soft surface paddles that were banned — ostensibly for being “too powerful”. While it remains to be seen how the USAPA will react to this extraordinary step forward in paddle technology, early feedback from pickleball players seems to indicate that power junkies with have a new best friend in Manta’s 4G lineup.

Manta Snow Bird Pro 4G Pickleball Paddle
Manta Snow Bird Pro 4G Pickleball Paddle
Returning from the 3G lineup are the extremely popular Snow Bird Pro and the Pro Team. Of course, the Snow Bird Pro 4G and the Pro Team 4G have completely redesigned 4G cores. They are both much quieter than their 3G versions and they both have brighter, crisper graphics packages. Both also come with a full racquet cover, a feature that helped make them best sellers in the 3G markets. The only thing lost in the move from 3G to 4G is the wrist lanyard, which was of questionable value to begin with.

Manta Pro Team 4G Pickleball Paddle
Manta Pro Team 4G Pickleball Paddle
New to Manta’s lineup for 2014 are the pink Destiny 4G and the black, Fleur-de-lis 4G, which was designed specifically for the Quebec marketplace. Like the Snow Bird Pro 4G and the Pro Team, 4G, both the Destiny and the Fleur-de-lis and edgeless and feature powerful, golf-ball-like 4G cores. Both are also 3/8 of an inch narrower and 0.5 ounces lighter than the Snow Bird and the Pro Team. This makes them better suited to advanced intermediate and expert players.

All four paddles fall in the premium category and will be selling in the $90.00 to $120.00 range. Distribution in the USA is still to be determined, but within Canada, Racquet Network — Canada’s largest supplier of pickleball equipment by far — will have exclusive distribution rights.

Canadian Debut for Wilson Pickleball

WILSON BLX PICKLEBALL PADDLEAs we predicted in early 2011, the world’s largest sporting goods company entered the North American pickleball market with a US-wide release in the spring of 2013. Wilson’s massive distribution system through Sports Authority and other US regional distributors helped to propel its new paddles to the top of the market in just a few months.

Now Wilson pickleball paddles have come to Canada. Beginning on October 7, 2013, Calgary-based Racquet Network began retailing Wilson pickleball products to Canadians through under an exclusive distribution agreement that will last in the fall of 2014.

“We are pleased to have an opportunity to bring Wilson pickleball to our customers across Canada,” said Racquet Network’s Owner, Brent Johner. “Wilson’s reputation as a quality sporting goods brand provides a great fit with our own reputation for great customer service.”

The two most outstanding features of Wilson’s new pickleball paddles are their one-year warranty and their all-graphite construction, says Johner.

WILSON CHAMP PICKLEBALL PADDLE“For whatever reason,” explains Johner, “pickleball players seem to expect their paddles to last forever. The fact that Wilson is a major brand and that they are prepared to warranty their paddles for a year against possible manufacturers defects will help them with older customers.”

The all-graphite construction of Wilson pickleball paddles will also help them attract new customers, Johner believes. “Most pickleball paddles are filled with cardboard. So a leaky water bottle inside your bag is sometimes all it takes to destroy them.” Since Wilson paddles have non-absorbent graphite honeycomb cores, this will not be an issue for Wilson pickleball paddles.

Available at three different retail price points — $70.00, $80.00 and $90.00 — Wilson is offering a 2G paddle at the lowest price, a recreational 3G paddle at the middle price point and a 3G performance paddle at the high end. All three are available in the same grip size (4 1/8″) with the same Cushion Aire Perforated Grip.

Racquet Network is selling Wilson pickleball paddles individually to retail customers and in cases of 12 to clubs and other resellers. Delivery in Canada is typically taking one to three business days.

Manta Releases SNOW BIRD PRO 3G

Manta Snow Bird Pro

Manta Snow Bird Pro
Manta Snow Bird Pro
After months of anticipation, Manta’s Snow Bird Pro pickleball paddle has finally been released in Canada. Available in three patterns (blue, pink and stars-and-stripes), the Snow Bird Pro and the US Team Pro are the first 3G pickleball paddles released by a major Canadian manufacturer. They are also the only 3G pickleball paddles on the market that come with full length protective covers.

As has long been rumoured, Racquet Network has purchased the entire first run of the Snow Bird Pro and has exclusive Canadian distribution rights to this historic pickleball paddle. It is now available on their website for a special introductory price of $90.00, which is $20.00 below the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price of $110.00.

Considering that both the Snow Bird Pro and the US Team Pro include full length carrying cases valued at about $15.00, this means that the new Manta paddle is actually retailing for about $75.00, which makes it the lowest priced 3G pickleball paddle on the market.

Manta Snow Bird Pro Pink Pickleball Paddle
Manta Snow Bird Pro Pink Pickleball Paddle
“We are very excited,” admits Racquet Network’s owner and founder, Brent Johner. “We were the people who first approached Manta about manufacturing 3G paddles for the Canadian pickleball market. To see this effort finally coming to fruition is enormously rewarding.”

In addition to pickleball paddles, Racquet Network also carries Manta squash racquets, luggage and apparel, notes Johner. “We expect this to be another quality Manta product and we are proud to add it to our existing line of Manta racquet sports products.”

Of interest to all Canadian pickleball players will be the fact that only 400 Snow Bird Pro paddles were produced: 200 blue and 200 pink. This makes the Snow Bird Pro a limited edition paddle that is sure to sell out in a short amount of time. “Canadian Snow Birds will want to get their orders in early”, says Johner. “I wouldn’t be surpised if we were sold out before Christmas.”

Manta Team Pro Pickleball Paddle
Manta Team Pro Pickleball Paddle
The same is probably true for US fans of the new 3G paddle. Manta also produced only 200 of their Team Pro (a.k.a Liberty) pickleball paddle.

“Racquet Network will carry a small selection of Manta’s Team Pro for our US customers,” says Johner, “but our primary interest in the Snow Bird Pro. We expect to sell a few of the US version to Canadians who are giving Christmas presents to their US friends, but we don’t forsee that model being a high demand item here in Canada.”

All paddles have been tested by the USA Pickleball Association and were found to have complied with their paddle specifications. They are acceptable for use in tournaments north and south of the Canada-US border.

Are 2G Paddles Becoming Extinct?

2G Pickleball Paddles

2G Pickleball Paddles
2G Pickleball Paddles
We are all familiar with basic design of pickeball paddles manufactured in US garages and workshops over the past 20 years. Made of graphite or fibreglass facings layered over plastic, composite or cardboard cores, all 2G paddles feature a variation on the silicone edgeguard that runs along the entire edge of the paddles in the image to the right.

The colours of the edgeguards and the shapes of the paddle heads vary from company to company, but the basic design of 2G paddles has remained the same for more than 20 years. And as the designs have remained the same, so have the basic flaws of these designs. Eventually, the glue holding the edgeguard in place on 2G paddles gives way and the egdeguard begins to separate. It can happen in as little as two days. It can take as long as a year. Eventually, however, the edgeguard will break free and the layers of the paddle will begin to separate.

In 2009, Surrey-based inventor Frank Wu challenged the pickleball establishment with a new paddle he called APIKE. Unlike the old 2G padddles, Wu’s new 3G design featured a fibreglass paddle head that was fully sealed around a foam core. It was the first truly edgeless pickleball paddle on the North American market. Immediately popular, Wu’s Chinese-made paddle was clearly a threat to the US-based pickleball paddle industry and was promptly banned by the USA Pickleball Association. It didn’t matter though. The fate of 2G paddles was sealed.

Manta Snow Bird Pro
Manta Snow Bird Pro
In three short years, the molds that were used in China to make the revolutionary APIKE were passed from factory to factory. In a country where patents laws are neither respected nor enforced, it was inevitable. Wu’s original design became the foundation for a whole new generation of pickleball paddles carrying the brands of some of the biggest names in the business.

In 2013, all of the new pickleball paddles scheduled to be manufactured in China will follow Frank Wu’s edgeless design. Manta’s SNOWBIRD PRO and Manta’s LIBERTY will be first into the market. Wilson will follow with a US release mid-year and Head will enter the market in time for Christmas.

The retail cost of all of these Chinese-made 3G paddles ($70-90) will be instantly attractive to consumers and extremely difficult for US-based manufacturers to compete with. Some will go out of business almost immediately. Others will hang on stubbornly for a few more years. In the end, though, paddles featuring silicone edge guards will look more and more like CRT monitors and payphones. And the people holding them will seem a little old fashioned and slightly out of touch.

1G, 2G or 3G? What’s Best for Me?

1G Pickleball Paddle
1G Pickleball Paddle
First, second and third generation pickleball paddles all have their pros and cons. Deciding which of these basic paddle types is best for you will depend on what you need and what you like.

First generation (1G) pickleball paddles are made of wood. They have been made that way since people started playing the game back in 1964. In fact, we are told that there are players in the Seattle area who still have 1G paddles that were made in that era.

Wood, of course, is highly durable. Unlike 2G paddles, there are no edge guards to come loose. Unfortunately, wood is also rather heavy. So it is not uncommon for a small wooden pickleball paddle to weigh more than a full-sized adult tennis racquet.

The extraordinary durability of 1G pickleball paddles makes them perfect for group use in schools, community centres and clubs. It doesn’t seem to matter how poorly they are treated, they stand up well and continue perform as they should.

2G Pickleball Paddle
2G Pickleball Paddle
The durability of 2G paddles, meanwhile, does not compare to wood. The most common problem with these paddles is what is know in the industry as “premature edgeguard departure”. In other words, the plastic edgeguard that runs around the entire perimeter of the paddle breaks free and begins to flap around.

The other problem with 2G pickleball paddles appears when moisture (usually from rain or a leaking water bottle) sneaks in behind the edgeguard and saturates the core of the paddle. When the core is made of cardboard, this causes swelling and distortion. In a short time the layers begin to break down and the paddle quickly becomes useless.

In spite of these minor flaws, though, players have been using 2G paddles for pickleball since this style of paddle was first manufactured in the 1980s. The fact that they are lighter than wood and come in a variety of attractive colours and designs only adds to their popularity.

3G pickleball paddles are relatively new on the market. The first of their kind was introduced in 2009. They are modern-looking paddles made of non-absorbent materials like fibreglass or graphite and filled with non-absorbent foam. As a result, water damage issues are not even a consideration for most 3G pickleball paddles.

Wilson BLX Pickleball PaddlePreferred by advanced players who dislike the edge guards on 2G pickleball paddles, 3G paddles have their own issues that consumers need to be aware of. The biggest issue is chipping along the edges. Since 3G paddles lack the prominent edge guards of the previous generation of pickleball paddles, the paint and lacquer along the edges is subject to chipping. In general, this affects only the appearance of the paddle and does not interfere with performance.

The other major issue with 3G paddles is the gradual breakdown of the dry foam core at the centre of the paddles. Like loose grommets on tennis racquets, these small pieces of foam can begin rattling around inside of the paddle and can become a bit of a distraction. Once again, however, this issue may be a nuisance but rarely does it change the performance of the paddle during play.

Look around at your club and any busy day and you will probably see all three types of paddles in use. Each has advantages and disadvantages that have to be considered, pros and cons that have to be weighed.

Over the past five years, 1G paddles have been the cheapest while 3G paddles have cost the most. This is expected to change drastically over the next 12 months as new releases by big names such as Manta, Wilson and Head drive prices down on 3G paddles.

How Long Should Pickleball Paddles Last?

Damaged Edgeguard

Damaged Edgeguard
Damaged Edge Guard
Nobody in tennis expects their racquet to last forever. At the very least, they expect to replace their strings regularly. The same is true for other racquet sports. When squash and racquetball players hit walls or floors, they expect their racquets to suffer some damage. Even table tennis players expect to replace the rubbers on their paddles from time to time.

In pickleball, however, there seems to be a common misconception that paddles should last forever. “I paid $100 dollars for this paddle,” runs a common complaint. “I would expect it to last a few years.” The truth is that no paddle manufacturer offers a warranty on their product because no reasonable person should expect a pickleball paddle to last more than six to nine months.

Whether it is made of graphite or fibreglass, steadily pounding it with a flying plastic projectile for an hour once or twice a week begins to take a physical toll on any paddle almost immediately. Add to that the occasional scrape on the ground, smack on the fence and/clash with other paddles and you begin to see why nobody should expect pickleball paddles to last forever.

Chipped Edge
Chipped Edge
Players who want to their paddles to last longer should do their part by taking care of them. Rather than tossing them in their bag where they can be damaged by rolling around with other items, pickleball paddles should be put away in their cases. They should also be stored in a separate compartment, away from water bottles, shoes and balls.

Of the three major types of pickleball paddles on the market today, only wood can be considered to be truly durable. Wooden paddles do not have edgeguards; they do not have paint or lacquer to chip. All other paddles, whether they are made of graphite or fibreglass will begin to break down the moment you start using them. The more they are used, the faster they will break down.

In short, nobody should expect pickleball paddles to last forever. Manufacturers certainly don’t. If they did, they would offer warranties.

Beware of “Free Delivery”

Free Delivery

Free Delivery
Free Delivery
Canadian consumers need to be careful when ordering pickleball paddles from US-based distributors. All too often, the promise of free delivery can turn into an experience that is very far from free in the end.

Amongst the most common complaints are surprise, hidden charges when items arrive on Canadian doorsteps. Typically these are a combination of duties, taxes and brokerage fees imposed at the border by customs agents. Unfortunately, when added on to the cost of an item, these can quickly raise prices well beyond what would have been paid had the item been ordered in Canada.

The other major problem with crossborder pickleball purchases is the high cost of managing exchanges when mistakes are made. Whether the mistake is made by the person ordering or the person shipping the product, shipping products and exchanges back and forth across an international boundary can be extraordinarily expensive. It can also take weeks to complete a transaction that might be been completed in a few days.

Our best advice is for Canadians to shop locally. Look for Canadian businesses that are affiliated with the Better Business Bureau or other known consumer protection agencies. By doing so you can be certain that your product will not be crossing international boundaries and picking up hidden charges along the way. You can also be certain that such companies have reasonable return policies that are clearly stated on their websites.