Four 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.