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.
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.