What is pickleball? What you need to know and buy to play America's fastest growing sport

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If it seems like just about everyone is talking about pickleball, you’re not imagining things. The US Open Pickleball Championships finals are happening today and tomorrow, featuring intense matchups between the best players of America’s fastest-growing sport. 

There’s never been a better time to play pickleball. More than 2.5 million people play the more accessible cousin to tennis every year, which might explain why the sports world’s elite — LeBron James, Kevin Dunant, Drew Brees, Naomi Osaka and Pat Mahomes included — have invested in the sport. 

If you’re finally ready to see what all the buzz is about, we’ve got you covered. Keep reading to learn more about the trending sport and get our recommendations on the must-have pickleball gear to start your soon-to-be new favorite hobby. 

What to look for in a pickleball paddle for beginners

The best pickleball paddle for beginners is one that’s relatively easy to control and more forgiving when you hit at a bad angle. In practical terms, that usually means lightweight (nothing over 8.2 ounces), a thicker core (typically 13 mm or higher), and the shortest handle you can comfortably hold given your hand size.

If you’re willing to spend more, opt for a carbon fiber or graphite face because these materials tend to offer more control and a wider sweet spot — the area on the paddle face where you’ll get the most power and accuracy in your shot.

If you’d prefer a more budget-friendly option, opt for fiberglass. It’s not as stiff as carbon fiber or graphite so you won’t get as much power and control, but it’s still a reliable, beginner-friendly material. It usually comes at a fraction of the price of a carbon fiber or graphite paddle.

(Once you’re ready to take your game to the next level, take a look at our picks for the best pickleball paddles for advanced players.)

Our favorite pickleball paddle for beginners: Vatic Pro Prism Flash

The Vatic Pro Prism Flash is an investment, but it’s worth it. Weighing in at 8 ounces, it’s a midweight paddle that offers a good balance of power and control. Adding to that power and control is the carbon fiber face and standard 7.7-inch width.

All of this makes the premium paddle one of the best picks to help you feel confident in your swing from day one. With the balance of power and spin, you can use this paddle to start honing your technique by practicing hard drives and lobs, as well as dinks and spins.

If your end goal is to play pickleball casually with friends, the performance of this paddle will serve you well for years. By the time you do finally need to upgrade, you’ll know exactly whether you’re more of a power player or spin doctor.

Get it on Amazon for $100.

$100 at Amazon

More pickleball paddles for beginners

Best complete pickleball set for beginners: YC Dgycasi

This pickleball set comes with two honeycomb polymer core paddles, which are lightweight and durable, four balls and a carrying case. That’s everything you need to start playing in one convenient set. 

The soft paddles offer a comfortable grip with a carbon fiber-based composite surface that reduces ball deflection and improves gameplay. For beginners, we also love the shorter handle (4.9 inches long) and wider paddle (7.8 inches). Together, this shape and size are easier to control than longer paddles.

With two indoor balls and two outdoor balls, this set also ensures you’re ready to play on any court.

Even more beginner-friendly is the price. The budget set includes two paddles, four balls and a carrying case so you and a friend can get everything you need to start practicing for under $50, all in.

Regularly priced at $40 for the set, you can get it for just $32 after clicking the on-site coupon at Amazon.

$32 at Amazon

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What type of ball do you use in pickleball?

When choosing a pickleball ball, the key features you need to check are weight and the number of holes on the ball’s surface. 

Regulation balls will weigh somewhere between 0.78 and 0.935 ounces. If you’re playing outdoors, you want something on the heavier side so it won’t blow away as easily on the wind. Indoors, a lighter ball is fine. 

When checking the number of holes, official regulations allow for anything from a minimum of 26 holes to a maximum of 40 holes. If you’re playing outdoors, get one with 40 holes because this improves wind resistance so the ball can bounce and fly as you intended.

For indoor play, opt for fewer holes. 26-hole pickleballs typically have larger hole sizes which helps slow them down and make them a little softer — features you want when playing indoors since you need more control over the ball to keep it confined to the smaller space.

Best outdoor pickleball balls for beginners: Franklin Sports X-40

An Amazon best seller with over 14,400 5-star ratings, these premium quality Franklin Sports X-40 pickleball balls check all the boxes for a great outdoor ball. They weigh in at 0.92 ounces, the higher end of regulation ball weight, and are constructed with 40 machine-drilled holes.That weight and hole configuration is ideal for a balanced flight pattern and reliable spin, even in wind. These welded pickleballs are seam-free for precise play. They come in four vibrant colors.  

While they’re available on Amazon in packs of just three, we recommend beginners grab a 12-pack or larger. That way, as you’re practicing, you can just grab a new ball instead of chasing down every mishit and fly-away ball. 

Get the 12-pack of top-rated outdoor balls for $30.

$30 at Amazon

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Best pickleball backpack: CRBN Pickleball backpack

With room for up to three paddles and space to spare for balls, shoes and more, the CRBN pickleball bag is the best way for new pickleheads to carry all of their gear to the court. But what sets it apart from a regular backpack or paddle case is the thermal lining that keeps your pickleball paddles protected from extreme heat and cold. That protection means this pickleball backpack can double as your long-term storage solution for your pickleball gear. Storing your paddles somewhere cool, dark and dry will keep them from getting worn and damaged before their time. 

Get the waterproof, thermal-lined pickleball backpack at Amazon for $60. 

$60 at Amazon

More top-rated pickleball backpacks

What you need to know about pickleball

If you haven’t already been coerced by your overly enthusiastic friend to grab a pickleball paddle and play, your time is coming.  Pickleball is growing by leaps and bounds because it’s easy to play and really, really fun. Here are some answers to some of those burning questions you probably have.

How did pickleball get its name?

Pickleball has been around since 1965 and, according to lore, the sport’s name is a nod to the originator’s dog, Pickles. According to Joan Pritchard, the wife of Joel Pritchard, one of the game’s originators, the dog came after the sport. 

Instead, Joan wrote in a 2008 op-ed that she coined the name because the invention of the game reminded her of a pickle boat. A rowing term, “pickle boat” refers to a crew made up of oarsmen chosen from the leftovers of other crews. Similar to a pickle boat, pickleball was initially made up of the leftovers from other sports: homemade ping pong-like paddles, a whiffle ball, and a badminton court.

Where do I play pickleball?

Pickleball courts are becoming easier and easier to find, whether it’s a dedicated pickleball facility or a long-standing tennis center that’s added a few pickleball courts. If you do a quick Google search for pickleball courts near you, you’re sure to find plenty of both indoor and outdoor options. 

If the pickleball craze hasn’t quite reached your town yet, though, you can set up a pickleball (or badminton) net in your backyard to create your own makeshift pickleball court. A flat driveway or patio would be the best place, but you can play on a lawn in a pinch–just don’t expect as much bounce from the ball. 

Do I need to be an athlete to master pickleball?

No. In fact, you don’t even need to master pickleball to play the game. The scoring and serving rules might take a minute to make sense of, but the gameplay itself is much more beginner-friendly than tennis thanks to its use of lighter equipment and a smaller court size. 

Isn’t pickleball just tennis with cocktails?

Well, not exactly. But we like the way you’re thinking.

While the courts and basic gameplay might look similar from a distance, pickleball is played on a shorter court and has its own distinctive rules. For example, when serving, the paddle can’t be raised above your waist and you’re required to alternate between serving from the right and left side. The scoring system is also different, with most casual games playing until someone scores 11 points, winning by at least two. In tournament play, games go up to 15 or 21 points.

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