There is a camping motto that goes, “If you take care of your stuff, your stuff will take care of you.” This means that if you take the time to maintain your equipment, your equipment will be there for you when you need it.
In 1977, Kenny Rogers recorded “Lucille,” a song with the chorus line, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille.” This line is iconic because it expresses another truth about sports equipment: A piece of sports equipment will always choose a “fine time to leave you.” If it breaks in the middle of play, it will do so at the least opportune moment. Athletes having equipment fall apart on them at a poor moment is as much a staple occurrence in sports as the opposite. One of the most iconic actions in sports is the broken-bat single in baseball.
Do pickleball paddles wear out? Yes, absolutely! A pickleball paddle is a piece of sports equipment. Sports equipment wears out under the rigors of play. No one wants to break a piece of equipment in the middle of play. At best it results in the loss of a point or a rally. The worst-case scenario could end a good day early. No one wants to stop playing because their paddle broke.
Signs Your Paddle Could Be Worn Out
One of the iconic parts of pickleball is the sharp sound of the paddle meeting the ball. A sturdy paddle will hit the ball with a sharp popping noise, with good resonance. The pickleball paddle’s sound is one of the honeycomb cores hitting a hollow ball, and both the ball and the core make the sound. A dead sound could indicate that either the ball or the core, or both, are damaged.
If you start hearing your paddle go dull, first inspect the ball. If the ball shows no cracks or obvious signs of wear, then it’s time to inspect the paddle. A pickleball paddle that is in good condition will look flat in bright sunlight. A wavy paddle indicates a damaged core, which means it’s time to replace the paddle.
If You Have Time To Play, You Have Time To Clean
Pickleball paddles do get dirty over time. Because pickleball courts are public spaces and many are outdoors, a pickleball will pick up dirt from the court. That dirt will transfer to the paddle when it’s hit. When a paddle gets dirty, the dirt will fill in the crevices in the surface. This makes the paddle smoother and cushions the ball from the surface. What this means in the end is that the pickleball paddle will become less responsive and give less energy and less spin to the ball.
The simplest cure for an unresponsive paddle is simply to wipe it off. A paddle wiped down with a lint-free cloth or microfiber cloth with a gentle cleaning spray or even water will pick up much of this dirt and carry it away, restoring the surface. Cleaning a paddle regularly will even extend its life by reducing the amount of force the player must use to keep it in play.
Graphics will wear out over time, but all this means is that you’ve been playing pickleball! If the surface is still textured and not worn smooth, wearing out graphics will have no effect on play at all.
Materials Can Make A Difference
Carbon-fibre, polymer, and aluminum paddle cores are made of a honeycomb material that is light and fast. The honeycomb core is the key to the high-level paddle’s responsiveness, in much the same way that a tennis racket’s strings are what make it responsive in combination with the rubber ball, but the honeycomb can also be susceptible to damage.
If you suspect that the honeycomb structure has been crushed or damaged, it might be time to inspect the paddle as seen above. The same solid construction that makes wood paddles heavy and undesirable in competition play, makes them harder to damage and longer lasting. A wood paddle will not have the opportunity for its structure to crush because the core is just the middle layer of the plywood that makes up the paddle. It’s more likely that a beginner with a wooden paddle will outgrow the performance afforded by the wood paddle than that the paddle will last long enough to wear out.
Beware The Bathtub
This isn’t about taking your paddle in the bath with you! Though you should not do that, this is about a phenomenon known as the “bathtub curve.” Electronics technicians first defined the bathtub curve. It’s been observed for much longer. The bathtub curve is an observation of the behavior of manufactured objects. Products fail at an elevated rate when they’re first manufactured, as defective items break soon after purchase. After defects break, failure drops to a low level, rising slowly over time. Finally, as the designed lifetime elapses, failures rise because the items age out of functionality.
Time To Failure
All of this means that a pickleball paddle in the hands of an amateur player who plays pickleball just once or twice a week for their own entertainment can expect their paddle to last three years or more before it’s time for a replacement. Obviously, abuse of the paddle will reduce that time, but as a rule of thumb, three years between paddle replacements is a good length of time if you are being conscientious about your paddle, wiping it off when it starts to become harder to control, and inspecting it at regular intervals for signs of wear.
A professional player, or an amateur who plays regularly, can expect a shorter time between failures. In the hands of someone who plays several times a week, pickleball paddles can last between 1 and 2 years between replacements. It’s easy to see that the more a paddle is played, the more chances for it to be damaged.
The Good News
With the slow speeds and low energy of an average pickleball impact, pickleball paddle lifetimes are measured in months and years. Do pickleball paddles wear out? Yes, but so do other racquets. Tennis racket strings can last as little as a week or two before needing to be re-strung in the hands of an expert player. Pickleball players can play their sport with durable materials and are far more likely to need to replace balls than paddles. A good pickleball paddle can last for a long time. Players, rejoice!
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