As a passionate pickleball player, nothing drives me crazier than realizing my favorite paddle just isn’t performing the way it used to.
You know something is off – those winning shots are falling short, the ball feels different coming off the paddle, and you’ve lost that sweet touch and control. But how can you really know if your trusted companion on the court has gone dead?
I’ve been there too many times, so let me share the tale-tell signs that your paddle needs to be put out to pasture.
What Is a “Dead” Pickleball Paddle?
Simply put, a dead paddle is one that has lost its mojo. It’s not playing up to the standards it was designed and manufactured to. Through heavy usage over time, bangs, dings, and exposure to the elements, the materials and construction giving the paddle its power and performance have broken down.
Composite paddles made of graphite, carbon fiber, or fiberglass will eventually lose their pop and response after hundreds and thousands of impacts, especially in the same spot. That’s just the nature of composite materials under stress. Even solid wood paddles can develop dead spots and lose their sweetness after years of play.
It’s important to retire dead paddles because playing with subpar equipment can really mess with your game. You’ll quickly notice shots lacking their normal speed and spin, inadequate power, and a loss of control and precision. Your dinks will feel sloppy and you won’t be able to reliably place shots. And it’s super frustrating!
So stay vigilant in assessing your paddle’s health, so you can replace it before it impacts your scores and enjoyment on the court.
How to Tell if Pickleball Paddle is Dead
To tell if your pickleball paddle is dead, you should check if there are any visible dents or chips on the paddle face, then touch it to feel if there is any indentation, and finally tape different spots and search for a hollow sound.
First, thoroughly inspect every inch of the paddle visually. Look for cracks, breaks, gouges, peeling edge guards, or any blemishes on the face. Turn it over and check the handle for cracks as well. If you see any obvious damage, the paddle has likely degraded.
Next, tune into your instincts during play. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do your shots feel weaker and less controlled?
- Does the ball behave differently coming off the paddle surface?
- Has your game just felt “off” with this paddle lately?
Sometimes you don’t perform as well because of a bad day, but multiple bad days are indicators of a damaged paddle.
Beyond instinct, there is another way to “feel” the condition of the paddle:
Brush your hand across the entire paddle surface and edge. Any cracks, chips, breaks, or dents will be obvious. See if the face feels perfectly smooth or if you notice any roughness or dead spots. Press firmly on the handle to see if feels structurally compromised anywhere.
Finally is the sound test. Tap the paddle face gently with your fingernail or knuckles, listening closely first around the perimeter and then at the sweet spot.
When tapping the center of the paddle, which is the sweet spot, should produce a nice resonant ping. And the perimeter should produce a duller sound.
If there is a particular spot that sounds significantly different than others, it’s probably a dead spot.
Also, pay attention to the sound it makes hitting balls – any change indicates potential problems.
Causes for a Dead Pickleball Paddle
There are some common ways a trusty paddle goes to the dark side:
The repeated impact from hours and hours of play wears down the materials, especially the face until the paddle loses its pop. For frequent tournament players, expect to replace paddles yearly.
Accidentally banging the edge against the ground or hitting the fence can damage the laminations and materials even if you don’t see exterior signs. The paddle becomes “delaminated” below the surface, creating dead spots.
Cracks anywhere on the paddle, even just in the edge guard, can reverberate through the entire construction and degrade performance.
Dents to the face from tapping paddles too exuberantly are like bruises – you may not see them but you’ll feel their impact on power and control.
Extreme temperature swings experienced in a hot or cold car can damage the glues and resins holding the paddle together. Leaving a paddle baking in a 150-degree car for hours is extremely hard on its health.
Exposure to dirt, grime, sweat, and moisture from play slowly breaks down the paddle over time as well.
How do I know if my pickleball paddle is delaminated?
Delamination can occur to new and old paddles. Some carbon fiber paddles have a flaw in the design that makes them sound hollow, feel soft, and degrade. For more information, check out my What is a Delaminated Paddle article.
To check if your paddle is delaminated, you can use the same methods when examining dead paddles that is to inspect, feel, and listen to the paddle.
How to Extend the Life of Your Pickleball Paddle
To keep your paddle alive and kicking as long as possible:
- Use a padded paddle cover for transport and storage
- Bring your paddle inside and avoid leaving it in extreme temps
- Never bang paddles. It’s difficult to refrain yourself when losing a winning match, but you don’t want to lose both the match and your money
- Wipe down after play to keep grit and moisture off
For a more detailed guide on keeping your pickleball paddle as long as possible, check out my Pickleball Paddle Care article.
You Are Ready to Replace Your Pickleball Paddle When…
Retire that dead paddle as soon as it starts noticeably impacting your play. Don’t wait until it’s completely useless to shop for a replacement.
If you lose a point because the paddle failed you, it’s time. If your shots don’t have their normal speed, spin, and precision, it’s time. If the ball feels different or uncontrolled, it’s time. If your game has felt “off” and you can’t pinpoint any other reason, it may be the paddle. Trust your instincts.
For newer paddles still under warranty, contact the manufacturer about a replacement. They know defects happen.
Otherwise, it’s shopping time! Use your favorite paddle guide or matching tool to find the perfect new partner for the court. Invest in quality equipment designed for your unique play style and skill level. An extension of your arm should feel like an extension of your arm.
The lifespan of a paddle varies but err on the side of early replacement if you notice any degradation in performance. Why struggle with a dead paddle when a fresh new paddle can elevate your game?