Our friends Steve and Ann from upstate New York were staying with us last week, happy to escape to some warm winter sunshine. We suggested booking a padel court, saying that we had some spare padel rackets that they could use. Ann wanted to know what a padel racket was. They had pickleball paddles back home and wanted to know is a padel racket was the same or similar.
What is a padel racket? Padel is played using a padel racket. The original padel rackets were made from wood, but modern padel rackets are made from composite materials. The face of the padel racket is perforated by a pattern of holes. This feature sets the padel racket apart from the solid face of the pickleball paddle.
There are a number of features that set a padel racket apart from what is used in other racket sports.
Solid vs String Head Racket
Tennis, squash, and racquetball use stringed rackets. Conversely, platform tennis (paddle tennis), pickleball, and padel all use a form of paddle bat.
Paddle bats are inherently easier to control than stringed rackets. I can remember the months and months of just about daily practice of hitting a tennis ball against a wall.
Even with that skill it still took me more than a year of squash coaching with daily practice before I could hit the squash ball reliably enough to generate the heat in the ball that would enable it to bounce.
When I started playing padel I was able to get into playing rallies within the first 20 to 30 minutes of stepping onto the court. It wasn’t as if I was converting a fresh skill of other racket sports. It had been about 15 years since I had held a tennis racket and easily 25 years since I had played squash.
My friend Bernard that introduced me to padel had said that having played any racket sport at any time in your life would give you the vague sense of eye-racket coordination for you to take up padel quickly.
Short Handle vs Long Handle Racket
The types of paddle bats that are used in pickleball, platform tennis and padel are all short-handled bats.
The reason for this is that all three sports have fairly small courts and it is more important to fave control over ball placement rather than hitting the ball hard.
Something that I can remember from when I played a little golf is that it is clubhead speed through the area of impact that generates the ball-speed and consequently the distances that the balls travel. The longer the club shaft, the greater the clubhead speed. The shorter the club shaft the easier it is to control the ball.
Exactly the same applies to racket handles. Longer handles create a wider arc and more racket head speed through the point of impact. When you increase racket head speed you compromise the ability to easily control the ball.
Perforated vs Closed Head Paddle Bat
The idea of perforations is prevalent in the three main paddle bat related sports.
In this case, pickleball is the odd one out. Pickleball is played with a closed head paddle bat, but with a perforated Wiffle ball.
Conversely, both platform tennis and padel have solid balls, but perforated head paddle bats.
The perforations, whether on the ball as in pickleball of on the head of the paddle bat as in platform tennis or padel is the feature that allows greater grip between the ball and the head of the paddle bat. This gives more and easier control over the ball through the area of impact.
Thin vs Thick Head Paddle Bat
The thickness of the head of the paddle bat is to an extent determined by both the ball and the court.
The ball used in pickleball is light and therefore has little impact force on the paddle bat. Also, there is essentially no chance that a pickleball paddle bat will come in contact with a side wall or side netting during active play. Therefore there is no need for a pickleball paddle bat to have any thickness at all.
When it comes to platform tennis the dynamics of the game are slightly different. Platform tennis is played with a sponge ball that absorbs some of the impact force when the ball is hit.
As opposed to pickleball, a platform tennis court is surrounded by netting that the ball can be played off during active play. However, there is an out-of-play area between the boundary lines and the netting meaning that the side netting is not in play when the ball is played down the sideline.
Should a platform tennis player impact the side of back netting with their paddle bat during active play, the netting will be able to absorb a reasonable amount of that impact force.
For these reasons, there is not a need for the paddle bats used in platform tennis to have thick heads.
The paddle bats used in the game of padel are vastly different and for good reason. A padel ball is a tennis ball that is inflated to a lower pressure than a tennis ball. Therefore the impact force with the head of the padel bat is a lot more than in either platform tennis or pickleball. The fiberglass/carbon fiber outer skin of the padel racket flexes allowing the impact force to be dissipated through the EVA foam core.
Also, the padel court is enclosed by solid walls. These are usually glass, although the walls can be concrete as well. I wrote a detailed article about the dimensions of a padel court that you can find by clicking here. In that article, I show that there is no off-court area within the solid walls. This makes the side and rear walls a key part of active play.
It is common for a padel racket to impact the sidewalls of the court during play. This generates massive impact forces that are absorbed by the EVA foam core thanks to the flex of the outer skin.
The outer skin of a padel racket is also bonded to the EVA foam core so that shards of fiberglass/carbon fiber that may splinter off the racket head when impacting a side wall remain attached to the racket. This is vital for player safety.
The wrist strap is another area where the padel racket deviates from the paddle bats used in both pickleball and platform tennis. The presence of a wrist strap is something more akin with racquetball and for the same safety reason. As I mentioned earlier, there is a distinct possibility of hitting the solid sidewall of the court while playing a shot.
When the tip of the padel racket impacts the sidewall it is entirely possible for the padel racket to be pulled from your grasp. That has not happened to me yet, but then again years of rock climbing have improved my grip strength a bit.
However, when a padel racket is pulled from your grip it becomes a dangerous object flying across the court. The potential for serious injury is huge. Having a wrist strap is therefore very important for player safety.
There is even a rule in padel that states that if the wrist strap becomes detached from the padel racket during a point, that padel racket must be replaced before the start of the next point.