If you've been a pickleball fanatic since 2018 or so, you've probably noticed a little bit of a growth spurt in the sport. COVID boredom left many desperate to try something new and active, this was especially tennis players who migrated to pickleball in droves. However, another group got sucked into the pickleball vortex in this timeframe. That's right - table tennis players.
It's befitting, given how much the sport has influenced pickleball. Fun fact: the first-ever pickleball paddle was a ping pong paddle. Even 55+ years removed, pickleball still can't shake its table tennis roots, as the iconic penhold grip keeps popping up on pickleball courts across the country.
And we're sure you've heard someone describe pickleball as the lovechild of tennis, badminton, and - you guessed it - table tennis.
Both pickleball and table tennis are fast-paced, requiring fast hands to stay in the rally. You also need a strategic mind and hand-eye coordination that's borderline magical to play either sport. They even share a few rules and gameplay elements, like the serve and volley.
But they're not entirely the same. Pickleball uses a perforated plastic ball while table tennis sports a hollow celluloid or plastic ball. Let's not forget the differences in court size, net height, scoring systems, etc. And then there's the paddle - what was the same in 1965 is markedly different today.
This guide is for avid table tennis players who are either migrating or fully addicted to pickleball and looking for a paddle that translates some of their table-bound skills onto the hard court. We'll cover the differences between a pickleball and table tennis paddle, factors that should go into your purchase decision, and a few general thoughts on how to transition into pickleball. We've got a lot to cover - let's get to it.
A Comparison Between Pickleball and Table Tennis Paddles
As a premium pickleball paddle brand, we have a lot to say about the topic of paddles - but this isn't about us, it's about you. And finding ways to transfer your skills and preferences from one sport to the other. So we'll do our best to keep this section light.
As you can imagine, there are far more than 5 differences between a pickleball paddle and a table tennis paddle - we count at least 11 - but where it's related to your transition, this handful of differences cover the majority of considerations you'll face.
Within table tennis, the layer of rubber attached to both sides of the blade is the primary contact point with the ball. There are two main types of rubber surfaces: inverted (smooth) and pimpled (with small raised dots).
Inverted rubbers are more common and offer a balance of spin, speed, and control, while pimpled rubbers can create different ball trajectories and spins, making them more challenging for opponents to predict. The rubber's thickness and sponge density can also affect the paddle's performance.
The surface of your pickleball paddle, like many components, directly affects your power and control of shots. And among the many materials on the market, the vast majority of premium paddles will use one or a hybrid of three materials: fiberglass, carbon fiber, and graphite.
The list of surface materials is extensive, but in the name of brevity we'll stick to these three materials - if you want the full version, head over to our article all about paddle materials. Here's what you should know about each.
- Fiberglass Surface: Fiberglass is a more flexible material than graphite and carbon fiber, so as the ball comes into contact with the paddle, the surface gives a little then snaps back into shape. This acts as a slingshot for the ball and is one of the main reasons it's considered material for players that want more power on their shots. That isn't typically how table tennis players are described - so for those of you who favor finesse and control over power, the next two options will suit you better.
- Graphite Surface: Graphite surface paddles are a great choice for newcomers with a table tennis background. The lightweight and thin profile lowers weight without sacrificing durability or performance. The moderate power of graphite paddles is perfect for players who value finesse and touch over raw power - which most often describes a table tennis player.
- Carbon Fiber Surface: Carbon fiber paddles are another great fit for the ping pong folks out there - like graphite, carbon fiber is lightweight and stiff, but has even greater durability. The Paddltek Tempest series uses carbon fiber for what's often described as a "refined" feel. That's just another way of saying precision and control - if you like to play with spin and finesse, this is the surface for you. Of note, power is similar to that of graphite surfaces.
A pickleball paddle's surface material is a far cry from the textured rubber and sponge that table tennis players are used to. If you're used to an inverted rubber surface in table tennis, a carbon fiber surface will be the closest general material in pickleball. But the real x-factor will be surface grit, and it's the area of focus for table tennis players used to paddles with raised dimples.
A paddle with high grit simply means it has the maximum distance between the dimple peaks and valleys, and rules are strict on what's allowed in pickleball. Be sure to do your homework on the durability of grit for specific paddles before purchasing. You don't want to get a paddle that feels like sandpaper at the store and glass after one game.
Because table tennis leans into precision more than power, a carbon fiber surface would most likely be the closest material to mimicking finesse within pickleball. Messing with surface textures will be the best way to judge how the paddle will accommodate your specific style of spin.
Unlike pickleball, the core of a table tennis paddle has a bit more layers to it. In a simplistic view, there are at least two layers to the paddle core in ping pong - the blade and the sponge.
The blade is the core of the paddle and is made of wood. According to the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) regulations, at least 85% of the blade must be natural wood. Some blades also incorporate thin layers of other materials like carbon fiber or aramid fiber to enhance specific characteristics, such as speed or control. The blade typically consists of multiple layers (plies) of wood, which can vary in number and type, impacting the paddle's overall performance.
As for the sponge, it's a layer of cellular rubber material located between the blade and the rubber surface. It varies in thickness and density and influences the speed and spin of the paddle. A thicker sponge typically generates more speed and spin, while a thinner sponge provides better control and a "woodier" feel.
Pickleball: Material and Thickness
You may not see the core materials, but they're equally important. Using Oreo cookies as the comparison here - if the cookie layers are your paddle's surface, the core would be the creme - but in a honeycomb shape.
You'll see this come up again, but the paddle core also affects the power and control of your paddle. Both materials and core thickness affect the core's impact on power and control.
- Materials: The materials used here run the gamut - from graphite and carbon fiber to high-grade polymers, aluminum, Nomex, etc. you have limitless options. Although the formation of the core is far different than the surface, the material effect is similar. That is, graphite and carbon fiber favor control, and fiberglass leans more toward power.
- Thickness: Although it's at odds with the logic of a table tennis paddle's thickness, this is an easy one to remember. For power, select a thin core. For control, select a thick core. Somewhere around 13mm (1/2") will be a balance between the two - if you go up by 1/16" that would be a thick paddle - going down from 1/2" to 3/8" would be considered thin.
While you may be an exception, most table tennis players love to spin the ball and prefer control over raw power. With that in mind, most table tennis players would want a medium to thicker polymer core. Bonus points for carbon fiber or graphite cores.
Table tennis blades are organized into three weight classes - light, normal, and heavy. This is a similar structure to pickleball paddles, except the weights, are significantly different. Within table tennis, the general weight categories are:
- Light: Less than 80 grams (2.8 ounces)
- Normal: Between 80 grams and 87 grams (up to 3.1 ounces)
- Heavy: Greater than 87 grams (usually max weight of 3.5 ounces)
Choosing a weight comes with advantages and drawbacks. A lighter paddle also has quicker hand speed but lacks power, whereas the inverse is true for a heavy paddle. The same logic applies to pickleball paddle weights as well.
Balance of this weight can impact control and power, where a paddle weighted closer to the handle would be more maneuverable versus a paddle with its weight pushed toward the tip of the head would create more power. This is simple physics, and despite what some pop-ups might have you believe - the laws of gravity apply to pickleball as well.
Pickleball: Weight Class and Balance
Paddle weight should be a top consideration when choosing a pickleball paddle. Lighter paddles allow for faster reaction time and less fatigue, while heavier paddles provide more power - the same as table tennis and any other paddle or racquet sport.
The impact is both technical and physical - meaning it can affect not just the speed of movement but also your joints. If a paddle is too light for you, it can aggravate your arm. The same is true for a paddle that's too heavy. Here's how pickleball paddles are divided by weight:
- Lightweight Paddles: Below 7.3 ounces
- Midweight Paddles: 7.3 ounces to 8.3 ounces
- Heavyweight Paddles: Above 8.3 ounces
Even the lightest pickleball paddle is significantly heavier than the heaviest table tennis blade.
As for balance, you'll find players add lead tape to their paddle edge guards to adjust the balance. Since you're coming from a sport where spin and control are incredibly powerful weapons, you'll want a paddle that's balanced to the center.
This location will distribute weight more evenly so you can apply greater force on the ball - which is a nerdy way of saying you can "get over it" more and apply spin/control.
Weight and Balance Recommendations
If you're coming to pickleball from a table tennis background, we'd recommend a midweight paddle first - somewhere between 7.4 and 8.2 ounces. Preferably one that finds a solid balance between the handle and the top of the paddle face. This will provide a good balance between control and power, making it easier to adjust to the new sport.
As you get more comfortable with the sport and the differences in playing surfaces and shots, you may consider going to a lighter paddle at that point. A lighter paddle may feel closer to your existing style, but without knowing the game well at the start, a lighter paddle would most likely frustrate you.
4. Size and Shape
The average table tennis paddle is about 6 inches (15.2 cm) wide and 10 inches (25.4 cm) long, including the handle. The hitting surface or blade, where the rubber is attached, usually measures around 6 inches by 6.5 inches in width and height respectively. The handle's length varies depending on the player's preference and grip style, with a common range between 3.5 to 4.5 inches (8.9 to 11.4 cm).
It's worth noting that the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF) has set regulations for paddle thickness, rubber, and overall appearance, but not for specific dimensions.
As a result, you may come across different paddle sizes and shapes, but most players stick to the conventional dimensions mentioned above for optimal performance and comfort. As for shape, most table tennis paddles are rectangular and symmetrical.
Pickleball: Length, Width, and Head Shape
Pickleball paddles, on the other hand, come in a variety of shapes and have specific rules about dimensions related to width and height. It's a bit of an exercise in simple mathematics to understand the dimensions, but to simplify it even further, you need to know two rules:
- Paddles cannot be greater than 17 inches in length at any point - so basically from the bottom of the grip to the top of the head, it has to be under 17 inches.
- If you add the length and width of the paddle, that number cannot be larger than 24 inches. Meaning, if you max out the length of the paddle at 17 inches, the greatest width you could make the paddle would be 7 inches.
This is why you see paddles in so many different shapes, but there are limitations that have to be considered.
For elongated paddles that max out the length, you'll get more power behind your shots but will have a smaller sweet spot to hit with, and it will be towards the tip of the paddle's head. For shorter and wider paddles, the sweet spot will be larger - this means it's a more forgiving paddle if you don't hit the ball exactly where you intend to on the paddle surface. It also means you'll create less power.
Somewhere in between the two options is a typical teardrop shape.
Size and Shape Recommendations
The advice here is mostly around a rule of exception. For a player with a strong table tennis background, avoid elongated paddles. Everything else will play closer to what you're used to on the table. An elongated paddle would be better suited for someone migrating from tennis to pickleball.
If a typical paddle in ping pong has a total length of 10 inches, and the face makes up around 6 inches of this, the handle length will be closer to 4 inches. There's obviously a bit of variance to this, but you get the point in a practical sense.
The driving factors that influence handle length and even circumference of the handle come down to a player's preference and grip style.
Of the many options out there, the shake and penhold are the most common. For the shakehand grip, which is popular in Western countries, the grip length usually ranges from 3.5 to 4.5 inches (8.9 to 11.4 cm). The penhold grip, more common in Asian countries, requires a shorter and rounder handle. In this grip style, players hold the paddle as if they were holding a pen, with the thumb and index finger resting on the handle. The grip length for penhold paddles is generally around 3 to 3.5 inches (7.6 to 8.9 cm).
Pickleball: Circumference and Handle Length
In pickleball, selecting the appropriate handle length for your paddle is essential for optimizing power and control. The handle length impacts the distance between the sweet spot and your hand, influencing leverage and control. Longer handles provide more leverage and power, while shorter handles offer greater precision but less power.
As for circumference, this comes down to the size of your hands, but the majority of players will fall around 4"-4.5" for grip size - with some slight margin around both numbers.
Choose a paddle with a grip size similar to your table tennis paddle, this will be a smaller circumference by pickleball standards. This will make it easier to adjust to the new paddle and maintain control during play.
Beginners typically start with shorter handles to develop consistency in hitting the sweet spot. Longer handles can make this more challenging but may improve reach and even enable a two-handed backhand grip, which some pros use.
Ultimately, choosing the right handle length is a personal preference. Experiment with different lengths to find what feels comfortable and enhances your performance.
How to Choose the Right Pickleball Paddle for Table Tennis Players
Table tennis and pickleball are two very different games, that require unique skill sets to excel. However, transitioning from one racket sport to the other can be made easier by choosing the right paddle for your style of play. Outside the 5 differences discussed above, there are a few other factors that should be top of mind when making your decision on paddles.
Beginners may benefit from a lighter paddle with a larger sweet spot, while advanced players might prefer a heavier paddle with more control.
As a table tennis player, you may already have the skills to handle a more advanced paddle. We'd highly recommend going somewhere in the middle, and slightly lighter end of the midweight class. It will be a good entry point into the sport.
Style of Play
Your playing style is another factor to consider when choosing a pickleball paddle. If you're an aggressive player who prefers powerful shots, a heavier paddle may be ideal. On the other hand, if you rely more on finesse and touch, a lighter paddle with a softer feel might be the better choice. This also means choosing graphite or carbon fiber faces and cores. In addition to the thickness of the cores.
Singles or Doubles?
If you tend to play in doubles matches, you'll be dinking a lot more. This means fast hands will be far more beneficial - so shorter, lighter paddles with an emphasis on the control will suit you well. In singles, you'll be covering more ground on your own with fewer dink exchanges, you might consider an elongated paddle for this, but know that it's going to feel far different than your table tennis background would prove useful.
The recommendation here would be a more standard shape with a balanced weight for power and control in singles.
3 Tips for Transitioning from Table Tennis to Pickleball
Making the leap to a new game can be a bit intimidating, with new rules, gear, and techniques to learn. But if you're moving from table tennis to pickleball, with a little guidance and the perfect paddle in hand, you'll be swinging like a pickleball pro in no time.
To smoothly transition from table tennis to pickleball, it's crucial to get a grip (sorry, we can't stop with the puns) on the key differences between the two. From court dimensions and ball types to unique scoring systems, knowing the ins and outs of the game can really shape your play and skill development. But there are 3 areas we see table tennis players struggle in their transition to pickleball the most - relying on their wrists too much, not focusing on grip styles, and not improving footwork. Adjusting each can make a world of difference in boosting your confidence and performance on the court. Let's take a minute and look at all 3 in greater detail:
1. Watch Your Wrist Position:
While wrist action is a big component in table tennis, it's not so much in pickleball. You need to be careful that you don't overuse your wrist, as this can lead to poor accuracy. The ideal form is in keeping your wrist straight and relaxed as you swing the paddle. Many times movement of your arm will come from the shoulder or extend at the elbow.
2. Adjust Your Grip
The grip you use for table tennis may be quite different from the one you use for pickleball. In pickleball, it's important to maintain a neutral grip that provides control of your paddle and allows for more flexibility when swinging. Eastern and continental grips are the most common and utilitarian. It's also important to watch how tightly you grip the paddle. Loose grips create soft hands, a key ingredient to winning dink rallies.
3. Focus on Footwork
Pickleball is a game of positioning and footwork. As you transition from table tennis to pickleball, focus on improving your footwork by getting into the ready position quickly, maintaining balance through your strokes, and making quick yet controlled lateral movements to get yourself in better positions while rallying. You have a lot more ground to cover in this sport - meaning you need to always be on the balls of your feet to get in the best position for any shot.
Embrace Control Over Power
We might be taking too much of a stand on this, but the control and finesse you most likely have from table tennis can be a powerful element in pickleball. This sport is far more about touch than it is strength. As you get started, going for a paddle that's closer to the middle in all facets of control and power will serve you best.
As you get more familiar with it and begin to understand where your table tennis strengths can truly shine, that's a perfect time to lean into components that might make your paddle lighter or more sensitive to control.