The Case for a $180 Carbon-Fiber Pickleball Paddle

Volair's Mach 1 Forza is built for the pros. Do you really need one for your pickup games?

The Volair Mach 1 Forza pickleball paddle. We tested and reviewed the $180 carbon fiber model.
The Mach 1 Forza is one of the best paddles out there, but do you really need the best?
Volair Pickleball

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A couple months ago, San Francisco pickleball players descended on the Presidio to protest a Recreation and Park Department ordinance that they disassemble their makeshift courts. “Dink, dink, this will stink!” some of them chanted. Another exclaimed, “This is pickle disobedience!”

Serious stuff, this pickleball. While it can be a thorn in the side of local governments, tennis purists and court-adjacent homeowners desperate to sell (THWACK!), it’s impossible to argue against the passion of the sport’s players. The celebrity-funded Major League Pickleball may come and go, but pickleball as an activity of the masses — played by 36.5 million people last year — seems primed for the long-haul.

What’s more, as sports go, it seems uniquely designed to increase its participants’ longevity, too. The uptick in pickleball injuries is a concern, sure, but Dan Buettner, National Geographic Fellow and pioneer of “Blue Zones” research, stresses that pickleball’s positives far outweigh its risks.

“I think the sport that adds the most years to your life expectancy is pickleball,” he said in an Instagram video. “Why? Well, it’s a racquet sport, but because it’s also easy to learn and constantly social.”

The prospect of playing pickleball into the 2050s and beyond got us thinking — is it time, perhaps, to invest in better pickleball equipment? An average, decent bag of golf clubs costs at least $1,000. If you play basketball or soccer with any frequency, you’re replacing a $100-ish pair of shoes once every 18 months or so. Meanwhile, regular runners pay more for shoes and replace them more often.

Many of the internet’s pickleball starter sets include a net, a few balls and four paddles. The quality of those paddles varies. Some are made of wood, others of fiberglass. It’s hard to feel particularly serious about them.

Recently, we started playing with a top-of-the-line pickleball paddle, the Mach 1 Forza from Austin-based brand Volair. Is it worth the investment? We dig into what it’s made of, and what it feels like to play with it, below.

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Playing With a Splashy Paddle

Volair’s stated mission is “to create the world’s best pickleball gear.” They work with the pros. Whether or not you’ve ever watched a single second of pro pickleball, know that the planet’s best typically train and play with graphite or carbon-fiber paddles. The former offers more pop, the latter offers more control. Both are extremely light.

At this level of paddle, though — that’s to say, the level beyond wood, or some factory’s hybrid creation — we’re just splitting hairs. If you’re used to playing with a cheap paddle, then picking up a graphite or carbon-fiber model will be a revelation.

The Mach 1 is constructed with a polypropylene honeycomb core, foam walls and carbon fiber. Those carbon fibers are literally woven like ribbons into the face of the paddle. You can feel them if you rub your fingertip across the paddle (there’s a textured, sandpaper quality to it).

You can feel them when you hit that neon green ball, too — the fibers conspire to redistribute the energy across the paddle, making sure the impact is reliable and consistent. (Sometimes, lesser paddles can feel like switching between gears in a rusty old bike. The power output is unpredictable.) With the Mach 1, it took me 15 minutes of play before I’d “learned” the paddle completely.

If you like putting some spin on the ball, well, that’s half the fun of a carbon-fiber paddle, and this model is uncommonly good at it. According to Johnkew Pickleball, an online database for the game’s equipment (as I said: serious stuff, this pickleball!), the Mach 1 Forza is right near the top for spin percentile among the entire industry.

Do you “lose” something in exchange for all that control and spin? From a personal standpoint, I don’t think so. As someone who tends to miss long, I prefer a wily paddle to a world-dominating one. The Mach 1 Forza is plenty powerful — you won’t be disappointed.

Obviously, if you’re an extremely serious pickleballer, one who plays in leagues and tournaments, you should test Volair’s models against those from Selkirk, Neonic or Proton. It’s similar to finding yourself the right putter or driver. But if you like the game even a little bit, I highly recommend treating yourself to a paddle that will make you successful, happy and inspired to keep playing — no matter what The Man tries to do to your local courts.

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