Paddleball vs pickleball - are they the same?

picture of Brandon Mackie
Brandon Mackie

Updated on: Dec 2, 2022

A paddleball and a pickleball racket side by side

Pickleball is exploding in popularity, both here in the USA and across the world. This means new people hear about pickleball every day, and they have questions!

Some of the most common questions we hear are: Isn’t pickleball the same as paddleball? Or aren’t pickleball and padel the same game? And, what about paddle tennis?

These are all good questions. And, working out the differences between all the paddle sports can be confusing, to say the least.

So, as your trusted pickleball authority, we decided to put together a definitive guide on paddleball vs pickleball. So, next time you’re asked, you’ll be armed with all the facts.

What is pickleball?

Players participate in a game of pickleball doubles

The history of pickleball begins in the Seattle area in 1965, where the sport was invented by a couple of families with a shed full of sports gear and an unused badminton court. Ping-pong paddles were subbed in instead of badminton rackets, and a wiffle ball was found.

The families started to play and soon realized they were on to something. After a few adjustments and some fine-tuning to the rules, pickleball, as we know it, was born.

The surrounding community got in on the action and was soon hooked. Within a couple of years, one of the neighbors built a dedicated pickleball court, cementing (!) the game in the neighborhood tradition. And the rest, as they say, is pickleball history.

The rules of pickleball are a mixture of tennis and ping pong rules, with various differences and additions. In pickleball you serve underhand, diagonally across the court. A rally then begins, and when someone eventually messes up, the other team gets a point.

In this sense, scoring in pickleball is more like winning points in ping-pong than it is in tennis.

A graphic showing the dimensions of a pickleball court

An important and unique piece of pickleball gameplay is the ‘kitchen’—the 7-foot area on either side of the court.

This is also known as the non-volley zone. You can never hit a volley—which is a shot hit out of the air—while any part of your body is in the kitchen. This is one of many pickleball kitchen rules players have to learn.

An image of three pickleball paddles

When it comes to paddleball vs pickleball paddles, a pickleball paddle is roughly the same size as a paddleball paddle but does not have any holes in it. In 2023, the best Pickleball paddles are made of wood, plastic, or - most commonly these days - composite materials with a graphite face.

Match-ready pickleball balls are lightweight, hollow, perforated, and made from plastic. They have fewer holes than traditional wiffle balls, so are slightly heavier.

Pickleball net height is about 6 inches lower than a tennis net. A regulation pickleball net is 22 feet wide with a height of 36 inches at the posts and 34 inches in the middle.

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What is paddleball?

A pickleball paddle

Paddleball has a slightly longer history. One version of the game, “one-wall paddleball” was created as a variation of handball. The story goes that players decided to use paddles to protect their hands in a particularly cold winter, possibly in the 1940s.

Four-wall paddleball has a better-documented origin story. It was invented by a physical education teacher, Earl Riskey, at the University of Michigan in 1930. He found that playing racquetball with a paddle instead of a racket created a fun new variation of the game.

The rules of paddleball are very different to those of pickleball. Firstly, paddleball has no net. Instead, opponents stand side by side and hit the ball off a wall.

The first player serves, which means striking the ball off the back wall and letting it bounce. The next player must hit the ball back off the wall.

From then on, the object of the game is for each opposing player to return the ball against the wall without letting it bounce on the floor more than once. In four-wall paddle tennis, the ball can strike any number of walls throughout the point (more on this later).

A paddleball paddle differs from a pickleball paddle in that it has holes in it. These are added to reduce air friction, which allows for a faster swing. Paddleball rackets are also typically a slightly rounder shape.

Paddleball balls are very different to pickleball balls in that they’re usually small, soft rubber tennis balls. They’re a little bigger than a ping pong ball and similar to squash balls.

In four-wall paddleball, a racquetball ball is sometimes used. Depending on where you are in the country, there are several types of ball used for paddleball.

Before we move on, let’s make a clear distinction between paddle tennis and ‘padel’. Padel is a game that was invented in Mexico. It’s still most popular in Spanish-speaking countries. Padel similar to tennis but is played in an enclosed court where the ball can bounce off the walls.

One-wall paddleball vs four-wall paddleball

We’ve mentioned that there are two variations on the game of paddleball: one-wall paddleball and four-wall paddleball. They could be considered different games.

The first version, one-wall paddleball, can be played in singles (1 vs 1) or doubles (2 vs 2). This game evolved from handball. So, it’s played against a single wall usually with a small rubber ball identical to a handball ball. The rules are very similar to those of handball.

Four-wall paddleball is much more similar to squash. It’s played on a slightly larger court, which is totally enclosed by four walls and a 20-foot-high ceiling. It can be played by 2, 3 or 4 players, and the rules are almost identical to those of racquetball.

A graphic detailing the similarities and differences between pickleball and paddleball

Similarities between the sports

Most of the skills needed to play paddleball and pickleball are also the same. Being quick on your feet and agile, with the ability to change direction quickly is a must in both games. Power and accuracy in your shots are also needed in both games as well as getting spin on the ball.

Differences in the games

Now, let’s look at the main differences when comparing paddleball vs pickleball. First up, a pickleball paddle is a flat, untextured face. Pickleball regulations state that it must be smooth:

2.E.2. Surface. The paddle hitting surface shall not contain holes, indentations, rough texturing, tape, or any objects or features that allow a player to impart additional spin on the ball.

A paddleball paddle, on the other hand, often has extra grip features added. They’ll also often have holes in the face for reduced wind resistance.

The balls are very different in pickleball and paddleball. Pickleball uses a lightweight plastic wiffle ball with holes in it. Paddleball usually uses small, soft rubber balls, but it can also be played with a racquetball or even a tennis ball.

Scoring in pickleball is different to both versions of paddleball. The method of serving is also different. In pickleball, players serve underhand, diagonally across the court. Paddleball serves are taken overhand, with full force, against the back wall.

Pickleball courts are the same size as badminton courts, 22-ft by 40-ft. Paddleball is played on a court that is 20-ft wide and either 34- or 40-ft long, without a net, of course.

When it comes to difficulty levels, it’s not easy to say which of the sports is more demanding. Playing at the top level of each requires great fitness and skill.

Pickleball, however, is by far the more popular of the two sports, with nearly 5 million players in the USA alone. Paddleball has a fraction of that following.

Bottom line

Phew, we made it! It turns out the world of paddle sports is a confusing and complex one. But we’ve now untangled the difference between pickleball and paddleball.

We’ll be doing articles on pickleball vs paddle tennis and pickleball vs padel soon. So, stay tuned to the Pickleheads blog page!

If we’ve left you with any doubts, don’t hesitate to reach out to us on our socials with any questions or comments you might have. We look forward to seeing you there!


About the author
Brandon Mackie
Brandon is an avid writer and co-founder of Pickleheads™. Once a competitive tennis player, Brandon can now be found these days honing his dinks on pickleball courts near Phoenix, Arizona.
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