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The 5 Best Pickleball Paddles for Intermediate Players (3.5 – 4.0)

You can play with just about any paddle when you start playing pickleball.

When you’re getting started, it doesn’t matter much if it’s a $4 wooden paddle, a $25 Walmart paddle, or your friend’s $250+ paddle. Your focus is on learning the basics of the game and deciding if you want to play much pickleball at all.

Once you catch the pickleball bug and start playing more often and more competitively, then your paddle choice begins to be more relevant.

At the intermediate/3.5 level, you’re starting to learn how to shape your shots, generate more putaway power, and impart spin onto the ball. You’re also working to master your soft game of drops, dinking, and resets.

When the game gets more fine-tuned like this, the paddle you use either adds or detracts to your skill development and overall competency on the court.

If you’re still using a beginner paddle that’s cheap and lacks oomph at the 3.5 or 4.0 level, it’s time to move on. In this post, we’re going straight into the top intermediate paddles that will give you abundant power, effortless spin, and controllability to help you perfect a masterful soft game.

How I compiled this list

I’m deep into the sport of pickleball and the gear side of it. I collect and test paddles like crazy. I research a ton about what other people are playing with, as well, and what the paddle companies are working on.

This list of intermediate paddles is the result of hundreds of hours of playtime and hundreds more of researching the paddle space. My biggest pet peeve is generic or otherwise non-informed paddle recommendations. With any of my recommendations on this site, you can be sure that I spent a lot of time and energy coming to the conclusions that I have.

Without further ado, let’s get to the list of my 5 top intermediate paddle recommendations

1. Ronbus R1.16

The Ronbus R1.16 is my top overall recommendation for intermediate players. This paddle currently tops my list of best paddles under $150. It’s an excellent all-court paddle with great control, spin, and more than enough power. It also has a wide and forgiving sweet spot that limits mishits.

The R1.16 is from a newer brand and isn’t as popular as a lot of the biger names, but Ronbus picking up a lot of recognition in the paddle-nerd world for how its pushing the envelope with its combination of quality and affordability.

The R1.16 is an excellent rival to Joola’s more expensive paddle lines. Its feel and all-court capabilities are comparable to the Joola Vision and Hyperion CAS/CFS/CGS models. I actually prefer the Ronbus over my Joola Hyperion CFS, which is a $220 paddle!

2. Six Zero Double Black Diamond Control

This Six Zero paddle is the first on the list that features a new unibody thermoformed paddle tech that’s been exploding on the pickleball scene in 2023. These new generation raw carbon fiber paddles feature a one-piece thermoformed body, edge foam, and T700 carbon fiber faces.

These new types of paddles pack a ton of power and are stiffer than other raw carbon fiber paddles, which makes them more of an advanced option. The Double Black Diamond paddle, though, is a perfect choice for an intermediate player that’s looking to ease into this new generation of paddle tech.

This is because the Double Black Diamond is (currently) the only one of these new paddles that’s been constructed as a control paddle. Meaning that with this paddle, you’ll get access to the power, spin, and pop from this new tech while still being able to control the ball quite easily.

3.) Legacy Pro

If you’re really looking to up your game as an intermediate player and do it on a budget, then the Legacy Pro is the paddle you should go with.

This paddle hit the pickleball scene like a lightning bolt. You might have heard people talk about this paddle, the hype is certainly real. But we haven’t even hit close to critical mass with the explosive popularity of this and other unibody thermoformed paddles yet.

You can expect to see Legacy Pros all over the courts this summer (2023), which says a lot, considering this is a new company stepping toe-to-toe with well-entrenched giants like Joola, Selkirk, and CRBN.

As an intermediate player, playing with the Legacy Pro could result in your skill ceiling jumping up significantly. This will especially be true if you’re moving from a beginner/non-advanced paddle. The power and spin you’ll get from the Legacy Pro will feel relatively effortless.

You will likely face a learning curve with the Legacy Pro concerning when and how to put the gas on, though. This thing packs a huge amount of punch, and it requires a skilled driver to reign it in. If you’re an intermediate player that still struggles with the control game (i.e dinking, resetting, dropping), then you’ll probably face a few weeks of adjustment before you can really uncork the best qualities of this paddle. This paddle is best for 4.0+ players but can be wielded by some cunning 3.5s.

If you worry you still don’t stack up in the control department, I’d recommend the Double Black Diamond (#2 on this list), because it has some of the best qualities of the Legacy Pro, but is a far more controllable and forgiving paddle. They even have a 14mm Double Black Diamond which gives even more power.

4.) Vatic Pro V7

The Vatic Pro is another new and innovative thermoformed raw carbon fiber paddle. Noticing a trend? Yeah, this new tech is that good!

The Vatic Pro was the first one of these paddles I got and it performed a lot better than I expected. It’s well thought-out and doesn’t overdo power or control in a way that makes it feel unbalanced.

It has a nice sweet spot for an elongated paddle due to the edge foam injection and the thermoforming gives it a ton of pop. The Spin it creates is top-notch, especially with the 14mm Vatic Pro Flash version that uses a tighter, more gritty surface face.

The Vatic Pro is essentially identical to the new CRBN 1X/2X Power paddle line. They play nearly the same and actually are manufactured under similar specs in the same factory as the CRBN. The biggest difference? The Vatic Pro is $80 cheaper, which makes it a great premium paddle for an intermediate player to buy.

5.) Six Zero Sapphire

  • Price: $99 (Take 10% off with Discount Code DASHPB)
  • Paddle type: All-court
  • Where it excels: Great spin, lightweight for quick hands, high-end production & materials at a very affordable price
  • What it lacks: Thinner 13mm core gives power, but makes it not as plush as thicker 16mm paddles
  • Read the full Six Zero Sapphire review

Don’t underestimate it just because it’s entry-level price, this is a solid paddle for any 3.5 / intermediate player. It’s definitely the best you can get in the price range.

This thing has a lot of spin. You’d be able to guess, too, just looking over the face grit right out of the package. Six Zero uses interweaved Japanese Toray carbon fiber layers and an epoxy coating that’s new to the market. I’ve found its spin output to be higher than a number of premium paddles more than twice its price.

The sweet spot this paddle provides is top quality for its price point. A lot of sub $100 paddles have terrible sweet spots, while the Sapphire keeps up with more premium paddles.

I really like the 5.6″ elongated paddle for adding power and completing two-handed backhands. It’s also very light and moves fast at the kitchen/NVZ line.

How to Choose an Intermediate Paddle

Paddles vary in shape, weight, lengths, grip sizes, grip lengths, and of course, costs. Some are better for control, while others are for power above all else.

You need to pick the paddle that works best for you based on a number of factors, namely, your style of play. There’s never a one-size-fits-all recommendation for a paddle, regardless of skill level.

That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a best intermediate paddle for you as a player. There is. You just have to get clear on what you want and what you’re willing to spend to get it.

Here are the key steps to choosing your paddle:

  • Define your style of play. Do you like the soft finesse game of dinking and subtle shot placement? Or do you like to drive the ball hard and overwhelm your opponents with speed and aggression? If you’re the former, a control or all-court paddle would serve you best. If the latter, you might want to double down with a power paddle.
  • Define any special needs. Do you face tennis elbow and need a paddle that can absorb some shock? Do you use a two-handed backhand and need a paddle with an elongated handle? Are you shorter and prefer the extra reach of a paddle with an elongated face?
  • Define your investment threshold. As a 3.5+ player, you know that you’re invested in the game, so it makes sense to invest in your paddle. Some people will tell you to stick to a $75 paddle as an intermediate, others will say just go ahead and buy the best paddle you’re willing to buy. That choice is up to you. Personally, I went for the best paddle I could find and didn’t regret it.

In the end, it’s not what it costs, it’s not what others rate it – it’s what’s right for you at your budget.

It’s never a bad idea to test out a paddle before you buy it. Local players often demo or lend out paddles. If you have access to an opportunity like this, try out a few paddles to really get an idea of what type you’re drawn to.

Conclusion

Hopefully, this list has helped you decide on your next paddle. You won’t go wrong with any of these selections. There are also a ton of other great paddles not on this list that could make you happy.

What are your thoughts about this list? Have you made a decision on a paddle you’d like to buy or try? Have you seen or tried any of the paddles listed here? Let us know in the comments below.

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10 thoughts on “The 5 Best Pickleball Paddles for Intermediate Players (3.5 – 4.0)”

    1. I love the Ronbus paddle I have been using for the last 6 months. I am told it is illegal for tournament play. Is the model in the top spot on your list of recommendations legal for tournament play?

  1. I bought the Six Zero Sapphire some time ago, and I found it to be a good investment. Now, I want to buy another one to have a different experience, but I’m hesitant about the Engage Poach Advantage. Do you have any advice for me?

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