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Simply Pickleball Podcast with Prolite CEO Neil Friedenberg

Neil Friedenberg Simply Pickleball Podcast Cover

Prolite invented the first composite pickleball paddle in 1984, made from scraps of Boeing airplane material. 40 years later, Prolite is reinventing pickleball paddle construction again with the K2 Power. CEO Neil Friedenberg explains what sets Prolite pickleball paddles apart and why the company has succeeded for almost 40 years.

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I knew that, you know, when you’re out there, you want to have that paddle out there that kind of has a little taste of your personality. And so that’s what I wanted to do. And we offered probably at the time way too many colors per model. It’s like 6 or 7. And now it’s, it’s come down quite a bit now. But we did that and then I started bringing in new materials, polymer honeycomb cores, fiberglasses that were fairly thick.


You know, the facing is important and I can’t get too detailed, but there’s a lot of different skins, they’re called or facings out there that can dramatically affect the ball and the spin ratio, everything. Hi, I’m Crystal Brown, your host. Would you believe that Prolite Pickleball Paddles has been in business for 40 years and they were started by Boeing engineers?


Well, Neil Friedenberg took over the company from his father 10 years ago and they remain a leader in the paddle industry. He shares where Prolite sees itself fitting into a very competitive paddle market. And a big announcement on the way that could disrupt the market. OK, now to the show.


Welcome to Simply Pickleball, the podcast where we discuss all things Pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in America and around the world. We are interviewing the founders, industry leaders, athletes, lovers of the sport that are driving the spectacular growth.


If you love pickleball as much as we do, listen in. Great. Well, Neil, thank you so much for joining today. I am super excited to learn about Prolite. I was actually contacted by one of the listeners of the podcast, which is great. I hope everyone will subscribe so they can hear all of our episodes.


And he mentioned you and Prolite and I’m really excited to dig into all that you’ve done in your career and all that Prolite’s doing. But before that, maybe you can tell me a little bit about the course of your career with sports. Were you always sporty kid? Did you grow up around sports?


Yeah, every sport imaginable, pretty much. You know, my dad instilled the love of sports, especially lifelong sports in me when I was a kid and I played baseball, basketball, tennis, golf, racquetball, and the heyday, you know, in the 80s, and just always been involved in sports.


My favorite little field trips, you know, with my parents, were going to sporting goods stores and walking around pretty much by myself, just analyzing all the different types of sports equipment and why they attracted my eyes. And it wasn’t just on the field or at the courts. It was at sporting goods stores where I was just thrilled to learn about it, and you know.


Can you share with me that you were one of those kids that they’d have to find over the loudspeaker? I was that kid. You could contribute that to attention issues? No, I was that kid that would walk around by myself and look at the different types of sports equipment and why it caught my eye.


And then before you know it, I would hear Neil Friedenberg, please come to the customer service desk. Your parents are waiting for you. And that was kind of a common Saturday or Sunday, you know, at places in near Seattle where I grew up in Federal Way, places like Big 5 and Olympic sports and GI Joe’s was a big one at the time.


Yeah. So how did you first find Pickleball? Was it at one of the sporting goods stores, or was this something that your father parents, brought into your life? Yeah, you know, it wasn’t at the stores or anything like that. I didn’t hear about it until my dad, who was always active in sports as well. He was a lot of the time my coach.


But at Weyerhaeuser headquarters in Federal Way, they put a pickleball court in the fitness center right next to the racquetball courts. And him being kind of a gym rat, a sports nut, he started playing on his lunch hour, skipping lunch completely and playing against, you know, very good players, getting whooped by them, trying to understand why that happened.


And he started analyzing the sport to a point where he fell in love with it. Just like kind of like a lot of people do and. Was this, this was back in the 90s or this was the late 80s? This was the late 80s. So we’re talking 87-88. So they put that in there and it was open on the weekends.


So he started bringing myself, my sister Julie to the courts, kind of hitting around and I think I was more interested in it than maybe my sister. So I wanted to beat my dad so badly because he was good at every sport. It was that, you know, I’m 11-12 years old, I just going through puberty and all that and just really wanted to annihilate him on the court.


And he whooped me. And there I learned, wait a minute, this isn’t about age and youth, and it’s about placement and strategy and, you know, the intelligence of where you’re going to put the ball next and the sequence of how to get to that point where you’re putting away a ball.


I mean, it’s pretty amazing for me. I’m relatively new to the sport, just that, you know, you guys were playing back in the late 80s and you know I want to get into this in a little bit, but just how it’s having its moment now, but you’re. So steeped in it, I mean to be 11 or 12.


Now there are 11 and 12 year olds all over the country, but at the time it was probably relatively unique for you to be into pickleball at that age. There wasn’t a lot of 11 and 12 year olds probably play in this game, except maybe at the junior high level or in high schools, you know, later on because growing up on the West Coast and where it originated, the Seattle area, it was part of the physical education unit.


So we had badminton, we had little table tennis units, then we had pickleball, we’d go outside and it was on asphalt. But there were dedicated courts. And again, this is in Federal Way at Lakota, kind of dating myself here, but we we had little mini round Robin tournaments against the other classmates and at that time was wooden paddles and we were still hitting the ball really, really hard.


So it wasn’t things who dropped shots or anything like that. Yeah, so, OK, so then Fast forward. Did you play in high school or did you move on to other sports and then in college? And when did it kind of re-enter your life? I played in junior high and then they, of course, in high school, they also had a pickleball unit.


And then it just kind of dropped. I played baseball, I played golf, I played a little tennis. You know, I stayed in those types of traditional sports. You know, ended up moving to Wisconsin where I am now, finished College in Eau Claire, WI. And I didn’t even touch a pickleball paddle or anything for a long time until about 2011 is when I actually, I bought the company.


My father was actually running it more as a hobby, but he wasn’t just going to hand it over or anything. He I bought that company from him and I just had all these ideas before buying the company. He made me a distributor and I didn’t know that. That was not my background. My background was teaching at health. You know, I taught kids the importance of being healthy and choosing active lifestyles for the rest of their life.


I preached that to the kids. And you know, of course when you’re young you want to play professional baseball, professional football, professional, anything. I just wanted them to be active and it wasn’t till that time where I started teaching pickleball to the kids because. You were what? Grade what?


How old were the kids you were teaching? Actually, my first teaching job was pre-K through 8th grade, so it wasn’t until 5th, 6th, 7th you know and 8th where I started running little tournaments for the kids. Because in the equipment room when I first got the job, I found a whole load of Diller pickleball paddles, the wood type.


And I asked, you know, our principal at the time, I said just have they ever learned pickleball here? Because, you know, I I remembered, of course, when I was young and they said no, those paddles never have been touched. And so they had a load of pickleball pedals, but they didn’t use them.


And so I started teaching pickleball and by far it was their favorite unit. They just loved it. They loved how it didn’t matter what their background was. They just fell in love with the game too. And. So that’s so, so, So your father, did he start Prolite or did he acquire the company?


No, he did not start Prolite. That does sometimes come up. But this, it’s very fascinating. This company is very much a legacy brand, you know, a true legacy brand. You have a father-son where it was started, Arlen Peranto and his son Steve Peranto.


Steve still plays and he’s out there on the senior circuit too playing, but he does a lot of teaching. Great guy, but him and his dad started Ultra Light Paddle Company and their first non-wood paddle was a pro light at the top and you can see it right here.


That was the first paddle. This wasn’t the very, very first paddle. But this is this is definitely mid-80s right here. Wow. And it says love it. This says ultra-light paddle company Eatonville, WA, which is kind of near Mount Rainier in Washington.


And Arlen was a Boeing engineer. And what he would do is find scraps, basically floor panels from airlines and bring them back because at the time, you know, they both left pickleball, Steve and Arlen. But the only thing that was available was wood paddles. And the weight ratio compared to a tennis racket and tennis ball was much lighter.


It was way off with the wood paddles versus, you know, the pickleball. So they changed it. So he brought back the floor panels from Boeing, and it turned out when they made a paddle with the edge guard and the end cap and everything, it was absolutely identical to a tennis racket and a tennis ball.


So they found. I mean, there’s, sorry, just so there’s a ratio of tennis racket to tennis ball in terms of swing rate or just actual weight. Yeah, actual weight. So the wood paddles were just way too heavy. And as you know, the paddles have changed. But what hasn’t changed, even 40 years later, is a lot of the paddles out there are the honeycomb structure, and the paddle I just showed you that is a honeycomb cord paddle.


And it just shows you how valuable what Arlen discovered, how valuable that is even to 2023. So he was the first one, Arlen, who founded the company or created the Prolite, and he figured that out because he was a Boeing engineer.


That’s amazing. That’s really amazing. Yeah, he loved it. He created all sorts of paddles in their shop in the garage, basically. And Steve at the time, you know, we’re talking quite a few years back, he was pretty much one of the best players on the West Coast or in the Northwest where most of the tournaments were.


And yeah, that’s kind of how it happened it. Was And then your How did your father get connected with Steve? So Steve and Arlen, they sold the company to a gentleman, I believe his name was John Candelario. Then my father bought it directly from him in, I want to say, in 2004 or 2003, somewhere in that area in the early 2000s.


And you know, at that time, pickleball was very important to my dad. You know, he went, he created the USAPA at the time, the governing board. He was the president for a while. He knew how special this sport was a long time ago, before it was cool. And so did Prolite, basically.


And and you know, as a kid, I didn’t know yet, but I knew it was a lot of fun. And I didn’t think about, you know, when you’re 11, you don’t think about, oh, this is going to get older folks active and add years to their lives. But that’s what my dad was always saying. It adds years. It’s the fountain of youth.


It saves lives. And I’ve since owning the company and having those phone calls with great people out there, I’ve heard that firsthand, you know, from all the customers. That’s so great. That is. I mean, I couldn’t agree with you more, and one of the episodes we did with Brad Cousineau, who is the former NFL player, he really talked about that for him and the sort of.


Revitalizing his interest in athletics and losing £35.00. So I was just thinking, you know what it does. And I’m I’m 46 years old when I first bought the company. A few years later after that, about 2014, I felt that fire reignited in competitive sports.


And I’ve always been competitive in sports. I I missed it, and I found it again with pickleball and I brought my golf background, my tennis background, even baseball with, you know, hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes. And I brought it back and I started entering tournaments again and I was doing well, you know, and I don’t know if I could ever compete with what’s out there now, but I remember playing a couple of those people out there that are playing professionally, and it just reignites that fire of competitiveness and it makes you feel like you’re 20 years old again competing.


Yes, yeah. I think it’s the one place you really just kind of. You just stay focused on what you’re doing and you really forget about everything else, whether it’s what’s going on in your life or your age. Yeah, it’s it’s weird when I’m out there playing and I’m talking and I have three kids, you know, I’ve, I’m almost 50, and I’m playing against 20-year-olds and 25, 26, whatever.


And it’s just, you know, they have so many years to go and who knows what’s gonna happen. Some of them aren’t even married and it’s just funny. But we’re all coming together bridges that age gap and even generations. Well I it’s funny, I was playing in in with some 20, late 20 something you know guys, and I was thinking there’s really very few sports that I would feel totally confident going head to head with some like 6 foot 3, 27-year-old like I would there’s there’s not a lot of sports I’d be like yeah I’m going to compete against this person but.


So yeah, that’s so interesting. So, so getting back to your dad, I mean it sounds like he really, this was a a a company that he owned, but it wasn’t his main career, right? He had other jobs and and things. Yeah, he was in the Naval Reserves and he was also a computer analyst and programmer.


He worked, he actually worked at Boeing before Weyerhaeuser. And you know, he was of course, like I said, involved at the Naval Academy of Naval Reserves. He was a teacher there, an officer, and I was born on the Naval Academy base in Annapolis, and then we moved to Seattle when I was about two years old.


So. He sounds like a pretty awesome guy. And so when did it come up that you thought maybe you’ll leave the your teaching career and start running a company which is a really different, you know, set of skills. It’s definitely different. I learned a lot as I, you know, I would stay up till one 2:00 every night just researching materials.


What can make a paddle different? You know, How can it be better? And then a lot of the time, and I’m kind of embarrassed to admit this, but when I was teaching and I’d had prep periods, you know, little gaps or lunch periods, I would get out my notebook, write all these different types of notes with paddles.


And who is this paddle geared for? What does it look like? What is it shaped like? What does it weigh like, or what? Where’s the head weight? All that? Because pickleball’s so special, it’s bringing every background to the court. And what I mean is, you know, you don’t have to have a racket, sports background or paddle or or anything like that.


You could, you know, be baseball or softball or whatever or nothing. But people are transitioning to pickleball from typically another sport. So how do we make that transition very smooth into a piece of equipment and? So do you? That’s what drove me. Yeah, but. But in essence, what you’re saying is that there are different paddles for different players?


Absolutely, Yeah. I think everyone’s different. Some of them might not know it yet, but when they hold it and feel they’re like, Oh yeah, that’s this one’s for me. I I like where the weight is either in the top or the bottom or it’s very well balanced it, you know, they like that immediately. And as you see different players out there, you can tell the tennis players typically out on the court because their grips are huge, You know, they don’t, they want that finger in between.


They don’t want overlap. And then you see people out there that come from table tennis and you know they got that finger up there and my dad does that, or and racquetball. They want an ultra-thin grip. And yeah, everyone has preferences out there. And I was curious about that because you know you’re the Prolite brand has a fair number of paddles to offer, right.


And and so essentially that’s you’re saying that a lot of that is because different players have different needs and different desires on how they play. Yeah, and weights too. You know, there are a lot of tennis players that keep using them as an example, ’cause right now, I mean, there’s just a huge influx of tennis players and they typically like a heavier weight, especially up top.


And if it’s not perfect, they’ll put some lead tape or, you know, edge tape armor or something like that to to weight it up there. Yeah, everyone has a preference, and different materials react differently with the ball. Right. So let’s talk about that. So you you, you, you took over the company about 10 years ago, is that right, 2011 in April, yeah.


So we’re going on a while now. Yeah. So what were the, what did you do when you first took it over? What were the changes that you started to make or what did you feel like the opportunity was for you? When I first took over? You know, I knew there was so much more out there, but it was so new.


I just wanted to, you know, be involved in what we had right now, you know, so at the time, we used a lot of Nomex core, graphite, Kevlar, fiberglass, and this is way back when. It’s kind of funny right now with Kevlar is kind of coming back. So you know, how it’s being treated in, in the industry is like, Oh my gosh, it’s this brand new material.


But it’s been around for a really long time. But when I first took over, we created a couple different shapes with longer handles and and more aerodynamical shapes. And then at the time, you know, my father was making different types of shapes with like, I don’t have them here, but the enforcer was a paddle that was very teardrop.


There’s a Magnum graphite. He developed the blaster, which was a really oversized paddle with the short handle. And, you know, he could stick that finger. I think he made it just for himself. But it turned he had the right to do that. Oh, he did. He played. He’s he’s written books and is a previous national champion in the Hall of Fame.


He he has credentials. But yeah, he the Blaster was by far our top seller at the time. And then I wanted to have a little fun. I’m very visual. He’s very, you know, he’s a computer analyst and and you know, was a math major too at USC and California and we think differently.


So I’m visual. I I knew that. You know, when you’re out there, you want to have that paddle out there that kind of has a little taste of your personality. And so that’s what I wanted to do. And we offered probably at the time, way too many colors per model. It’s like 6 or 7. And now it’s, it’s come down quite a bit now.


But we did that and then I started bringing in new materials, polymer honeycomb cores, fiberglasses that were fairly thick. You know, the facing is important, and I can’t get too detailed, but there’s a lot of different skins, they’re called or facings out there that you know can dramatically affect the ball and the the spin ratio, everything, the deflection.


Are you doing this manufacturing yourself in Wisconsin or are you shipping overseas? Is it a combination? It, it is a combination, but well over 90% of our manufacturing and assembly is here in Wisconsin. We’re actually, we just outgrew our space in Milwaukee and moved to New Berlin, WI, which is a suburb of Milwaukee about 5-10 minutes away and much more space.


So you know we’re growing month after month and it’s just a fun part of, you know, it’s just fun right now. Yeah, we’re focused on grassroots and the people of Pickleball out there. Yeah, I mean, you’re basically the first real brand that to ever come out from after wood paddles and.


I would say you have less flashiness around your brand and your name, but you have a ton of paddles and you’re growing and even you mentioned overseas and so I’m curious about sort of like what is your strategy for growth and who’s a typical pro Lite user, right, like who knows about your paddle.


Clearly you have some fans because they reached out to me. So I have a good fan base, but it does get confusing for newer players because they just don’t know the difference. Well, yeah, there’s so much there right now. Like with pickleball, it’s it’s overwhelming. There’s so many choices out there.


I think what you said though, it’s important to distinguish the brands that are really, really focused on pickleball and always have been. You know, obviously we’ve been around for 40 years next year, but there are other companies too that make it their goal to really connect with the pickleball world and then there’s ones that.


Say, well, we’ve been doing this for a while, why don’t we just add pickleball, get a piece of the action and that’s fine. I guess that’s the way the world works because you can’t ignore pickleball because it involves so many different, you know, people and different economic statuses. But it’s interesting the way the different brands are coming out of the woodworks.


It’s a little frustrating too, I’ll be honest. You know there’s, you can source so much and I think so many companies are coming out because they’re using the same facilities in China as a lot of the other companies. And you know there’s probably a facility that’s making 15 different brands and it’s the same paddle over and over and over and that’s frustrating just because we were in this before it was cool and we’ll continue.


You know we’re continuing to innovate. We have a new product coming out very, very soon that involves different technology that you know, is not even in the pickleball world right now. So that’s exciting and it doesn’t make us hesitate. It just kind of fires us up, if you know what I mean? Yeah. I mean, business is kind of like sports, right?


You want to win, you want to do well. And yeah, and competition’s important. But for those that are kind of new to the sport, like I said or even just, they’ve been playing for a while, but there’s more paddles coming out and like you said, a lot of them are similar. How did you figure out that, you know, what was the paddle construction?


That really was important. And do you feel like it’s just constantly changing or are there some core pieces that you guys have like your proprietary way of building paddles that you know are superior because you’re doing it and you’re you’re manufacturing it and you’re seeing every day what your paddles are made of?


Yeah, we are very detailed. It goes down to even our end caps are different. You know, there’s companies out there that will source the octagonal tennis type of style end caps and get them for ultra cheap and put them on there. That’s fine. We make ours in house, we make our end caps from a proprietary material that’s very different than what’s out there.


You know, it doesn’t dig into your hand, it conforms to your hand. It’s soft, it’s a soft type of plastic. It’s a different feeling when you know that your employees, they’re making those handles. For all those people out there that are going to buy a Prolite, it’s differentiation that’s really important to us.


It’s just not the same old, same old and it goes with handles too. Handles are are made in Milwaukee as well and it’s the same type of material, very soft. It conforms to your hand. It doesn’t disintegrate like balsa handles out there that we see in competition or foam handles or whatever.


Some of those handles are made overseas, but. That’s a good question. I’ve heard a lot about Thermoform and sort of so that so the paddle is one piece so that the handle doesn’t break off as much. Do you construct it in a way that that’s top of mind so that there’s not? I mean there’s always that player that’s gonna, you know, bang their paddle hard enough, they can break whatever, but for the most part you don’t want the paddle to to break in half.


I’ve, you know, I’ll just give you my opinion on that. I I’ve never broken a paddle. So I I think if you take care of it properly I think it will withstand, you know, the test of time. I’ve seen paddles many, many times. You know, they’re abused or around the edges, you know, you could just tell.


But we have such a strong warranty program that that does happen and we’ll say, OK, we’ll replace that. That shouldn’t have happened. And we continue to stand by our product. You know, my dad’s paddle, I remember him using it for like at least 6-7 years. We have great durability and great quality control standards that we abide by at our facility.


And it’s just I think that’s important. Every paddle that goes out the door is QC stamped, thermoforming and that whole process that’s big right now. And I see many paddles out there that are made like that, including names I can’t even pronounce, you know, that are probably using the same facility as we talked about or earlier.


But yeah, what happens with thermoforming is it does create a stronger neck near the paddle overall. But what’s happening in the thermoforming paddle world right now, and I think this is this relates to quality control, is it’s delaminating.


So the core is crushing time after time after time. You’re hitting the same spot. Well, you better make sure that spot isn’t, you know, properly tested. Not just the neck, not just, you know, the handle, main part of the paddle that makes contact with the ball. So what’s happening is the core is crushing underneath. Then that creates a pocket, it’s delaminating, and now you have a trampoline, which can be dangerous, you know, if you’re playing against, you know, your friend and it delaminated, that ball is going to come twice as fast at you, and you better hope that you have protective glasses or something else.


Yeah, you know, it’s funny as we get more competitive playing, the ball does seem to speed up and comes right at your face. So that’s a good point. I mean, I know that’s not the objective of the game, to no, no. You had, I mean, you have Boeing engineers behind your paddles, essentially thinking about all the components and.


And do you continue to innovate in that way that you started with something that was not a wood paddle that was amazing. And you know, are you constantly thinking about how do I improve these? My brain doesn’t really shut off when it comes to constantly improving. That was embedded into my head a long time ago.


I’ll give you just a quick example and it’s not a shot at my dad, but it’s kind of funny you might like this. So being in the Navy, playing the difference, all sorts of different sports, very competitively. He was a great teacher. Fundamentally, technique, everything. He just went to town on that.


And I’m, it’s kind of goofy. I’ve been getting goosebumps thinking about it because I was so young. But he was telling me, here’s what you need to do and fundamentally this is. We’d be watching baseball players, you know, and it was just great. So he taught that. But then here’s a Little League story, real quick. So I pitched, pitched great, you know, I I was young, of course, but I pitched great.


I remember getting in the back of the car, and we get in, and he starts driving away. The first things he says is that was you did well, and then right after that he said. So what do you think you could do better? I I was probably 10. I mean you know I just it it sits with you.


So that sat with me for so long and that’s embedded in your head. What can you do better? What can you do better? Because if you’re not thinking about that, others are. That’s another thing. There’s always someone better than you out there, he told me that. Probably a little too young. I wanted to gain a little confidence. Like, God, I just did really well.


Yeah, take me to Dairy Queen. Come on. I went on a Sunday. Yeah. Let’s celebrate first, yeah? But you know, as you said, though, you know, you’re in a competitive market maybe 10 years ago when you first got started, you know, we were just in a different place, and now the model industry and just I would say gear in general, for better and for worse, I think the good side is I think.


It’s so great what’s happened to the sport and having you’ve got a lot more customers, the potential customers, so that’s that works in your favor. On the downside is that there’s not a lot of education for recreational or amateur players, and then you have the pros. So you know, it’s confusing out there to figure out.


And so it that’s part of you know what I think the paddle companies, including yours, can do is try to educate like what is it about your paddle that. Would make a player want your paddle versus another. And you can’t make everyone happy, but you, certainly, everyone wants to play better.


You know, everyone wants to play better. We get a lot of opinions out there, and that’s great. That’s how you learn to, you know, I’m not just going to stay in my lane and and think that I know what’s best. You know, I I love input from different customers and different people, even our sponsored players.


And you’re right, a lot of things are changing. You know it used to be the demographic used to be retired communities that that was it. That’s it’s for old people and it got younger and younger and younger until the, I think the average age or the the most popular age is 25 to 30, and then right behind that is 18 to 25.


So I mean I see it locally, I see it in the Milwaukee area. There’s courts out there that are high school kids are going after school and playing and just having a blast and getting, you know, getting recordings and TikTok and everything. It’s just, it’s just fun. And guess what, They’re active and they’re playing for two hours.


So are you going to battle that? But going back to your point, you know, we have a fit chart out there that’s also on our website. But we put it out there with every paddle that goes out the door and it describes each of our paddles and of course our accessories on that, the other side of it. But it tells what’s the control rating, what’s the power rating, Who is it for, Where’s the weight?


It really is a nice descriptor. It’s visual, and I think a lot of people are probably like me too, you know, much more visual to go along with, you know, the text and the input. But it, I think it’s very helpful. And going back to our brand, it’s a brand you can trust.


You know, we’ve been around for so long and we’re still out there. We’re not going anywhere. We can continue to grow. I say that with emphasis because you know we we’ve discovered a lot with Pickleball. We probably were the first company to start sponsoring pros, big names, big names out there, and we scaled back because we looked at the return on the investment, and it was it was low.


And you know, I I do a lot of clinics, I I teach a lot. I love teaching still. It’s part of who I am even before Pickleball. It’s just you miss it sometimes, and especially when you can teach kids to the love of the game. But you’d go out there and you’d name drop some of the pros and now it’s getting a little bit more recognized.


But it’s still they don’t. They can’t name more than maybe 2. Yeah, I think the difference, you know, I can understand maybe that sponsoring a pro back in the day, it’s good for the pros and it’s good for the sport. But in terms of your own return on your investment, it may not have yielded.


But now, considering that it’s on CBS or Amazon, you can, you know, you can. You can wake up on Saturday morning. You can watch two or three hours. And you’ve got these brands out there, Ben Johns has his name on one, and you know so. So have you rethought that or you know, has it come up for it for you and your business partners or.


Yeah, it’s funny, you mentioned Ben, and he’s one of those pros that are, you know, recognizable. It does relate. I’m sure the return on that investment, it’s probably extremely high. You know, he’s, he sells paddles for sure. There’s a few out there, you know, that I could name drop. But yeah, it makes me reevaluate everything.


We’re not oblivious. We are analyzing that very thing. I’m sure we’ll sponsor in the future. We sponsor a lot now actually, but they’re not those pros out there that are going to different tournaments like TPA tournaments or MLP. There are a lot of those very important people, very good players too, a lot of them, five OS and above.


But they’re teaching the game and they’re reaching a lot of the masses out there in different communities. And guess what? They’re important. They get asked tons of questions on what do you suggest, what should I buy, what do I do? And we sponsor a lot of those players. So it’s not that we’re not sponsoring anybody, we’re not sponsoring, you know, putting, we’re not feeding those wallets like it at that level right now.


I hope that doesn’t sound too brash, but. No, I mean I think there’s a lot of different ways to grow businesses and I think that you know you’ve been in it for a long time. So and you’re clearly growing. I think you mentioned when we spoke earlier that even internationally you’ve got a lot of paddle shipping to different countries and you’re probably one of the first to do that right to bring.


Pickleball to different countries. Oh yeah, yeah. When it was just me, I remember sending paddles to Singapore often, and they’re actually the heavier paddles for light power at the time. But yeah, we shipped there. We shipped to Sweden, Scandinavian countries. It’s just growing everywhere. In New Zealand, Australia, it’s just sympathetic bird.


We just, we’re just kind of ahead of the time. Times right now in the US, ’cause, you know, we’re growing at such a rapid rate that it’s just kind of blows your mind, you know? Yeah, well, so where are most people buying your paddles? Are they buying it through the pros? Like I know Selkirk has a program with through their pros.


Are they buying them at sporting goods stores or is your online store going nuts right now? A lot of online, a lot of our E tailers out there, you know, of course there’s the big ones, you know, Pickleball Central, just paddles are great. Pickleball Galaxy, those are just a few of them.


But yeah, it that’s where you can get a lot of our paddles, and you have good customer service with them. There’s a lot of specialty stores out there too that you know are different communities, big box stores, you know, Shields carries our brand. That’s a great store and it’s expanding quite rapidly too.


Yeah, We have an affiliate relationship with them. And just paddles, I’ll include that in the show notes so they can get to your paddles. And then how about direct to consumer? Are you shipping direct from your own website? Yes we are. Yeah. And we’re we’re focused on that too and growing our our website sales and I’m NIT picky you know I’m.


Making sure it’s good and it’s easy to navigate. It’s your baby. It’s like you. You have to be. Attention to detail is really important. Like you said, absolutely. You know, imagine this real quick. It’s so when I bought the company in 2011, I didn’t have a place to make paddles, so my in laws provided their basement.


They were so nice. I basically set up a miniature assembly line with the raw paddles that were already inked and painted. So myself, my sister, she’s involved too. She’s a graphic artist and designer. So it’s it’s very family oriented and if you know anything about me and and what I value, it’s definitely family.


And that connection between a brand and family, it’s just you’re all out there on the court and it it’s all one big pickleball family for for the most part. But I was making paddles with my miniature assembly line. I put the handles on. I do the end caps, edge guards, grips. You know, I clean them.


I’d have over here, I’d have my computer, my cell phone, which is my Direct Line connected to the 888 number. It was me. And I’d go home with just swollen knuckles of making paddles all day long. And you know, thus the orders got bigger and bigger and bigger. So I said I can’t do this anymore.


And I just, I look back at it and I just remember knocking on the door at 7:00 AM and my mother-in-law answers to the door. Oh, hey, Neil. Yep, downstairs. Just ready to go. But just. That’s so nice. That really is nice. But that is that’s really in any entrepreneur story or startup story, you know where where you know you really.


I mean, I have a friend who has a big shoe company and she started out of her garage and selling them out of the back of her car and you know, nobos started the pant, you know, pants, men’s clothing that way and. I think you, you really do have to walk your customers. You have to know all the parts of your business to run it well anyway.


So I think that’s super important that you really understand the paddle construction. What are the different types of paddles that you have right now, like if you put them into categories? Well, right now, you know, I I base it with not only materials but who is it for? So you know, we have the beginner slash intermediate paddle, that’s the bolt.


You know we have the Ignite, we’re working on a ton more right now. So some of these paddles will be eventually phased out or new graphics, you know, updated. But the the bolt’s a great seller, It’s one of our top sellers and it gets people into the game. We have bundles for that, that paddle as well. And again, it brings families, couples onto the courts, You know, they start there, it’s a good feeling paddle and then they can grow or graduate to another level of pro light paddles, you know, with the ignite paddle that’s a little bit thicker, it’s a carbon fiber and has a nice polycarbonate overlay over the top, feels really good at impact.


It’s a softer paddle. So what that does is it promotes the softness or the control part of the game. You know, you’ll learn the dinking, third shot, drops, placement. And then as you graduate through that, we have the Stealth GS1, which is a Turay T700 carpet fiber paddle made in Milwaukee or made in New Berlin.


Now we make that here. It’s more of an oversized paddle and I actually use that. So I’m not going to say I’m the most advanced player ever, but I feel like I’m pretty decent and I love the touch along with the power. That’s a 14 millimeter paddle and then we also have the power spin two point O series which you know we we are phasing it out, but it’s a fiberglass paddle.


In the pickleball world, fiberglass is typically a little bit cheaper in price than carbon fibers and we have an elongated version, a rounded version which looks like a tennis racket slash ping pong paddle and then the crush which is more of that balanced style. So different head weights, different weights, and it’s a very powerful paddle.


Fiberglass has more of that deflection, trampoline effect on the ball. So if you have that you and you want a little more pop to your shots, maybe you’re lacking a little swing speed or something like that. That’s a great paddle and it’s typically 100 or below. And then we have the LX series, which is our luxury series.


It’s a woven carbon fiber and we were the first company in the Pickleball world to bring woven carbon fiber to equipment. That was I think 2015 at Nationals in Arizona at the time. And the LX series is woven carbon fiber with either silver or gold silk fibers interwoven into the carbon fiber.


So it’s pretty intricate. What does that do? How does that? How does that change the way that the paddle works with the ball or impacts with the silk fibers interwoven? Yeah, it makes it a completely tighter weave. It’s another layer of durability woven into the paddle, it’s very strong.


And actually below that woven carbon fiber skin or facing is two other layers of carbon fiber. So overall you have 6 layers of carbon fiber on, you know, sandwiching that 14 millimeter polymer core. So it’s pretty awesome. It when you have a thicker facing, typically it absorbs a lot of the vibration.


It feels very flush or pure at impact. I use a lot of golf terms, you know, with drivers and everything. It’s no coincidence that woven carbon fiber’s being used in a lot of golf drivers too, now, by the way. Interesting. So that’s always, you know, a sport that I always pay attention to. Watch what they’re.


Doing name of that one, That’s the L series, LX series. So we have, we have about 5 different shapes in that gear for all those different players, you know, that want the higher end. It’s a great paddle, it’s going to last. It’s very durable. Are we going to have to have like X-rays for our paddles?


Like how is someone supposed to know how their core, the honeycomb core has held up? You know, because maybe the your edges are still fine and your handle’s still fine and it feels. Fine, but two years later, you’ve been playing three hours a day. How are you supposed to know if your paddle’s still performing?


You can kind of, yeah. I don’t know about X-rays. That’s pretty, I’m visualizing that right now. That would be pretty pretty cool actually. People are really, you know, adamant about their pickleball game. So you never know it. Just, yeah, I think you can mainly tell by the feel of the ball at impact, you know, sometimes over time.


In two years, I’d say two to three years is pretty average, but, you know, for durability. But I’ve seen paddles much longer than that. I used to play with the Supernova Black Diamond series, one of ours, which was that woven carbon fiber we used back in the day. And I had it for well over three years playing in tournaments.


I just love that softness, you know, of that of that paddle had a thicker skin as well. But two years seems to be average till someone will say, you know what, I’m going to buy in something new. And then there’s of course a lot of other players that are collectors and they have a bag full of paddles of different brands and you know, we a lot of pro lights in there.


But yeah, we have that going on in our house, got a lot of paddles. But you know, we were, we started a couple years ago and went on Amazon and bought the cheapest, not knowing if we were going to like the sport. But I think that, you know, now I think there’s a lot of.


Paddle collectors but but also interest people really interested in what will improve their game once they get past. But in terms of the market, you also have a huge market at every level really maybe even less at the pro level or the the pro player level.


But you know if you’re talking about if every school in America needed to have paddles like that’s a huge market for you and and you don’t need to provide woven carbon fiber. They don’t need that at that level, you know, right. Not at all, no. That’s a good point. You know, a lot of schools we were.


I I look at as I was spoiled back in the day when the the pickleball unit was part of the physical education program. But now teachers all over the planet are not ignoring it. They’re putting pickleball into the programming and they need paddles. A lot of them will. You know, there’s budgets are tight for PE teachers and teachers in general, but you know, instead of the wood paddles, they need something softer where you can really feel the ball and make pickleball a little bit more fun instead of just banging around and and you know, wood paddles without edge guards and big heavy plastic ones that I’ve seen out there, they’re kind of dangerous, you know, and they get thrown around.


So we at Pro Light, we have a pickleball program for kids that, you know, we, we have a lot of pro lights out there obviously being in business for so long. But they can trade in their paddle, the customers can trade in their Pro Light paddle and then we’ll give them you know a nice discount on their next Pro Light purchase. And those paddles go directly to schools, kids school programs.


You know we’ve done that many, many times. The the expression on the teacher’s face is when they can provide a very good piece of equipment, especially an American-made piece of equipment to the kids to to play pickleball. That’s amazing. And what about, do you guys have other products that you are thinking about Again you you sort of seem like a paddle engineer in addition to ACEO to me.


So you’re really interested in all the pieces are are there other products that you decided to put together as a company? Oh for sure. Just you know you mentioned engineer. I I I feel like I’m a forced engineer if that makes sense. You know it’s something that wasn’t my background but then you continually push yourself to learn every part of the paddle, every part of the grip, the handle, everything that will make it better and how the ball reacts and you teach yourself.


So that’s how I view myself. By no means that I go to school for engineering, but I think I’ve learned quite a bit you know that or over those 20 years have taught me you know what I can do to to make a paddle better and make an experience better for that pickleball customer.


Yeah, we’re we’re not just a paddle company. We have a very, very high-end grip. We’re a grip company. We have a whole grip division and we’re bringing, you know, one of our main products is the no Sweat Diamond grip and that’s just easily one of our top sellers and we’re.


Bringing. Can you describe that? So is that something you would, you would remove the grip on the actual paddle first? So in reference to the no sweat diamond grip, here’s the no sweat diamond grip. As you can see, there’s diamonds all around the paddle.


It actually channels the sweat away from the hand downward. And so that’s why we call it the no sweat this grip. We send a lot to Florida, Arizona, the hot conditions, the humid conditions. And, you know, it finds its way not only on pro light paddles, of course, but it finds its way on a lot of different brands out there.


We have other types of grips too because just like paddles, people coming from different backgrounds prefer different grips. You know there’s cushion grips, there’s contour grips where your fingers settle in between each contour, or a Ridge, and thin grips too. And on those grips, would someone remove what they currently have on whatever paddle, yours or others, and then they just replace it?


Yes, it’s. So the thicker grips are typically called replacement grips, like the nose with diamond or the contour cushion. They’ll take what they have on their paddle that they use, take it off. And then we have a lot of videos for, you know, how to wrap a paddle or how to put grips on paddles. We’ve done it many times at tournaments and they really appreciate that.


So we have that. And then the thin grips, a lot of tennis players like to put a thin grip over the top of what they have existing. So that’s really common. White or you’ll see another brand like Turner Grips. You’ll see a lot of the blue ones out there on Yeah, so you can always tell a tennis player. Grip on there, I know, but soon it’ll just be, you know, these pickleball players are growing up with only pickleball and not tennis.


Any other products, any other anything that’s coming out soon? Oh yeah, absolutely never stops. We edge tape, edge tape armor, which we are. I believe we’re the first company to bring out edge tape armor. Now you see kind of different brands saying, Oh yeah, this is kind of important.


We love seeing edge tape out there on all sorts of paddles. We have different designs that we’re bringing to the market, more grips bringing to the market, more bags bringing to the market. We have our Tor XL bag that we’re going to be putting some deals on pretty soon here.


You know, it’s just in time for holidays. And along with that, we have a new paddle release that I kind of hinted at before that’s going to just blow your socks off. That’s awesome. Well, I hope that you’ll come back on, you know, and and and share with us. And of course I’ll put everything in the show notes so people should make sure they subscribe because they want to be, they want to be the first to know about these awesome paddles.


There really is a huge interest in Paddle technology, and understanding it, there’s big. Reddit threads and Discord groups and a lot of Facebook groups and people are always asking. And I think so I’m. I’m really happy to hear sort of directly from you. And I I think it is important that the listeners and those, you know, paddle collectors and those interested in pickleball know how many years you’ve been at this, that you know that it you literally started the first, well, one of the first companies to go from wooden to any other materials.


Yeah, it changed in 1984. Everything changed with the how paddles were not only perceived but how the ball played off of the paddle. But this is my opinion. But I personally think that with the different material, it involved the soft gain and the touch and the dinking and the third shot drops and the importance of those different shots.


The paddle technology created different shots in the game, which is just it. It’s weird to put your head around that. Yeah. Do you think that’ll keep evolving? I mean, do you think that there’s more to come in different shot construction or different? I mean like the the game will continue to evolve, but you know, I’m curious if you think that part of that will be in the way that we use paddles or the different paddles out there.


I do, yeah. I think there’s there’s already a lot more banging in pickleball right now and third shot drops are definitely still around to kind of reset points and and even fifth shots. But I think new shots are always evolving. Not that long ago we had different type of spin surfs which got banned but I think people are always looking for different competitive edges on the court and that’s not only different shots but it’s different materials out there and that’s my job to really focus on materials and and we’re we’re still doing it.


You know, I if you could see the basement in the garage of prototypes that I have and materials. I mean, I’ve messed around with titanium and just because of golf drivers didn’t really work out, but it’s just. Part of it you know is experimenting and and you have the luxury of doing that because you have a really strong business.


And you know it’s like I mean I I’m in the world of technology in San Francisco and I’m sure there’s and there’s been a lot of things that get tried and they you see how the customer likes it and so like your your point about. How important it is to hear from the customer too what they want like yeah and they, I mean those customer, your customer, your market is exploding every day there is a new, you know player out there that doesn’t know what they should buy.


So it’s sort of your with the land grab a little bit, but it’s also great to have the foundation that you have and make sure that. You know, it’s one of the reasons I want to talk to you is because you have the experience both to educate me but also the listeners on what they should be looking for. Well, we will put all kinds of note links in the show notes and discount codes and making sure that people know where to find your paddles.


And Neil, I hope you’ll come back and tell us when you do your new release so that we can we can just talk about paddles for hours. I could do that if you. Want clearly I could too. But I do. I wish you so much luck and continued success.


Prolight is not a new company, so but continued success and also just really appreciate what you and your father have done for the sport. So you’ll have to just feel good about that, that you guys have really, you know, made a name for the sport. So thank you. Yeah, yeah, absolutely. I’d love to come on again. Awesome. Well, thank you. Hey guys. Thanks for listening to Simply Pickleball. We will be back very soon with great interviews, discussions and more, all about Pickleball. Don’t forget to subscribe to our channels on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, or any of your favorite podcasting outlet.


Until next time, happy dinking.


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