There's a new ball in town. It's bright yellow (which I love - easy to see), it's quieter than the approved yellow pickleballs that we've been using for years now and it's on the market. Sounds great - right? Myself and a number of club members that either winter in Sun City Grand, AZ or nearby or that came to visit had the chance to try this new ball out. Here is the story from my view.
When we arrived back in AZ there was talk of this new quiet ball coming to Sun City Grand. Within a few weeks it arrived and each of the court sleeves had a few to try. Naturally I was curious and migrated immediately to it - mostly because the colour was so bright - almost a fluorescent yellow. For those that know me well, know how I struggle with seeing the pickleball especially once it's worn a bit and particularly in the spring/fall late afternoon onward when the sun is low in the sky. Some of you may also have this problem. I immediately found that this new ball was easy to see. I could track it so much better, even when coming back fast off an opponents paddle. So far so good!
The ball felt softer, kind of reminded me of the lime green indoor balls. According to the Onix website it was engineered for outdoor play. Has pure bounce technology, true flight technology. Has more accuracy, control and consistency. It's smaller hole design is for better flight in outdoor conditions. Its weighted heavier to fly straighter in extreme conditions. These are all statements made by Onix.
By mid November Sun City Grand had completely switched over to this new pickleball. The main reason was that it was quieter and would help with the noise issue - an ongoing concern between the club and the board. The other feature - it wasn't supposed to break as fast which could save the club funds over the course of the year. There are already paddle restrictions at SCG due to noise. The club is in an ongoing battle for expansion and anything that can make the game more acceptable for surrounding properties would help. (as a side note - SCG has 12 courts for well over 1000 members - we have 12 courts for 450 members - and you know how busy our courts can be).
For the first part of November we were well into playing with the new ball. I liked it. I asked every person I could what they thought and 95% or more like the ball. By the last half of November things started to change. I was still asking people what they thought and the like it percentage was starting to drop. I never saw a cracked ball the whole time we used them. They were almost indestructible and therein was the beginning of their end. They started to get dirty - really dirty. Some players took a few home - ran them through the dishwasher, then the washing machine and they came out the same - looking dirty! Another problem - I picked up the ball one day and it felt sharp. When I looked closely there was a very small pebble imbedded in it and poking out. I was unable to get it out.
Now players were starting to see that as they became 'used' they bounced differently than when new. Some players paddles - those that had a painted on surface - were getting marked up (from the grit stuck to the balls). Players were starting to get frustrated - now they were REALLY hard to see. So much for the Bright Yellow colour. They were now a dull grey and really difficult to see. Those that were prepping for tournaments were frustrated because they now seemed to play much different that the standard balls that would be used at a tournament - it would be hard to go back and forth.
At the same time as this new ball transition at SCG - the courts were starting to show wear and tear. They weren't scheduled to be resurfaced until 2017 but some of the courts were really bad to the point that people were slipping. They had to be swept off as the sandy grit imbedded in the paint for traction was now breaking down. Some players felt the ball was causing this. Others said no, the courts are so overused they need to be re-done earlier than scheduled. Either way this new ball was like a magnet for this loose grit.
In the end the Sun City Grand Pickleball Club - stopped using the new balls, brought back the original pickleballs and currently as I write this the courts are closed for a week for resurface painting. It makes me wonder how Onix tested this new ball. Perhaps they tried it on a new or newly painted surface. In this case if the court was exceptionally clean, the ball would stay cleaner for a much longer period and would appear to be the answer to pickleball's noise issue. It may have been a blessing in disguise that at the same time SCG brought in this new ball, the courts were starting to fail and the realization of what this new ball can become might not have been apparent until much further down the road.
So for now the approved outdoor pickleball(s) are still noisy, they still fade out and crack (faster when cold), but it's the ball we are used to and hopefully companies will continue to do research and development and come up with my dream ball - one that stays bright, has a low sound, doesn't crack easily and everyone loves it.
Thats a tall order to fill!
Lana Nunweiler, Pickleball Kelowna Team