A Paddle Reviewer’s Risky Shot

By Matthew Schwartz
April 1, 2024

Braydon Unsicker and his wife Malia had two kids and a third on the way. Unsicker had a good job as the global marketing manager for an insurance company, pulling down $125,000 a year plus benefits. While his wife was pregnant, the couple made a decision that even obsessed pickleballers might find crazier than a lob against an agile opponent on a windy day.

Unsicker quit his job.

His new fulltime gig? Reviewing pickleball paddles.

“We'd been talking about it for a long time and it was a very calculated decision, so she was on board,” Unsicker, 31, told me via email from his home in Nampa, Idaho. “We talked about it quite a bit and have enough money saved up and thought that if we didn't make a dollar for a year we would be fine, so I have a year to make it happen. But I already have a decent amount of money coming in so it's not like I'm starting from scratch and I'm pretty confident I could find another normal job if I needed to at some point. I didn't really feel like I was taking too big of a risk,” he said.

 Unsicker’s YouTube channel and website, Pickleball Effect, were born before baby girl Indie was. He founded PE about four years ago but didn’t go full-time with it until this past February. His salary was cut in half. While on paternity leave he was laid off but received an unexpectedly nice sum in a severance package, so Unsicker says it wasn’t too stressful financially.  

“I was starting to really get into pickleball in 2019 and wanted to get my first performance level paddle. I was still working my first job out of school and just had a newborn. My little family didn't have much of a disposable income and I was hesitant to spend $150 on a new paddle, especially on one that I wasn't sure was even good or not,” he said.

Despite the salary cut, the decision, and the future, look good. The 2018 graduate of Brigham Young University is putting his business management degree to good use. His Pickleball Effect YouTube channel, website, Instagram account and email list have approximately 50,000 total subscribers/followers.

“I knew how to make websites and that it would cost me about $50 to spin one up and I thought that if I could make a review site then I could convince brands to send me their paddles for free if I published a review. At the time, I mainly just wanted to try out more paddles and not have to spend $150 on one since money was tight. It's evolved so much since then but I'm really happy and proud of what it's turned into,” he said.

Unsicker says he makes money from YouTube “but nothing crazy.” The channel gets about 75,000 views a month, which is respectable. “I make more money from people who read and watch my reviews and then use my affiliate links or discount codes to purchase the paddle they want. Then I've also developed several paddle accessory products that I sell on Amazon that do well for me. Being so involved in pickleball I've come across a lot of paddle accessory products I like, but there have been a few that weren't quite right so I went and made my own with the changes I wanted as a player. And since I am my target market in many ways, other pickleball players have found the same value in the products I've developed,” he said.

The paddle fitting quiz and data base on his website are popular, especially among paddle buyers who are into data and specifications. He’s churned out about 110 videos. The most watched, about lead tape placement, has had over 83,000 views. “After the kids go to bed is the best time to record videos if I need to since that’s when the house is quiet. Ninety percent of my videos you see on YouTube are recorded after 10 p.m.”

Unsicker, a lithe 6’2”, 165 pounds, has been an athlete his entire life. He first picked up a pickleball paddle over 10 years ago but didn’t play consistently until 2019. And he can play. His DUPR (Dynamic Universal Pickleball Rating) is 5.1.

Unsicker is combining his entrepreneurial skills with a longtime interest in athletic equipment. “As I was doing paddle research I found that there was hardly any third party paddle info. The only information I could find was what was being fed by the paddle brands, which is that their paddle is ‘a perfect blend of power, control, and spin.’ I do marketing for a living and knew these brands were just spitting out what they thought people wanted to hear,” he said.

Unsicker isn’t shy about saying a paddle is not worth your money. “There are certainly some overpriced paddles,” he said. “There are many small and medium sized brands that offer excellent paddles in the $100-$180 range.”

His candid reviews are not like his off-screen persona. He is shy socially. “I’m not the most social person and have a hard time making friends, and I've met so many people through pickleball that I now call friends,” he said. 

He’s intrigued by the sport. “It's easy to learn and play, but as you get better you discover the depth and nuances of the game that make it even more fun and challenging. It's difficult to master and there is always another level to get to. It gets me out of the house and moves my body.”

He’s well aware of the increasing number of players who own multiple paddles and buy a new one every few weeks. They’re good for business. “Pickleball is in this really fun stage where paddle technology is evolving quickly and it's a lot of fun to try and experiment with new tech, different shapes, and thicknesses,” Unsicker said. “To this group I say do your homework on how paddles are built and what influences paddle performance, armed with this knowledge you can get a pretty good idea of how a paddle will play before you buy it so that you don't buy a lot of similar paddles but rather you're trying new things and figuring out the best combination that works best for you.”

Unsicker says he gets email daily from players seeking help in choosing a paddle. “Nothing beats fitting them to a paddle and then getting a follow up email a couple of weeks later of them raving about their new paddle and how much they love it.”

“Braydon is an honest reviewer that tells his opinions even if they aren't positive,” says Dalton Hess, a Pickleball Effect subscriber for a year. Hess, 28, lives outside Seattle and his DUPR is 5.33. He says Unsicker “cares greatly about having accurate data and is able to convey it to his viewers in an easy to understand format and show how the data matters.”

Kris Anderson of Houston started following PE in 2022 when she was looking to upgrade her Amazon Basics paddle. “There weren't (still aren't) opportunities to demo paddles so I Googled people doing reviews,” she told me via email. “PE was concise and easy to follow.  I like that Braydon is not sponsored by a PB company and his reviews are thorough and helpful.  He pointed me to a great paddle (for me) and it was among the cheaper ones out there.”

Now Unsicker, the business management graduate, is managing his business with a specific list of prioritized goals.

“First, I want to make it as easy as possible to help people find the best paddle for them. In addition to my in-depth reviews I have plans to improve the algorithm and sophistication of my paddle fitting quiz, build a public online gear forum section where people can chat with me 1-on-1 or read the chats I have with other players, and then I have another big plan for the website that I won't mention so nobody steals my idea. I'll essentially be able to help people at any level of research. Second, I've been learning and getting into other essential pickleball gear, mainly bags and shoes and have plans to start reviewing and talking about those more on the site.”

Unsicker may be shy socially but is self-confident about his fledgling business and its future growth. He says, “You won't be able to avoid me if you are searching for gear through Google!”


My thoughts of the week, not all Pickleball

When and why did it become acceptable to wear pajamas in public? I remember when they were worn outside only by Mafia guys trying to convince a judge that they were crazy.

I think Saturday Night Live hasn’t been funny for years, except for Weekend Update, and, sometimes, the cold open. Most of the funniest cast members quit to do movies.

There’s nothing in pickleball I like more than beating a banger with effective dinks and drops that result with them hitting balls too long or into the net. So many bangers don’t have a control game. The game is more fun for me when my partner and opponents know how to play the soft game.

My wife and I went on a music-themed, seven-day Caribbean cruise last week. It featured bands from the ‘70’s including Foreigner, Randy Bachman (who founded The Guess Who and Bachman-Turner Overdrive), Pablo Cruise, War, Dave Mason, Don McLean, The Cowsills and more. It was fun but tiring and now I need a vacation. Played pickleball on the ship once. The court was on the 11th deck and let’s just say the wind was a factor.

I think one of the greatest feelings you can have is when you achieve something on your bucket list you never thought you could. I checked off one of my main bucket list items when I wrote a book that was published in 2020. No matter how old you are, if you’re determined and disciplined, you too can do it. Like play pickleball.

Sportscasters need to find another adjective to describe great plays instead of using the overused word “unbelievable.” I worked for a smart TV news executive who after 9/11 told the staff to stop using “unbelievable” to describe anything else.

Baseball is back and despite some changes I dislike, such as starting extra innings with a runner on 2nd, I still love the game.