Life Is Like a Box of Chocolates

By Matthew Schwartz

May 13, 2024

(Steven Shipler)

You love pickleball or you wouldn’t be reading this. If you have good taste you also love chocolate. Steven Shipler is consumed by both.

Shipler hosts the STS Pickleball YouTube channel and website, and co-owns a business selling chocolates. Not a bad way to make a living. But Shipler’s life hasn’t been all games and candy. As Forrest Gump quoted his mother’s favorite saying, “Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.”

Steven Shipler found that out when he was 13. When his mother died of a heroin overdose. She was 37.

“She had some demons for sure,” Shipler said. “She was an awesome mom and always wanted to spoil me with things and be my best friend. But ultimately her own addictions got the best of her.”

Shipler says his mother’s death caused him to grow up fast. He grew extremely close to his father, and now at 32, still is. Born in Boulder, Colorado, the family moved to Dallas when he was five. A year earlier his dad had cut down some of his golf clubs so the boy could use them. Steven became the top-ranked golfer in north Texas.

Shipler moved to Scottsdale, Arizona when he was 18 to attend Scottsdale Community College and play golf. He worked with a top tier coach. But the coach later left and Shipler says, “I didn’t click with the team very well overall as they were all a bit too much of bros and jocks for my liking as I am more introverted and analytical, so I ended up taking a year off of school and a year away from golf to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”

Shipler dropped out of college, quit golf, and started a business selling chocolates. He had been managing a store in a mall and on Saturdays he worked at a farmers market selling bread, to make some extra bread. He and his girlfriend at the time saw a YouTube video about a guy using a gadget called a melanger to grind cocoa beans into smooth chocolate.

“So we bought a small melanger, some cocoa beans from Ecuador, some sugar and some cocoa butter and crafted our first batch of chocolate,” Shipler said. “We named the business ‘Stone Grindz Chocolate’ not thinking too much of it, we just wanted a fun name. We went to the farmers market and sold out and I quit my main job [at the mall] right away.”

Shipler, along with his ex-girlfriend who’s the business’ co-owner, have been making chocolates for 11 years. He says the company has won more than 40 awards in competitions. He believes his business has done so well because “I have always been hyper focused on the small details and on quality.”

Stone Grindz Chocolate is sold online, in many Whole Foods stores in Arizona, some specialty stores in California, Texas and Alaska, and at farmers markets in the Phoenix area.

Shipler has the same focus with his paddle reviews. The title STS Pickleball comes from his initials, his middle name is Troy. STS Pickleball began a year ago and has 5100 subscribers. Shipler has produced 44 videos in his home studio in Scottsdale.

Shipler comes across on camera as a chill surfer dude, wearing hoodies and caps on backwards. He’s the antithesis of the geeky, nerdy paddle reviewers, using fewer technical terms. He’s consumer oriented. He likes to say, “I’m here for you, not me.” His videos are slickly produced with good looking graphics, effects and not too loud background music.

He started playing pickleball on and off a couple of years ago, introduced to it by his father. “I was immediately hooked,” he told me. Aren’t we all?

Shipler said, “I love that pickleball looks and seems so simple on the outside, but on the inside it’s incredibly complex. The barrier to entry is so low, but the skill ceiling is astronomically high and I love that.” He says he plays at least three rimes a week and has a DUPR (Dynamic Universal Player Rating) of 3.8.

“I developed a lot of interesting skills with my chocolate company and learned how to shoot high quality video and learned product photography for my chocolates,” Shipler said. “So with these skills combined with my hyper analysis driven brain and all of the subtle feedback skills I also attained during my years of golfing at a very high level, I figured I would put it all to use and dive into pickleball paddles, as either way with or without the channel I would be analyzing these paddles very intensely, so why not share my findings with this amazing community!”

He was a self-described “gear junkie” when he golfed, “analyzing things down to one degree of launch angle, angle of descent, spin metrics for all of my clubs. So for me pickleball paddles really scratch that itch to hyper analyze and hone in on the tech available to optimize play and make the game more form fitting for myself, and now with my YouTube channel for others as well, which brings me a lot of joy.”

Shipler says he receives three to five paddles a week and chooses which ones to review based on whether they have some interesting or high quality aspects. “I usually play with a paddle for a minimum of two weeks prior to a review,” he said. That includes games, hitting with my ball machine, drilling, RPM testing, power testing, pop testing and some touch and feel and sweet spot testing.”

He says he never takes a paid promotion from a paddle company and tries to be “as transparent and genuine as I can possibly be.” He’s given a few negative reviews and has also emailed companies letting them know he wouldn’t be reviewing their paddle because he didn’t like it.

Regarding current paddle trends, Shipler says power paddles and those containing Kevlar are all the rage. “We are going to see a ton of new cores, new structures of cores we already know but combined in different ways, and people really pushing the limits on grit levels.”

He agrees with other paddle reviewers I’ve interviewed, including Chris Olson. John Kew, Braydon Unsicker of Pickleball Effect and Farmer Lanky, who all say there’s no need to spend more than $150 on a paddle if you’re a 3.5 player or lower. He says something Olson told him makes sense: “You should buy a paddle with the most power that you can still control.”

Shipler wants to continue to grow his chocolate and pickleball businesses but adds, “I have never aspired to do anything massive. I just love the creative process and the dedication to quality.”

 His mother, who was his best friend, would be proud.



My thoughts of the week, not all pickleball

The damage control is not going well for South Dakota’s governor who wrote in her new book about killing her 14-month-old puppy. Gov. Kristi Noem maintains the female pup, Cricket, was “dangerous and untrainable.” In a heated interview, Fox Business’ Stuart Varney repeatedly asked Noem about shooting the dog. “Enough Stuart,” Noem said, “this interview is ridiculous.” But Varney said he asked the questions only because the Fox newsroom had been “consumed with emails” from outraged viewers.

I know a pickleball player who argues a line call at least once a game. It’s embarrassing to play with him and annoying to play against him. When his partner messes up he often slaps his paddle against his thigh. A couple of months ago after my team routed his and we met at the net to touch paddles, I was going to ask him if his thigh was black and blue. But I resisted.

The Met Gala was held in New York City last week. It’s billed as the world’s most prestigious and glamorous fashion show and gets a lot of media coverage. I can’t think of anything I care less about.

On the other hand, I am interested in watching 57-year-old Mike Tyson fight 27-year-old Jake Paul in July. I wouldn’t bet against Tyson vs. such an inexperienced boxer, especially if the fight doesn’t go too long and Tyson gets tired.

My serve used to be good but now it stinks. From the right side I hit it wide right at least twice a day because I unconsciously twist my wrist. I need to focus more on stopping that.

Update on our rescue dog Grapes: His skittishness and fear of every noise and sudden movement has decreased drastically. The 10-year-old Beagle mix has started to trust that we’d never abuse him as his previous owners did. He now comes up to me when I’m writing at my desk or sitting on the couch and puts his front paws on me.

Which makes me very happy.