"Watch Me or Not, I’m Not Changing"

By Matthew Schwartz
February 26, 2024

He speaks in a Tennessee twang. He’s part country, part hippie, part paddle nerd. More than anything, he’s unique. In the constantly expanding business of pickleball paddle reviewers, there is no one like Ronald Lynn Hopkins.

If his legal name doesn’t ring a cowbell, his YouTube name might: Farmer Lanky.

Hopkins does some reviews for Farmer Lanky Pickleball outside, surrounded by cows and chickens. This while sitting on his 266 acre beef cattle farm in eastern Tennessee near Morristown, at the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Occasionally one of the animals will disrupt a review; Hopkins will joke about it and keep the video rolling. He often appears on camera wearing a tie-dyed t-shirt. To top his outfit off he’s worn a funky hunter’s hat with the straps hanging down the sides of his face.  “People expect farmers to have boots, Wranglers and flannel shirts,” Hopkins told me. “I prefer basketball shoes, shorts and a regular t-shirt.”

He opens each review with a wide grin and an enthusiastic, “What’s up farmin’ family? How y’all doin’ today?”  You can’t help but smile and maybe chuckle to yourself. He ends every review with “Peace, y’all”, while holding up two fingers. In between, the 34-year-old Knoxville native provides solid information on paddles in a conversational style. He is self-deprecating and works without a teleprompter and script. “It all flows pretty easily for me,” he said. “I would say freestyle rapping with my friend on the way to school helped with being able to discuss stuff on the spot without using ‘umms’ or filler to think about what I’m going to say next.”

In one recent review he repeated himself in the first few seconds. Rather than start over, he joked, “Repeating myself like a parrot.” He provides paddle specifications but avoids technical jargon. His reviews generally run between five and eight minutes. By the time they’re over you have a good idea of how the paddle plays and if you might consider buying it.

He has a condition that causes him to blackout three or four times a year. One blackout was particularly scary: he fell five feet off a friend’s porch during a pool party. His 89-year-old grandfather has the same issue. “I can tell it’s going to happen way before it does so I have plenty of time to react,” Hopkins told me. “I start to get a warm, fuzzy feeling in my whole body and sweat profusely.” He says he’s seen doctors but never has had any tests done to determine the cause.

He goes by the name Lynn Hopkins when not on YouTube and went by the nickname “Blackout” until card-playing friends came up with “Lanky.” The 6’1, 165-pound Hopkins preferred the latter because, well, he’s lanky, and, as he says, “I’m proud to be a farmer.”

He also has a condition that causes him to sweat profusely. He’s allergic to the aluminum found in deodorant and sweat resistant medicines. “So I take three or four shirts to tournaments and extras of every article of clothing,” he said. The heavy perspiration is part of the reason he says in every reviews’s closing, “Drink plenty of water.”

“Since I’m doing physical work on the farm and sweat a lot, I go through a lot of water/electrolyte mixes to stay hydrated,” he said, “especially during 80-plus temperatures. Same goes for the pickleball court.”

He takes his health problems in stride, as he does other parts of his life. “When it comes to interacting with people or playing sports, I’m very chill and relaxed,” he said. The laid back persona permeates his reviews.

He was once in a rap group called The Undescribables. “There are still songs [by the group] somewhere on YouTube,” he wrote in an email, adding “lol.” He loves music and before discovering pickleball he had a YouTube channel called Farmer Lanky Reacts that had 16,000 subscribers for which he produced more than 600 videos. “I reacted to music from other countries and broke down the lyrics in English.”  

But he says, “Record labels were copyrighting everything even though reviews are protected under fair use in the copyright laws and I got tired of dealing with it. I got massive into pickleball around the same time and I wanted to mess around with new paddle tech as much as possible and tell others how it feels.”

His friends thought having “farmer” in his channels titles might deter some viewers. “But that never bothered me,” he said. “I’m me, watch me or not. I’m not changing who I am and what I love to do.”

He began playing pickleball a couple of years ago, inspired by his girlfriend, Renee, who, he says, “I’m really serious about.” (He has a 12-year old son, Austin.) Like most of us, Hopkins loved pickleball immediately, despite taking early shellackings. “When I first got into it I was getting spanked by people nearly double my age or more,” he says. “It was frustrating.” A left-handed player, he says he’s now rated 3.98.

Since he already knew the ins and outs of running a YouTube channel from doing the music platform, combining his passion for producing videos and his new passion of pickleball was a natural progression. The Farmer Lanky Pickleball channel debuted on January 15th, 2023. Since then he’s knocked out 84 paddle reviews. He is a one-man band, doing all the recording and editing.  

The channel has about 1600 subscribers and is growing quickly as word spreads among paddle junkies about a funny, different reviewer.

“To me he is “every man’s pickleball reviewer, said Doug Scarborough, a 53-year-old pickleball player in Asheville, NC. “His videos are basic, but down to earth, and what I would expect to hear when talking to one of my buddies at the court.”

“I enjoy the down to earth, honest reviews Farmer Lanky puts out”, said John Kallevig, owner of Hometown Pickleball in Oneida, TN. Kallevig sells paddles and gives pickleball lessons. “If he doesn't feel a paddle is worth the cost he lets you know. He's happy to do reviews for some of the smaller companies that build great products but get overlooked by other reviewers. Some reviewers give so many scientific details that you miss how the paddle actually feels. Lanky gives that important information.” Kallevig says Hopkins’ closing line, ‘Peace y’all’, “always makes me smile.”

Another of Lanky’s fans, 60-year-old Quentin Walls of Pickerington, OH, is a self-professed “data junkie.”  Walls said, “As I progressed into my pickleball journey I continued to watch him because his paddle preferences seemed to somewhat mirror mine. He responded to my comments and questions about differences between paddles. His reviews gave me the data I wanted.” Walls also appreciates Lanky’s humor. “I find him funny from time to time,” adding, “I find his reviews to be thorough, but casual, and I appreciate the descriptions of how the paddles play.”

Hopkins has one major gripe: Paddle companies he thinks charge ridiculously high prices. He agrees with other popular reviewers Chris Olson (who runs Pickleball Studio), John Kew (John Kew Pickleball) and Braydon Unsicker (of Pickleball Effect) who all told me in recent interviews that players rated 3.5 and below do not need an expensive paddle. “The paddles I recommend to people are around the $100 range if you’re a 3.5 or lower. Learn what kind of player you are then upgrade if you need to,” Hopkins said.

“I will usually criticize price and I don't think companies feel the need to email me hate after the price bashing. I usually just get ignored after that,” he said.

He says he had two goals when starting his channel. “First goal was to give brutally honest reviews on paddles and keep people from wasting money. The other goal was to use my degree [in editing and graphic design] so it wouldn't be entirely useless spending thousands of dollars.”

Hopkins is surprised about the channel’s popularity. “I'm extremely grateful to those who have supported my channel and they are the only reason my channel is growing. When I see someone at tournaments who has watched my reviews I get really excited. They made this channel grow. I'm just the farmer in front of the screen.”

He says paddle company representatives reach out to him a few times a week. “But most are catalog stuff that everyone else is coming out with.” He says he’s “100 percent comfortable” giving a paddle a bad review. “Put yourself in my shoes,” he said. “Would you rather piss off one company owner or would you rather have thousands of people wasting money on paddles that aren't good and them never trusting me again as a reviewer? I'm a consumer and I'm here for them.”

Peace y’all.


My thoughts of the week, not all pickleball

The negativity on Facebook is generally absent from the pickleball groups I belong to. Most members are kind and helpful. And no one injects politics into the conversations, thankfully.

I subscribe to Max (formerly HBO) primarily because of two series: Curb Your Enthusiasm and Real Time with Bill Maher. I think most of the first three episodes of this season’s Curb have been terribly unfunny, while Maher has been as brilliant as ever. Also, I’ve recently gotten into a terrific series, Loudermilk.

I don’t like seeing pickleball teams at rec play before a game that are so one-sided, I know the score will be about 11-2. I’d rather lose 11-9 than win 11-2. Unless both sides are fine with it or one side wants to play together to practice for a tournament, no one benefits from this scenario.

I hope movie theaters survive because I still enjoy seeing certain films on a big screen along with the whole experience.

When I started playing pickleball in September, 2021, I played seven days a week, sometimes twice a day. My70-year-old body now can’t take more than five days (mainly due to  sore feet). On the two days I rest I’m a little bummed. But I also love writing this new blog and that’s how I spend most of my off days.

I know winter’s nearing an end when baseball’s spring training starts, and I love that.

Although my Mets may be in for a long year. They did nothing in the off-season to improve their rotation.

I am a sports nut and watch a lot of baseball, college basketball and football and pro football on TV. Yet I can’t watch more than 10 minutes of a pro pickleball match. I find it boring. Yes, the players are great and make amazing shots, it just doesn’t do it for me. I do enjoy watching tips and drills online.

Since retiring almost four years ago, when I wake up I often don’t know what day it is. Every day feels like a Saturday. Which is a good thing.

(If you have an idea for Matthew’s weekly blog email him at mhs7386@gmail.com)