When Neil Friedenberg was a young boy, playing pickleball in the fitness center at his dad’s place
of work, he never knew that the composite paddles with the large lightning bolt logos mounted on the wall would become an integral part of his future.
Today, as owner and president of ProLite, two things have been constant: Friedenberg’s passion for the game of pickleball and his strong perception of the lightning bolt logo signifying American quality and innovation.
“When I was younger, everything seemed to feel better with those paddles, from power and weight, to touch,” Friedenberg said. Originally, they were made by the Ultra- Lite Paddle Company, which originated in 1984 by Boeing engineer Arlen Paranto and his son, Steve. They focused on introducing a lighter-weight paddle while still maintaining its strength. This is when the first composite paddle was born, composed of a nomex honeycomb core and fiberglass facing. The innovation has become a mainstay in the pickleball paddle industry and is used by all major paddle manufacturers. In April of 2011, Friedenberg took over the company and never looked back.
Today, ProLite’s range of products includes everything from a wide variety of paddle models designed for all players’ backgrounds, to pickleball apparel and accessories such as the very first pickleball dedicated pro touring bag. However, the emphasis continues to be on the paddles, especially when it comes to introducing the game to new players and pickleball transplants.
“We’re never complacent. We look to utilize the best technology to create a new, more advanced paddle. Right now, ProLite is gearing up for 2018, but we’re also making sure we’re set for the snowbird migration from October through April, which is the heavy season. We’re always visualizing to improve specific components of our paddles, production, and especially customization. “When new prototypes arrive, I’m basically a kid in a candy store. I am sure it’s amusing to our employees when they see me sprinting across the production floor to start building new models. It might as well be my birthday. My dad would tell me as a young boy, “If not now, when? If not you, then who? Be a leader, not a follower.” This has stuck with me throughout my adulthood. It drives me, creates accountability, creativity, and aspiration.”
Based on numerous customer surveys, ProLite has responded by creating paddles that not only reflect a player’s skill set, but personality as well.
The Crush paddle uses a custom screening and printing process to generate graphics that appeal to younger players. The Black Diamond Series paddles (Supernova and Titan Pro) cater to high-level tennis players crossing over into pickleball by recreating the feel of hitting the ball with a stringed racquet.
“What we try to do is find advances in materials that improve one’s game, skills and confidence in the product,” Friedenberg said. “A lot of it’s mental, because if you’re
set on your paddle, you’re not thinking about your paddle while playing. So, we’re always entertaining new ideas, structures, and components to reach different backgrounds and ages. If you can make a product that creates a smooth transition from another sport into pickleball, it’s a natural fit.”
As a former health and physical education teacher, Friedenberg doesn’t just speak as a business owner looking to sell a popular product — he also “walks the walk” by conducting clinics and camps for players of all ages.
“This game has taught me the importance of lifelong health and fitness, learning and working with others towards a goal. I went from an 11-year-old who thought he was better than he really was, and only wanted to beat his dad at a sport, to watching tendencies, being patient, and taking opportunities to attack,” he said. “Today, my biggest struggle, as far as being a player goes, is balancing free time with that of being a husband and father. I have an 8-, 6- and 3-year-old, and they’re starting to become involved in more activities. I’m a family man and I’m not going to miss those special moments.”
Friedenberg added that pickleball is the “ultimate lifelong sport,” one that will grow with his family and help him instill the importance of lifelong fitness into his kids.
“Pickleball is a sport that bridges all generations together,” he said. “I taught a clinic at a local school with students ranging from ages 5 to 12, and they absolutely loved it. They may not understand the complexity of the scoring right away, but then they play and get it. The sport is changing, becoming more sophisticated and reaching younger generations. And that’s something we always pay close attention to at ProLite. That’s what we want.”
In keeping with giving back to the pickleball community, ProLite also supports Cure ALZ, an Alzheimer’s disease research foundation, as well as charities that work with veterans with traumatic brain injuries. It makes sure that the pros representing the company put character first and maintain a level of modicum befitting the sport. “We work hard to make sure we create a family culture among our Pro Team players.”