Meet the Guys Behind SWFL’s Innovative Pickleball Paddle Brand

G.O.A.T. Paddle founders, Ryan Reader and Zach Higginson, blend humor, experience playing the game and innovative technology to elevate the pickleball experience.

BY June 28, 2024
Photo By Brian Tietz

Chatting with Zach Higginson and Ryan Reader, founders of Estero-based G.O.A.T Paddle, is one of the most hilarious brand interviews I’ve ever done. “The Golden Rule of G.O.A.T. pickleball is you hit a winner, and you go ‘BAAAAAAAA,’” Ryan tells me. Later he adds: “We wanted to start the G.O.A.T. mafia. You’re in it, Sam. You’re a hit woman now.” From anyone else, these would sound like cheesy, rehearsed one-liners, but coming from Ryan and Zach, it feels 100% authentic—a perfect representation of pickleball’s next-gen players who treat the sport as seriously as tennis while maintaining its infectious, fun-loving sense of community.

Ryan, a former Minto US OPEN Pickleball Champion, has played for 15 years and is among the sport’s longstanding Southwest Florida ambassadors. Florida native Zach is competing on the pro circuit this year. They met while working as instructors at the region’s pickleball mecca, East Naples Community Park, where they clocked 30,000-plus hours on the courts. The duo started offering private lessons and clinics in 2018, and last year, they made their program official with the formation of their community-centric Paradise PB pickleball coaching business. Not long after, they launched their first G.O.A.T. paddles. “Ever since we’ve known each other, we’ve been talking about paddles and technology—finding the best paddle that’s going to help us hit better shots,” Zach says. “We were consulting at different paddle companies, and at some point, we were like, ‘Let’s just do this on our own.’”


Photo By Brian Tietz

It’s all about taking the game to the next level for Ryan and Zach. Their paddles are particularly well-suited to tennis players who’ve transitioned to pickleball—a group that comprises many of the young, elite players who’ve raised the sport’s profile in recent years. The pair based the design on their observations while teaching players of all levels. Like many other high-performance brands, G.O.A.T. starts with a lightweight, polypropylene honeycomb core encased in thermoformed carbon fiber for increased durability. The two spent more than a year experimenting with surface grit, settling on a long-lasting, three-layer, specialized carbon-fiber weave that grabs the ball, allowing players to easily create a crazy amount of spin.

They also innovated with the strongly pronounced octagonal bevel grip, more akin to tennis rackets than most pickleball paddles on the market. The defined bevels create reference points for adjusting the angle of your grip mid-play—a topic increasingly in vogue among pickleballers. “A lot of points end up in hands battles, where you’re volleying each other, trying to rip the ball as hard as you can,” Ryan says. “We built the grip for optimal timing of touch on the ball—for your muscle memory to work in the moment.”

Ryan Reader (below) and Zach Higginson (pictured here) launched G.O.A.T. Paddle with a singular focus: to create the best paddles possible. Their designs feature lightweight cores and ultradurable materials, beveled grips that allow for easy adjustments mid-play, and a three-layer grit surface for a crazy spin. Photo By Brian Tietz

It’s no coincidence the paddles are perfectly aligned with the influx of young tennis players shaping pickleball’s next phase. While the low-impact sport has long been associated with seniors, the pro circuit is flush with college tennis players who’ve found it’s easier to rise up the ranks (and make money) playing pickleball. Former pro tennis players are joining the fray, too. In 2023, top American player Sam Querrey, former world No. 5 Eugenie Bouchard and Grand Slam doubles champion Jack Sock signed on to the Professional Pickleball Association Tour. “It’s so cool to see the athleticism really rise up within even these last six months,” Ryan says, adding that he’s particularly drawn to the sport’s dynamics—what it takes to nail the patterns of ball control and triangulations. “When you get to championship-level pickleball, you have to put the work in and really understand it.”

Photo By Brian Tietz

But let’s bring the conversation away from the million-dollar sponsorship crowd. At its core, pickleball remains a highly social, approachable, easy-to-get-into game. To that end, G.O.A.T. introduced an affordable line for casual players, who are less concerned about bevels and other performance bits. The sell-out paddles feature playful designs, like a fire-engulfed skull, a UFO-flying alien and a fierce Bigfoot who’s taken a bite out of his paddle.

In addition to developing more products (they recently launched a ball and are working on more paddles), Ryan and Zach are focused on training G.O.A.T.’s pro team, which signed 16-year-old rising star Alexa Schull out of Miami. They’re also ramping up Paradise PB’s slate of events, starting with the G.O.A.T. Bowl, an amateur tournament and party they launched in February in Las Vegas ahead of the Super Bowl. “We like to connect with people. We’re Florida bros playing pickleball, living this lifestyle to the fullest,” Ryan says. “We are blessed to be in Florida, where it happens to be a religion to play pickleball.”



Ryan—a 15-year veteran pickleballer and former Minto US OPEN Pickleball Champion—and Zach, who is set to compete in the pro circuit this year, met as instructors at East Naples Community Park. “Ever since we’ve known each other, we’ve been talking about … finding the best paddle that’s going to help us hit better shots,” Zach says. Photo By Brian Tietz

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