Illegal Pickleball Paddles: Why Isn’t Yours an USAPA Approved Paddle?

Are you planning to play in a Pickleball tournament? Is your paddle legal? According to the USAPA, the governing body of USA Pickleball, paddles have to meet certain requirements. Otherwise, you  have an illegal Pickleball paddle which cannot be used in USAPA sanctioned tournaments.

Can illegal Pickleball paddles be used in other tournaments or recreational play? The answer is maybe. Tournament directors of non-sanctioned events can choose to use the USAPA approved paddle guidelines or modify the rules as they see fit. In recreational play, most people don’t care what Pickleball paddle you use and may not even know some paddles are not legal for sanctioned play.

What Makes a Pickleball Paddle Illegal?

So, what makes a Pickleball paddle illegal? It can be a variety of attributes from the paddle surface to length of grip to dimensions of the paddle. Below is a description of Pickleball paddle characteristics and what makes a paddle legal or illegal.

Material

Pickleball paddles must be made of rigid, non-compressible material that is deemed to be safe. They must meet a deflection test so as the paddle does not have a trampoline effect like a stringed racquet. The deflection test measures how rigid and compressible the material is. Foam core paddles are illegal Pickleball paddles. They may meet the initial deflection test but they degrade over time so they are no longer on the USAPA Pickleball paddle approved list.

While the USAPA does not specify the materials paddles must be made from, the core of current day paddles are typically made from two materials. More expensive paddles are usually made from honeycomb aramid, an aerospace fiber first developed by Dupont. The brand name for Dupont’s aramid is Nomex. Another common core material is a honeycomb polymer. Both aramid and polymer are well-known to both be very light and strong.

Size and Weight

In order for a Pickleball paddle to be legal, it cannot exceed a total surface area of 24 inches. This includes the length and width of the paddle along with the edge guard and butt cap. The length of the paddle cannot exceed 17 inches. There are no limits on the paddle thickness or weight although most paddles weigh between 7.5 and 8.5 ounces.

Surface

The surface of the Pickleball paddle must be smooth. It cannot have indentations or a rough surface so as to prevent excessive spin when hitting the ball.  If you want to maximize spin with a legal Pickleball paddle, check out our favorite paddles for spin.  Paddles must meet the requirements of a roughness test as part of the Pickleball paddle approval process.

The Pickleball paddle also must meet a reflection test to be approved by the USAPA. This means the paddle cannot be so reflective as to obscure the vision of other players on the court.

Paddles can be painted or have decals on them as long as they are in good taste.

Alterations

Pickleball paddles are limited in what alterations can be made to them. This means you can have edge guards to protect your paddle. You can also use lead tape to make your paddle heavier if you choose. You can also change the grip or have a grip over wrap on your Pickleball paddle. Decals and pen markings can be added as long as they do not influence the spin of the ball when hit with your paddle.

Where to Buy USAPA Approved Paddles

The best selection of approved Pickleball paddes are on Amazon.  However, it takes awhile to go through each listing to find out if the paddle is approved by the USAPA.  Interestingly, many of the top paddles sold on Amazon are illegal Pickleball paddles because they either have not passed the USAPA approval process or have not been submitted for testing.  I found this out when writing an article on the Best Pickleball Paddles for Beginners.  If you are looking for an approved paddle regardless of your skill level, here’s a list of the top selling legal paddles on Amazon.

USAPA Approved Paddle List

If you want to see if your Pickleball paddle is legal for USAPA sanctioned tournaments, you can check here.  You will notice that some paddles have a Pass or Fail rating.  This means they have gone through a rigorous approval process.  After a paddle receives a Pass rating, further testing may be required on an annual basis.  Other paddles may be on the list but not yet tested.  You may also have a Pickleball paddle not showing on the list at all.  This is because the manufacturer has not submitted the paddle for testing.

If you play in a USAPA sanctioned Pickleball tournament, you are responsible for making sure your paddle is on the approved list.  By playing in a USAPA sanctioned tournament with an illegal Pickleball paddle, you may have to forfeit a match. If it is determined your paddle is illegal before the match starts, you can switch paddles and not be penalized. However, if your paddle is found to be illegal during the match, you will forfeit that match. If your paddle is deemed not legal after the match, the result of the match stands.

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