Choosing a pickleball paddle can be daunting with the hundreds of options out there. Some are lighter, some bigger. But for those wanting to get serious down the road, following regulations is the most important factor in making a purchase.
The USA Pickleball Association and International Federation of Pickleball list specifications that pickleball paddles must meet. Approved paddles get a ‘pass’ rating, and unapproved ones can trigger penalties. Most importantly, the size must be 24 in (60 cm) in combined length and width.
I’ll explain more about pickleball paddle regulations throughout this article. By the end, you’ll know exactly what you are and aren’t allowed to do with your paddle.
The USAPA Paddle Regulations
If a pickleball paddle catches your eye and you’re wondering if it’s an approved paddle, the first thing to do is check if it has a ‘pass’ rating.
I’ll go over the list of USAPA paddle regulations below.
According to the USAPA rulebook 2.E.3, “The combined length and width, including any edge guard and butt cap, shall not exceed 24 inches (60.96 cm). The paddle length cannot exceed 17 inches (43.18 cm). There is no restriction on paddle thickness.”
When measuring a paddle’s length, the starting point should be the base of the handle (the butt cap) and the end point should be the top. Width measurements should be taken at the widest part of the paddle.
The same rulebook, in section 2.E.2 states, “The paddle’s hitting surface shall not contain delamination, holes, cracks, or indentations that break the paddle’s skin or surface.”
Boiled down, this means that your paddle’s surface must be an unbroken, smooth surface that isn’t falling apart anywhere. Holes and bumps aren’t allowed on pickleball paddles. In addition, the surface of a paddle can’t be overly reflective.
The USAPA and IFP don’t place restrictions on paddle weight at all. Because of that, you’re free to set the record for the heaviest pickleball paddle or use one that’s as light as a feather. It’s up to you!
However, the weight you choose can affect the way you play. For example, while a heavy paddle might give you more drive, you’ll likely have less control and vice versa. So, choose what works best for you!
Rules around the materials in pickleball paddles are also loose. Manufacturers can choose from many options as long as they use “Rigid, non-compressible material meeting criteria on USAPA and IFP website.”
Ensuring a Pickleball Paddle Is Legal
If you follow the rules above, your paddle will be legal. The main things to be aware of are the size of the paddle and what the surface looks like.
However, if you’re still worried, you can make things completely fool-proof by confirming the paddle you’re interested in has a USAPA ‘pass’ rating. There’s a list of these paddles online.
Most reputable pickleball brands design their paddles according to regulations.
Consequences of Using Illegal Pickleball Paddles
If you don’t enter pickleball tournaments, none of the above matters much – unless your friends are sticklers, that is.
But if you decide to sign up for competitive matches, you need to make sure you’ve got the right paddle.
Playing a match with a non-regulation paddle has consequences that you’ll want to avoid. If your opponent calls you out in the middle of a match or after, and the measurements prove them right, you’ll forfeit that match.
If you’re lucky and they alert you of the infraction before play begins, you’ll simply have to find a regulation paddle.
Is It Legal To Add Lead Tape to a Pickleball Paddle?
Some of you might now be worrying about every little piece of your paddle, especially those that like to add tape. For the tapers and decorators, I have good news.
It is legal to add lead tape to a pickleball paddle, as long as it meets USAPA specifications. These specifications only allow “edge guard tape, lead tape, changes to grip size or grip wrap, and name decals and/or other identification markings on the paddle face.”
Are Elongated Pickleball Paddles Legal?
Some players don’t care much for tape, but they want longer paddles. Those players might be in luck, depending on how long they like their paddle to be.
Elongated pickleball paddles are legal as long as they meet two conditions. First, the combined length and width cannot exceed 24 inches (60.96 cm), including the edge guard and butt cap. Second, the total paddle length can’t be over 17 inches (43.18 cm).
In other words, elongated paddles are legal within certain limits. That means no cricket bats on pickleball courts.
Different Pickleball Paddle Materials
As long as your pickleball paddle doesn’t contain springy material, it’s perfectly legal. Here are some of the most common options:
- Wood cores. This is the traditional option. These days, wood paddles aren’t as common as players tend to prefer something a little lighter.
- Polymer cores. Inside these paddles, you’ll find little honeycombs made of polyethylene or polystyrene, both of which basically mean “plastic.”
- Aluminum cores. This is another option that’s a little less common. However, aluminum cores can offer a nice, light weight to your paddle.
The surface of most paddles is made up of either graphite, fiberglass, polymers, or some kind of hybrid.
Picking the Right Pickleball Paddle
There’s no universal “right” and “wrong” paddle in pickleball. Some players prefer something heavier in their hands while others like to stay on the light side. Some like long, narrow paddles while others would rather use a wider surface.
The only way to pick the right pickleball paddle is to go out onto a court and try it. Of course, you can take swings in the shop, but this will only tell you so much.
If you’re looking for a safe bet, try something in between the longest paddles and the shorter ones. Starting in between the two sizes will give you a feel for how it is, and allow you to determine if you’d rather have a longer or shorter paddle.
Factors Considered in Pickleball Paddle Regulation
Let’s take a look at what factors go into paddle creation when a pickleball paddle manufacturer is crunching the numbers on a paddle’s shape, weight, length, and core thickness.
First up, we have the paddle shape. While there isn’t a set form, most paddles come in a rectangular or oval shape, much like a larger version of a ping pong paddle. Different shapes can influence your gameplay, with some shapes offering more power while others focus on larger hitting areas.
Elongated or “blade-shaped” paddles sacrifice width and sweet spot for power. While wide-body paddles accentuate accuracy around the hitting surface. Blade-shaped paddles cannot exceed 17 long.
Paddle weight is also critical. A lighter paddle (about 7.5 to 8 oz) offers great maneuverability and is easier on the wrists, while a heavier paddle (8 to 9 oz) gives you more power. It’s all about striking a balance that fits your style and physical comfort. I tend to lean towards 8.2oz paddles.
Now, let’s talk paddle length and width. Most paddles must have a combined length and width of no more than 24 inches; this includes the length of the handle. Paddle lengths vary but can’t exceed 17 inches to maintain fair play.
And finally, thickness matters. Thin paddles are around 13mm to 14mm thick. Standard paddles are 15 to 16mm thick and ultra thick paddles are in the 19-20mm range but are rare. Currently, there are no regulations on paddle thickness but I expect that to change as paddle technology continues to evolve.
Thicker paddles provide more touch and feel while thinner paddles give you more pop and power and sacrifice the level of control.
Are some Pickleball Paddle Brands More Compliant Than Others?
Yes! Some brands have had some issues with the USAPA and have had certain models banned. The brand that is the most infamous for this is CRBN. They’re a reputable brand but certain series within their paddle lineup have been banned.
What was the reason?
They exceeded the limit set by the USAPA for paddle “texture”. Basically, the paddle surface was too gritty and rough giving these paddles too much grip. This results in a competitive advantage when it comes to spin.
The CRBN paddles that are banned have serial numbers tied to their CRBN 1 model and CRBN 2 model. But it’s not all CRBN 1 and 2 models so you’ll have to check the individual serial number by going to the USAPA website here.
Another brand to keep an eye on is Amazin’ Aces. Their wooden paddles are one of their graphite paddles are NOT USAPA approved for tournament use. Again, check the USAPA’s website to get the specifics.
Editor’s Note: It should be noted that ALL wooden paddles regardless of manufacturer, are banned from tournament play.
How Pickleball Paddle Regulations Impact the Game
Paddle regulations impact the game more than you might think. There are regulations for this stuff because it needs regulation. If paddle companies had no limit to how heavy or wide their paddles could be, the integrity of the game would be compromised.
Having rules and regulations for how tacky a paddle face can be allows for the fairness of the game to be retained.
For example, having a certain limit to how long a paddle face can be, allows paddle companies to experiment and get creative on how to add more length for power or more width for a bigger sweet spot. But, there is only so much real estate to work with, so having these regulations brings out the best in a company’s engineers to maximize what they’re working with.
If a company decides to maximize length and weight, they’re deciding to make a paddle specialized in baseline-to-baseline power.
Conversely, if a paddle company chooses to go with a thick 16mm core and an 8 1/4″ wide paddle face, then their paddle is going to be designed for touch, and accuracy and limiting miss-hits across the paddle face.
There is no right or wrong way to go about it. It’s about tailoring a paddle’s strengths to a player’s individual style of play or limiting a player’s weakness. So, how a paddle is engineered is going to impact how it plays and affects the game.
Pickleball Paddle Regulations – My Final Thoughts
The most important regulations that pickleball paddles must follow are the ones detailing the size and the surface of the paddle. It should be fine as long as your paddle meets the combined length and height size limits, and it doesn’t have bumps or holes.
Just to be sure, check to make sure your paddle gets a ‘pass’ from the USAPA. After that, get out and have some fun!
Pickleball Paddle Regulations – Other FAQs
1. What are the basic regulations for pickleball paddles?
Pickleball paddles must adhere to the USAPA rules and regulations regarding the face of the paddle, grip size, and combined length and width, including any edge guard. The USAPA-approved paddles must not exceed 17 inches in combined length and width, including any edge guard.
2. What are the identification markings on a pickleball paddle?
According to the guidelines, USAPA-approved paddles should have identification markings on the paddle face to indicate compliance with the official standards set by the USAPA.
3. Are there any restrictions on the weight of a pickleball paddle?
Yes, USAPA-approved pickleball paddles must adhere to the specified paddle weight limitations as per the USAPA regulations; however, the rules allow for variations in paddle weight within the approved range.
4. Can the length of a pickleball paddle exceed 17 inches?
No, the length of a pickleball paddle cannot exceed 17 inches as per the official USAPA regulations for approved pickleball equipment including any edge guard.
5. What constitutes a legal pickleball paddle?
A legal pickleball paddle should meet the criteria defined by the USAPA rules, including adhering to the stipulated paddle dimensions, weight, and surface specifications.
6. What are the rules regarding the grip size or grip wrap of a pickleball paddle?
The USAPA regulations specify permissible variations in the grip size or grip wrap for approved paddles to accommodate player preferences without compromising the overall paddle compliance.
Welcome to TheVolleyLlama.com. My name is Keith, I’m just a lover of all sports that involve a racquet, net and a ball. I played competitive high school varsity tennis, love racquetball and my whole family plays pickleball regularly. I started this website to help give people like you the basics to learn these wonderful games.