Whether you’re new to the game or an intermediate player the last thing you want to do is buy an illegal pickleball paddle.
For advanced players, an approved paddle grants you entry into the competition world. Although you can use unapproved paddles for recreational playing, beginners who intend to participate in tournaments will want to purchase approved paddles.
All in all, it’s best to do your research beforehand and get a paddle that meets all the right requirements.
This guide is going to explore some of the material and design specifications to keep an eye out for, and some of the best-approved paddles you can find.
- What Makes a Pickleball Paddle Illegal?
- How To Find an Approved List of USAPA Pickleball Paddles?
- Examples of Illegal Pickleball Paddles
- 5 of the Best USAPA Approved Pickleball Paddles
What Makes a Pickleball Paddle Illegal?
So how can you identify illegal pickleball paddles?
Here are a few of the factors you need to pay close attention to:
As far as material is concerned you have a lot of options to choose from. A legal pickleball paddle can be made of wood, metal, plastic, graphite, or foam. That said, foam core paddles are illegal if they are one-piece surfaces.
So if your paddle is made using foam you need to be extremely careful and make sure it doesn’t violate any rules.
Acceptable foam core paddles may have a piece of foam on either side that is unconnected around the edge. If the foam wraps around the board in a single piece that is an illegal pickleball paddle.
The surface of your pickleball paddle must be entirely smooth to get the best performance. If there are holes, cracks, or dents, the paddle is not suitable for official competition matches.
Another sign of damage is delamination. This is when the various layers of the paddle surfaces start separating as a result of wear.
Finally, if you want to buy an approved paddle make sure the surfaces are matte. Shiny surfaces are against competition rules since the reflection can interfere with your opponent’s ability to play a fair game.
These are just a few surface features to look out for! To be safe, also remove any stickers or company logos that may be interpreted as reflective surfaces.
Approved designs from major manufacturers and brands will have the make and model on them. Removing the brand decal or other information will immediately make the design illegal. Other than that, looking through the approved pickleball paddle list is your best bet at finding a top-tier legal paddle.
Approved paddles have specific dimensions and it’s important to take those into account. Getting the wrong-sized paddles means you’ll be immediately disqualified from official competitions.
If your paddle is longer than 17 inches, or if the length and width add up to longer than 24 inches then the paddle is illegal. Keep an eye out for these two scenarios when you’re shopping for commercially available crbn paddles.
While taking measurements, hold your tape at either end of your paddle, and make sure you include both the butt cap and the edge guard to get an accurate reading.
As long as the length and width of your paddle fit the requirements you’re good to go since there are no official restrictions for paddle thickness.
There are no weight restrictions when it comes to pickleball paddles! As long as you meet all the other requirements, weight should not be an issue. Of course, getting a heavier or lighter paddle will affect your playing style and abilities so it is definitely a factor to consider.
Many players like adding custom alterations to give their paddles a unique flair. While modifications don’t necessarily make your paddle illegal, it really depends on the type of additions you make.
Graphic tags or stick-ons in other materials are not allowed. That includes any surface treatments like sand, rubber, or anti-skid paint that would increase its spin and give the player an unfair advantage.
Hand-drawn doodles or marks are permissible as long as they are within the appropriate boundaries. You should leave a buffer space of 1 inch from the outer edge of the paddle and half an inch from the grip section. That way you won’t violate any of the rules.
Additionally, you cannot remove any parts of the paddle outside of the grip and edge tape.
How To Find an Approved List of USAPA Pickleball Paddles?
When you enter a tournament it is your responsibility to ensure your paddle is on the approved USAPA list. You’ll notice that each approved paddle has a “pass” or “fail” rating.
To rank on the list each paddle must undergo an extensive approval process. Even when a paddle has gotten a “pass” rating, it may require yearly testing to keep its spot on the approved list.
On the other hand, if a model simply isn’t listed as “pass” or “fail” that means the manufacturer hasn’t sent their product in for testing. This is often the case with newer models so it is safer to wait until a paddle is on the approved list before buying it.
Examples of Illegal Pickleball Paddles
It is important to remember that just because a certain paddle is popular online or in playing circles doesn’t mean it is on the USAPA approved paddles list. Many players choose to keep unapproved paddles for recreational play, demoing, or practice sessions.
Additionally, there are several reasons why a paddle may be illegal. In fact, an approved paddle may lose its ranking as in the case of the CRBN paddles, causing a lot of confusion for players.
Here are a few examples of illegal pickleball paddles that were banned for numerous reasons.
1. CRBN Paddles
Pickleball players were shocked when their CRBN paddles were banned overnight during the 2022 US Open. Despite being a small business, CRBN is a well-reputed paddle company with a staunch and loyal following.
And while they have gotten their paddles reinstated in the months since here’s a rundown of what occurred, why the paddles were banned, and what players can do if they own one of these illegal paddles.
The Recent Ban on CRBN Paddles
CRBN paddles were banned because testing showed that their grit level was a lot higher than the permissible USAPA levels. That basically means that the paddle surface was rougher than the standard, giving players an unfair advantage.
CRBN paddles have been extremely popular among players in recent years and while the US Open ban hit them hard the company has since recalled the faulty products and offered customers several replacement options. The new, replacement paddles have a laser-etched serial code to set them apart and are approved for tournament play.
2. Amazing Aces Classic
Despite being an Amazon best-seller, the Amazing Aces Classic is not USAPA approved for several reasons. That said, if you’re a beginner looking for a recreational paddle this is an incredibly affordable paddle with a solid grip that customers love!
The paddle comes in two material options, wood, and graphite, neither of which meet the USAPA standard.
The Amazing Aces Classic Wood is made using plywood which is not an officially approved paddle material.
The Amazing Aces Classic Graphite uses incredible, modern technology and offers players a range of interesting features. However, it features a polymer core which makes it illegal for tournament use.
3. Diller Paddle
Durable and cheap, the Diller Pickle is a top seller online. Unfortunately, it is made using plywood grain, which is against USAPA regulations.
5 of the Best USAPA Approved Pickleball Paddles
Now that you know what features to look out for, here are some of the best USAPA-approved paddles that will have your back at any pickleball tournament!
1. Selkirk Amped Pickleball Paddle
Overall Best Competition Paddle
This hand-crafted premium paddle is made using cutting-edge technology and the best materials. With a FiberFlex Fiberglass surface and Polypropylene X5 core, the Selkirk Amped Pickleball Paddle is a top-tier competition paddle. Between the sleek surface and superior ball spin, your opponents won’t stand a chance!
Plus, the X5 Honeycomb Core reduces vibrations and promises smooth playtime. This paddle is definitely USAPA-approved and is a staple in the kits of many pro players like Tayson McGuffin and Joanne Russel.
Get it in 1 of 3 stunning color options, amethyst purple, sapphire blue, and Selkirk red. Each shade is available in a lightweight and midweight option so players can definitely shop according to their playing preferences.
2. Onix Graphite Z5
Best Approved Budget Paddle
The Onix Graphite Z5 comes in a durable graphite carbon fiber with a honeycomb core and offers premium ball control. With a cushion comfort grip and 11 color options, this wide-body paddle is highly recommended for beginner players. Additionally, the Onix Graphite Z5 is a lot more affordably priced than some of the higher-end paddles on this list.
3. Gamma Sports 2.0 Paddle
Best Mid-Weight Beginner Paddle
The Gamma Sports 2.0 is a midweight paddle with a textured fiberglass surface and an Aramid honeycomb core. This mid-priced paddle offers beginners a mixture of power and control as they improve their skill level. The soft grip absorbs vibrations and is also sweat absorbing, offering premium comfort on the court. It is of course USAPA compliant and meets all the tournament requirements.
4. SLK by Selkirk
Top-tier Beginner Paddle
The SLK paddle is one of Selkirk’s best beginner paddles, offering comfort and balance at an affordable price. The graphite and fiberglass combination gives this paddle a multi-layer face that will elevate your game. The SLK paddle works well indoors and outdoors, while the honeycomb core absorbs the hit so you can play long matches without feeling the pressure.
At 7.5 oz the SLK is the perfect balance between lightweight and midweight, making it ideal for beginner players. The ultra cushion grip means you can get in a lot of practice time before you start feeling wrist fatigue. Also, the SLK paddle set is designed to provide newcomers with everything they need to get started!
5. Head Fiberglass Pickleball Paddle
Top-tier Intermediate Paddle
Lightweight and durable, the Head Fiberglass Paddle is a solid choice for intermediate players looking to move up the competition ranks. With a texture fiberglass surface and honeycomb core, the paddle offers superior grip, increased spin, and controlled shot placement that makes it ideal for competitive, intermediate players.
With the Head Fiberglass Paddle, you’ll feel the power in every shot! The advanced Ergo Grip tech absorbs vibration so players can play a smooth and consistent game.
All in all, if you want to pursue pickleball competitively, you should start off with a paddle that’s USAPA compliant. The rules for legal paddles are quite strict even at beginner tournaments.
There’s no point practicing with an illegal paddle because it won’t prepare you for an official match! So, make sure you do your research and pick the best option available within your budget.