A lot of people speculate or add things to the official rules when discussing what constitutes a legal or illegal pickleball paddle. There are several rules in the official rule book that explain what is or is not an approved pickleball paddle. One rule you may want to consider before buying a paddle is that a paddle must be on the official pickleball approved list to be legal. Any paddle that is not on the list is an illegal pickleball paddle.
When you are at a tournament, the officials are not going to go through all of the rules and check to see if your paddle meets all of the rules. They are going to first check to see if it is on the official approved pickleball paddle list. If it doesn’t meet this first test, it is illegal and action will be taken against you according to the rules.
So, a word of advice here, don’t go out and make your own pickleball paddle to use in a tournament unless you plan to brand it and get it officially approved as a paddle for pickleball tournaments.
When a paddle is checked and found on the approved list, then the official will consider the other rules. Of course, don’t write this in stone. If, for instance, your paddle is very shiny because you have modified an otherwise approved paddle, the official may render your paddle illegal without checking to see if it is on the approved list.
Pickleball paddle material
Pickleball paddles can be made of any material as long as the material doesn’t violate any of the other rules. This means your paddle can be made, at least in part, of wood, metal, graphite, foam, plastic, or anything else you could conceive. There is one rule that has since been added that directly affects the material an approved paddle can be made of.
Paddles can’t be made of a foam core and a one-piece surface. Paddles can, however, continue to be made with a foam core if they are made of “one flat piece of material on each side of the paddle head (not wrapped around the edge of paddle) and one piece face material paddles with other than foam core material” – Paddle Material Specifications.
The construction and condition our pickleball paddles surface is very important when playing in official matches. Basically, the surface has to be flat. It can’t have any holes, cracks, indentations, or sections where the layers are separating from each other (called delamination). These problems or features, depending on how you want to look at them, can’t be accidentally or done on purpose.
Also, the surface can’t be shiny. The test for shiny has to do with obstructing your opponents view with reflections. This rules interpretation is solely left to the officials judgment. It’s best not to have anything shiny on your paddle. This includes stickers or manufacture’s marks.
Paddle size and weight
Any pickleball paddle that is longer than 17” is illegal. Also, if the combined length and width is more than 24” it is illegal. The measurements are from end to end and include the edge guard and the butt cap. The paddle can be any thickness and still be legal.
Your pickleball paddle can be any weight. The weight will not make it illegal.
Custom alterations to a paddle
Any alterations must not be with in 1” of the outer edge and 0.5” from the grip. The only graphics you can add to a paddle in the allowed area are hand drawn or handwritten markings. Anything else will be deemed to violate the rules. This will make your pickleball paddle illegal.
The only other customizations you can make to your paddle are adding edge tap, lead tap, or wrapping the grip.
Surface and mechanical features not allowed
You cannot paint or put any thing on your paddles surface that will make it increase spin on the ball. This includes anti-skid paint, sand, or rubber particles. You also cannot have anything that can be removed from the paddle except the grip and edge tape.
Branding and model
All approved pickleball paddles used in a sanctioned tournament must have the manufacture’s model and brand on it put on by the manufacture. If either the model or brand decal is missing, the paddle is illegal.
If you are going to play in IFP/USA pickleball sanctioned events, you have to use an approved pickleball paddle. When playing for fun, not in a sanctioned tournament, you can use whatever paddle you want. Of course, your opponents, even in a recreational game, may have something to say about the paddle you use.
Usually, all paddles are not checked before play starts at a tournament. It would take too long to check everyone’s paddle before getting started. This is especially true because many players have several paddles in their bag.
The official rules state that it is the responsibility of the players to ensure their paddle is on the approved list. So, you need to make sure your paddle is on the list before playing with it in a tournament.
This doesn’t mean that an official won’t check your paddle. Your paddle is subjected to being inspected at any time you are playing in a match. The official can check any paddle you are playing with or any paddle you have used in the match.
This could be a little tricky if you are using multiple pads. If you use a paddle and then put it back in your bag, all of your paddles could be subjected to being inspected. It is best that all of your paddles in your bag are approved paddles. Don’t accidentally bring an illegal paddle with you to a tournament. This could cause you to forfeit.
What happen if you use an illegal paddle
There are several rules that guide the officials when determining what to do if you use an illegal pickleball paddle in a match.
Match play has not started
When a player has an unapproved paddle and the match has not started, the player may replace the illegal paddle with an approved paddle. In this situation, you are given mercy and allowed to change your paddle. Be thankful that it was discovered before play started. Personally, if this happened to me, I would get the unapproved paddle and an other illegal paddles far away from my match.
The match has started
When an illegal paddle is discovered after the pickleball match has started, but before it has ended, the player or team with the illegal paddle has to forfeit that match.
This means you lose the match you are playing in if it is discovered that you used an illegal paddle. If losing that match doesn’t knock you out of the tournament, you can continue to play in the tournament.
The match is over
When an illegal paddle is discovered to have been used, and the match is over, the match results stand as is. If you or someone uses an illegal paddle in a match and it is not discovered until after play has ended, then nothing can be done to change the results of the match.
To a team that has lost to another team that used an illegal paddle, this can seem wrong. But the rule is applied the same for everyone. Each team has the right to object to the other team’s paddle and ask the official to investigate. So no one should be upset if the unapproved paddle is discovered after the match has ended.