USAP and UPA-A Respond to Pickleball Paddle Certification Questions

USAP and UPA-A are now certifying pickleball paddles. This image displays a paddle with a check mark on it

The pickleball community now has two organizations certifying pickleball paddles for professional use in tournaments: USA Pickleball (USAP), the first American governing body in the sport, and United Pickleball Association of America (UPA-A), the newcomer under UPA, the organization that formed earlier this year to operate the merged PPA Tour & Major League Pickleball.

Since UPA-A announced its formation after the aforementioned league merger, the pickleball community has posed serious questions about its existence and what it is trying to accomplish. 

Then last week, a UPA-A update described a new paddle certification process pertaining to pro-level paddle brands that will launch later this year and feature input from Pro Pickle Labs and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

Many have wondered about the legitimacy of both organization's methods for testing and certifying paddles for use across all levels of pickleball play. 

In fairness to both organizations, we asked their representatives to comment on the state of paddle certification:

UPA-A

The Kitchen: How is this new certification program different from USAP's? What is the justification for it?

Jason Aspes, President of UPA: First and foremost, this is only about the pro game. We can't monitor 2,000+ brands that address the recreational market, and we don't want to get into that. Not now, at least.

USAP’s Certifications have until now been materials-based. Now, we're moving towards something performance-based.

We'll measure Exit Velocity, RPM's, and audio tone. USAP does a deflection test up to 7 pounds; we do our onsite testing up to 42. Materials have improved along with engineering, so we need to make sure there's a threshold on power.

Exit Velocity: Exit velocity, in certain paddles, has become too high in general; and not only that, but Exit Velocity can even change throughout the lifecycle of a paddle. We're going to test paddles with “destructive testing” conditions that mimic wear and tear. We're going to set a threshold and make sure that the peak of a paddle's power is not too high.

RPMs: Basically a test for spin. The standard test is for grit, or the peaks and valleys of a material like carbon fiber. But there are other materials at the top of the game making this test obsolete. We're not worried about materials, we're worried about the overall spin capability not exceeding a certain level. We're also going to conduct destructive testing to test this.

Audio tone: We're trying to anticipate that at the pro level, there's money on the line for the players. They're looking for advantages wherever they can find them. Working with our manufacturing and player advisory committees, we recognized that a silent paddle, or one that strips away any audio cue of pace or placement, would provide a distinct advantage. If it doesn't make that sound, the opponent is left at a disadvantage.

Currently, USAP does not test for any of these factors except grit.

For the remainder of 2024 and the foreseeable future, we are only focused on the UPA professional game. That is all we're trying to monitor: keep it fun to watch, fair, and competitive.

We were hoping USAP would have gotten it right, but having seen where paddles are going - unchecked - we knew that hope wasn’t a business strategy and felt we needed to step in and regulate for our own pro scene.

The Kitchen: What can you say about the expense of pursuing UPA certifications? How will you ensure that smaller brands who can't afford the fee will still be able to have a fair chance at pursuing certification?

Jason Aspes: We're figuring out the pricing. It's an absolutely valid piece of feedback and I've spent tons of time having very honest conversations with all different paddle manufacturers and their leaders.

I want dissenting voices providing a well-rounded point of view for whatever we do. It doesn't mean they're always going to get their way, but they will be a voice at the table.

I don't think pursuing our certification should be an "easy" decision for paddle brands. We want to ensure that only brands truly seeking innovation are creating what we believe will be the gold standard of paddles for the highest level of pickleball.

TRANSPARENCY STATEMENT: Jason Aspes is a co-founder of The Kitchen Pickleball who is now employed at UPA. We take our reputation seriously and do not wish to hide this from you. 

Because Jason has direct input into UPA-A's certification planning, we felt there was no better contact at UPA to interview for this story, and we've taken extensive measures to ensure our coverage is fair and balanced. 

USA Pickleball

The Kitchen: Does USAP have any formal response it would like to make to the establishment of this new certification program and/or the UPA-A in general?

USA Pickleball: USA Pickleball takes the development and certification of its equipment testing standards seriously. We have nearly a decade of working experience with Element U.S Space & Defense, an accredited independent third-party testing facility with significant sports engineering expertise.

Based on our experience in equipment testing, we have concerns about market confusion arising from multiple approvals and inconsistencies among equipment manufacturers.

We are eager to find a sustainable long-term solution that will continue to positively enhance the sport of pickleball.

The Kitchen: Does the establishment of the UPA-A's certification system bring any urgency to USAP to reveal more about its own certification system?

USA Pickleball: USA Pickleball’s equipment testing and certification process is provided to manufacturers in full transparency when they register to have equipment tested.

We maintain standards by overseeing a testing roadmap that is developed in collaboration with and shared among the manufacturing community.

We always have and always will test to standards while minimizing impact to manufacturers and addressing the advances to the sport through any equipment performance trends.

The Kitchen: Is it true that USAP's certification program does not test for the above-mentioned factors?

USA Pickleball: USA Pickleball has been testing for power, spin and acoustics for years.

Through our partnership with Element U.S. Space & Defense, USA Pickleball initiated the development of PBCoR (or exit velocity) with the introduction of the first true "power" paddles late last year and launched the testing process to manufacturers this spring.

We are committed to staying on top of equipment trends and advances. Currently, our team is developing a direct spin test to enhance our current testing methods in this area.

USA Pickleball is dedicated to growing the sport of pickleball which includes technological advances including our Quiet Category program and testing. Acoustic testing has been a part of our program since late summer 2023 because we believe part of an inclusive sport is ensuring it’s supported by all.

USA Pickleball offers development and certification of its equipment testing and standards. We collaborate with over 1,800 equipment manufacturers to ensure best practices and advances in our equipment testing to support the sport of pickleball.

Why does this matter?

Decisions made from either organization now may have impacts on which paddles and paddle innovations make it to competitive play -- and that's not just at the pro level, it affects officially-sanctioned tournaments by either of these two organizations.

We've even seen lawsuits filed surrounding paddles and their certifications.

This controversy has been called pickleball's next war, but is it really a war? Can both organizations actually coexist, especially if the UPA-A does simply exist to govern PPA/MLP play?

It's important we follow along. Rare is the chance to see a sport's history made right in front of you.

It feels like that happens every other week in pickleball.

Shop Our Store