If you’ve been tapped into professional pickleball lately, you know there’s been some serious debate about paddle testing and legality. Paddle delamination scandals are popping up left and right, and tensions seem to be rising between players during big tournaments because of the current uncertainty surrounding paddle testing protocols.
But how does a paddle get to the point where it’s certified by USA Pickleball (USAP) for tournament play? What does the certification process look like? We were able to sit down with Mitchell Chapman, the Director of Digital Marketing for PCKL, a pickleball equipment brand that has several paddle models USAP approved, and ask him about their experience with the process.
PCKL was founded with the goal of creating pickleball gear for players of all backgrounds, and their three current models are representative of that endeavor. However, a big part of finding their footing in the pickleball paddle market was by having that USAP seal of approval.
Without it, you’ll still be able to cater to pickleball newcomers, but more serious players need that certification for their paddle to be legal in tournaments. Chapman explained that even at the recreational level, your opponents like to know what equipment you’re using to know that you’ll play fairly.
“People want to know and people like to see that they’re playing on a fair playing field. People do look for that and we realized that early and knew we needed to be there. The main advantage is that you can get into all the communities and you aren’t limited to people who are doing it socially or in neighborhood leagues.”
The Certification Process
PCKL’s first step in the process was looking through all of the documentation provided by USAP to understand the requirements before submitting paddles for testing. The USAP’s website has an FAQ page for equipment submissions and their Equipment Standards manual outlining all of the required paddle specifications.
The big thing to know going into a paddle submission is that you need to send USAP your final product down to the last detail, including the ‘USA Pickleball Competition’ seal or text present on the finished design. Even the paddle’s color can’t be changed after your paddle has been approved, as new colorways merit what is known as a Similarity Paddle Submission if produced after your initial submission. Keep this in mind when submitting paddles, as last-minute production changes that may significantly change the paddle’s structure will likely require resubmission.
(NOTE: If you want to have multiple colorways of a paddle model, it’s a good idea to include the different options in your initial submission so they can be approved all at once. Otherwise, subsequent colorway changes will typically be considered a Similarity Paddle Submission.)
“Similarity submission would be things like artwork or you change the edge, cosmetic stuff mainly. If you’re changing parts of the construction, that’s a new paddle. For example, if you have a 14mm version and then a 16mm version, that’s a new paddle with just that one variable change. Any things that change the overall construction or the materials themselves are basically just a new paddle.”
During the production process, PCKL uses in-house paddle and ball testing equipment in order to ensure that their paddles are as close to regulation as possible before submitting to USAP. There are plenty of third-party testing services that you can utilize for some of the more complex tests, such as the coefficient friction tests of a paddle’s surface. Chapman explains that isolating each variable outlined in the Equipment Standards manual is critical to producing a paddle that you can confidently submit for testing.
Once you’ve got your product at a point where you think it’s ready to hit shelves, you then need to create a manufacturer account on USAP’s website in order to register with the organization. Then, for new submissions, you’ll need to send in six paddles to be tested for inspection, testing, and archival purposes.
The cost for paddle certification is $1,500, which is paid right before you send the paddles in for testing. Chapman explained that this fee could change if something in your submission process causes you to resubmit, but you should be prepared to spend that $1,500 fee each time you need to send a product to USAP.
According to USAP, testing usually takes 4-6 weeks on average to complete, as they conduct their testing through Chesapeake Labs, a branch of National Technical Systems (NTS). They offer expedited services if you need them sooner and are advertised to have about a 2-week turnaround.
In PCKL’s experience, the testing process can sometimes take even longer, with one of their submissions taking upwards of 9 weeks. So it’s safer to lean on the side of caution when planning your product release cycle – plan for at least six weeks before you find out if your paddle is certified.
Once you get word that your paddles have been approved and archived in their database, you’re good to go! Overall, the process is pretty straightforward but can be time-consuming. Chapman recommends staying in touch with USAP’s Equipment Evaluation Committee (EEC) through every step in the process to understand the timeline better.
When asked what advice he would give to up-and-coming paddle companies hoping to submit for the first time, Chapman suggests thoroughly reviewing the equipment manual and ensuring your paddles meet the requirements ahead of time. This will increase your chances that the testing will be successful, and since it’s such a considerable time investment, it will get your paddles into stores much more quickly.
“Leave some time for it; that’s always the thing. People want to start selling it now. But sometimes, you can kind of get caught waiting for USA Pickleball, pushing your launch date out a little bit. So definitely plan for it and leave time for that.”
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