Pickleballs. Arguably, no other topic generates such a passionate debate and angst amongst pickleball players than these 2.87” to 2.97” in diameter plastic balls that have between 26 and 40 circular holes. Well, perhaps aside from rally scoring.
Official List of Approved Pickleball Balls
There are currently approximately 30 USAPA/IFP approved tournament pickleballs from which the Tournament Director chooses when managing a USAPA-sanctioned event.
For rec play and non-sanctioned tournaments, however, any ball can be used – regardless if the ball is, or is not, on the official list of approved balls.
The pickleball selected for play in any USAPA- or IFP-sanctioned tournament must be named on the official list of approved balls. The approved balls on the list have met the official ball specifications dictated by the USAPA/IFP. Official ball specifications dictate acceptable parameters for the construction material, size, weight, bounce, and hardness of the ball. A listing of the USAPA-approved balls can be found by clicking here.
Outdoor Pickleballs Versus Indoor Pickleballs
While each of the approved balls is approved for indoor and outdoor use, there are, nevertheless, significant differences in pickleballs when playing indoors versus outdoors.
If playing pickleball outdoors — or indoors on a tennis court surface — outdoor balls are typically used. The “outdoor” ball – because it is slightly heavier, harder, and has smaller holes – travels significantly faster than the indoor ball.
While there are several brands of USAPA-approved outdoor balls, the two leading brands are the Dura Fast 40 (Pickleball, Inc.) and the Fuse G2 Outdoor (Onix Sports).
Dura Fast 40
There are 40 holes, of varying sizes, in the Dura Fast 40 ball. While the Dura Fast 40 ball is generally the preferred ball for 4.5+ rated tournament players, it is also a ball much more susceptible to breakage in colder weather (especially when temperatures fall below 60 degrees). It’s not uncommon to break several balls during the course of a 2-3 hour session in these conditions.
Because the Dura Fast 40 is often the “official” ball for top-tier tournaments (presumably because the “pro” players “favor” this ball), the more advanced players (those who are more apt to play tournaments) also put up with the breakage so that they can practice with the same ball that is most often used in these tournaments. These same players tend to rave about the ball’s playability, speed, and overall performance — breakages withstanding.
On May 14, 2019, Onix Pickleball announced that it had acquired DURA Pickleball. As noted in the press release, “Pickleball Central is proud to have been the steward of the DURA brand since we acquired Pickle-Ball Inc. in 2016, and we feel this transaction is good for the DURA brand, and the sport, by placing the brand in the hands of a dominant pickleball manufacturer with world-class R&D, manufacturing, and marketing capabilities.”
Onix Fuse Pickleball
The Onix Fuse Outdoor ball is a ball that doesn’t break to the degree of the Dura Fast 40. It has 40 holes that are of all the same size.
Because of the “excessive” breakage associated with the Dura Fast 40 (and economic implications), recreational players generally prefer this softer ball. Because the ball is softer, rallies tend to be longer with this ball as it is harder to put the ball away. The longer rallies make for fun play.
While advanced and tournament players tend to favor the Dura Fast 40, the Onix Fuse is more likely to be the preferred outdoor ball for beginning pickleball players thru about 3.5 or 4.0 rated players. Of course, this is, admittedly, an over-generalization.
Other Outdoor USAPA-approved Pickleball Balls
If the Dura Fast 40 or the Onix Fuse pickleball isn’t in the cards for your individual purchase or for your club’s purchase, other popular outdoor USAPA-approved pickleball options include the Tour 40 (Engage), the X-40 (Franklin Sports, Inc.), the Penn 40 (Penn) the Monarch Outdoor and TOP (Pickleball Central).
My ball preference is actually the TOP pickleball. It is manufactured exactly the same way and by the same manufacturer as the Dura Fast 40 (just has a different “label” on it), but it has a slightly lower price point than the Dura. 🙂
If playing indoors on a wood/composite gym floor — like at a local, recreation center — indoor balls are generally used.
Indoor balls are lighter, softer, and have larger (but generally fewer) holes than outdoor balls. Because of these characteristics, indoor balls come off the paddle a little “softer,” are easier to control, and typically result in longer rallies.
As for color, there is not a single color that pleases everyone. The best color is going to depend on the color of the floor, the color of the background, and the lighting characteristics of your venue.
Why So Many Balls? Can’t there be Agreement on a Single One?
With 30+ different USAPA/IFP approved options, many wonder why the sport of pickleball cannot agree on a single ball. It would seemingly make life so much easier. This question seems legitimate – that is, until you contrast it with the sport of tennis and the number of tennis ball brands approved by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).
To set the stage for the number of approved tennis balls, it’s important to understand that there are three main classes of tennis balls: Professional, Championship, and Practice. There are also four categories of balls: Regular Duty balls, Extra Duty balls, Grass Court balls, and Hi-Altitude Balls.
Finally, tennis balls can be pressurized or pressure-less. In all, according to the International Tennis Federation website, there were approximately 100s of tennis ball brands approved in 2020.
This makes 30+ approved pickleballs seem quite tame, huh?
I would love to hear your feedback on pickleballs in the comments below. Which pickleball — and color — do you prefer?
See you on the courts!