USAPA Reapproves Jugs Pickleballs, Clarifies Ball Conditioning Requirements for Pure 2

Jugs Indoor Pickleball

Jugs Indoor Pickleball, available in white or green

The USAPA has announced that the much-beloved Jugs Indoor Ball is back on the list of approved balls for tournament play PROVIDED they are properly conditioned. They’ve clarified that the Onix Pure 2 Indoor and Outdoor Balls need to be conditioned prior to use at sanctioned tournaments as well. This is to assure the balls bounce less than 34 inches when dropped from a 78-inch height.

Straight out of the package, the Jugs and Pure 2 Balls all bounce about 36 inches. According to Christine Barksdale, Director of Competition at the USAPA, “Effective January 1, 2018 conditioning will no longer be an acceptable method for meeting bounce height criterion.”

But there is much more to this story for any who are interested… 

The Real Story Behind the Announcement

You may think this rule change is much ado about nothing. As a 5.0 tournament player, I can tell you this is not the case. Many players have expressed passionate views about the rule changes relating to balls on social media in recent months. A couple of inches of bounce height is serious stuff. 

While USAPA ball rule changes have fueled much of the debate, the melee really began in 2015 with the introduction of new balls like the Onix Pure Outdoor Ball. The original Pure Ball was a yellow or orange 40-hole outdoor ball that was softer and easier to control than other outdoor balls. These are fantastic in many ways. However, because it was easier to control, many top players complained that it equalized play between lesser and better players.

Simply put, many players feel that the Pure Outdoor Ball changes the game in a way that reduces the skill needed for finesse shots. While I personally love both the newer, softer Pure Balls and the older, harder balls (like the Dura Fast 40), I have come to agree with these players’ assessments. 

We’re no longer dealing with mere wiffle balls; pickleballs have critical characteristics discernible by connoisseurs of the sport. Should we have one ball for pros and another for recreational players? Should there be different balls for juniors vs. adults? Should there be different balls based on the playing surface or weather conditions? Many sports have these variations.

Because some balls (like the Pure 2 and Jugs Balls) bounce higher when new, this creates inconsistent play as the ball wears over the course of a match or two.

The USAPA sought to address this issue while also addressing issues relating to the very nature of the sport. In October 2015, the USAPA  modified the bounce limit from 37 inches to 34 inches.

Their goal in limiting the bounce height was to preserve the tactical nature of the sport which rewards the patience and finesse required to succeed with a lower bouncing ball. The deadline for achieving the lower bounce was first set at May 1, 2016 and later pushed back to October 1, 2016.

Onix PURE 2 Outdoor Pickleball

Onix PURE 2 Outdoor Pickleball, available in yellow and orange

Balls perform differently when used outdoors on hard surfaces compared to indoors on floating wood floors. This further complicates the situation, much like how a tennis ball behaves differently on a concrete vs. a clay or grass court. More on this later…

In response to the 2015 rule change, Escalade (the company that produces the Onix Pure and Pure 2 balls) scrambled to develop balls that bounced under 34 inches. 

Their solution was to have users condition the balls prior to use or testing so that they would meet the 34-inch maximum bounce height. As with many innovations, the law of unintended consequences reared its head.

As 5.0 players, tournament directors and officials within the USAPA learned about the implications of conditioning, it started to create real-world problems, particularly for tournament directors needing balls that performed to USAPA standards without any conditioning.

The first conditioning process published by the USAPA involved squeezing each ball by hand 6 times in 16 different places, for a total of 96 manual squeezes.

For me, thumb tendinitis sets in after conditioning only 2 balls!

Imagine the problem of trying to figure out how to condition 250 balls prior to a tournament. Innovative tournament directors were faced with the challenge of addressing this with a variety of “home remedies.” I’ve heard stories of some really creative attempts to condition balls using clothes dryers for instance.

What’s the right setting? 15 minutes on the perma-press cycle? These approaches were interesting, but largely unscientific and unrepeatable. 

Fortunately, the USAPA is sorting this all out. They opened up dialog with the manufacturers to put the burden of consistency and science back where it belongs—on the companies producing the balls. 

Aren’t Indoor and Outdoor Balls Different?

While design differentiates indoor and outdoor pickleballs, the biggest changes in performance are determined by playing surface. Most outdoor play is on asphalt or concrete; most indoor play is on wood or carpet. More indoor facilities are accommodating pickleball on tennis courts, and outdoor balls are generally used because of the harder surfaces.

Popular outdoor balls are heavier and have 40 smaller holess. They perform better in windy conditions and on abrasive surfaces. Indoor balls are lighter and have 26 larger holes. Indoor balls perform well on smoother surfaces with no wind. But here’s the catch: Wood floors absorb more energy, resulting in a much lower bounce compared to concrete or asphalt.

The Jugs Ball is the most popular ball for indoor play, and though it bounces over 36 inches on concrete when new, on wood floors it bounces less than 34 inches. The same is true for the Onix Pure 2 Indoor Ball. This is why most of the debate underway concerns the Pure 2 Outdoor Ball used on asphalt or concrete. The Onix Pure 2 Outdoor Ball actually bounces 36-37 inches on the surface for which it is intended: asphalt or concrete.

Talking About the Dura Fast 40 (and the TOP, and the 503…)

As a tournament player involved with a retailer that sells more pickleballs than anyone else in the world, in my own unscientific sampling I found most 5.0 players prefer the original Dura Fast 40 balls for outdoor play. (In the interest of full disclosure, this same retailer acquired the Dura brand in August 2016.)

The Dura and Pure 2 Balls are made very differently, using different chemistry and materials. The Dura Fast 40 Balls are made using a seamless rotomolding process where holes are drilled after the balls are formed using a seamless production process. There is a line on the inside of the ball, but this isn’t a “seam,” it is simply the line that the mold makes during the release process. The Onix 503 and TOP Balls are made using the same process.

Dura Fast 40 Outdoor Pickleball

Dura Fast 40 Outdoor Pickleball, available in yellow, orange, white and neon.

The Dura Fast 40 Ball was developed in 1980 by Pickle-Ball Inc working closely with a family that specialized in unique high performance plastics manufacturing who had also taken an interest in pickleball. The ball was developed specifically for outdoor pickleball play on concrete or asphalt courts. The rotomolding and drilling process produces a geometrically precise ball with a smooth finish and attractive appearance.

This has been the primary outdoor ball for decades, and most players love it. But this type of ball demands real finesse. Players who have mastered this ball are recognized as deserving their 5.0 ratings. Their ability with this ball sets them apart, and they require no conditioning.

The Dura Fast 40 has always been the official ball used at the USAPA Nationals, and is now the official ball of the US Open. Alas for many, it will always be “the outdoor pickleball.”

When Pickleballs Go Sour

Many other balls have been introduced over the years. Most of them have suffered from a variety of issues including cracking, unpredictable flight patterns, a tendency to go out of round and unusual playability at certain temperatures.

Designing a plastic orb that performs after thousands of high-speed impacts with precision over time, in a variety of weather conditions, is a truly difficult scientific endeavor.

Pickleball evolved around a specific set of playability characteristics, and the USAPA is seeking to protect the integrity of the sport.

Neon Color Dura Fast 40 Ball

New Neon Color Dura Fast 40 Ball is the official ball of the US Open Pickleball Championships

Other sports have had their own issues with equipment. Golf has long suffered from issues with changes to golf balls. Aluminum and corked bats have changed baseball, and many would not say for the better. Remember “Deflategate?” Who would have thought that a half a pound of pressure in a football would have the consequences it did?

Large, well-financed companies have attempted to reproduce the magic of that breakthrough Dura Ball. For example, Wilson launched their similar outdoor ball prior to the US Open in 2015. They believed it would have similar bounce characteristics as the Dura Balls, but they found that the chemistry and manufacturing process was hard to master.

They quickly discontinued the ball due to out-of-round complaints a month prior to the US Open. Players loved the visibility of that new ball, but disliked the irregular bounces, and sometimes no bounce at all! 

US Open Logo

Late in 2016, a neon green version of the Dura Fast 40 was launched. The Dura Fast 40 will be the official ball of the US Open Pickleball Championships from 2017 through 2019. Others are following suit, and there is now a neon green version of the TOP Ball.

Differences in Pickleball Manufacturing    

“Injection molding” is a different type of manufacturing process than rotational molding. The Pure 2 Outdoor and Indoor Balls and the Jugs 26-Hole Indoor Ball (aka the Jugs Bulldog) are made using an injection molding process.

The holes are not drilled but formed in the mold. Each half is molded and the two halves are glued together. The chemistry of the materials and the injection process results in softer balls that bounce higher initially.

These softer balls are easier to control for many players. However, many tournament players, 5.0 pros and pickleball purists disdain them. Tennis players generally prefer the softer balls because they are more responsive to spin.

Do we want to give elite tennis players—already dominating the sport—even more advantage?

Injection molding is a proven way for plastics engineers to create high quality predictable products. While I’m not a materials scientist or polymer engineer (though I am an engineer), what we’ve heard is that the plastic material itself has to have certain characteristics to flow into the molds.  These characteristics manifest themselves in the way the balls bounce out of the package. After stress relieving (aka conditioning), these balls bounce less.

Cosom Fun Ball

The Cosom Fun Ball was the leading indoor pickleball.

Changing the chemistry of injection molded balls to make them bounce less is simple, right? We’ll see. Remember the Cosom Fun Ball which dominated indoor play for years? In my first tournament in SeaTac directed by Mark Friedenberg in 2013, the Cosom Ball was used.

In hard play, most balls would not last a single game before breaking at the seam. The boxes of broken balls at the conclusion of the tournament would have filled a mini van! Achieving great performance and lower bounce may prove a significant challenge for Jugs and Onix.

The Future of Pickleball(s)

Where do we go from here? During my research for this blog post I’ve heard a wide variety of opinions.  I’ve had the great pleasure of speaking with dozens of 5.0 players, manufacturer’s representatives, testing personnel at the USAPA and scientists working at the epicenter of this great debate. 

Some suggest the USAPA stipulate the exact materials composition and characteristic of indoor and outdoor pickleballs just like baseball does for balls, while others say that only the playability characteristics be defined by the governing body (like in golf.) 

Fortunately the USAPA is taking the lead in helping clear up this controversy in an effort to maintain the integrity of the sport. To that end, they have committed to further clarifying the rules relating to ball specifications, plus they have engaged the services of a new professional engineering testing firm to assist in making sure products used in sanctioned tournament play reflect the characteristics that assure long-term success for our sport. 

Ultimately the market will decide what type of balls are used. The one thing I know is this—whenever I get a new package of balls to test from some new company, I’m eager to get on the court and try them out! In 2016 I saw the introduction of several new balls from Paddletek, Gamma and others, and I had a great time getting to know these products firsthand. As a player, I say, “Let the battle for ball supremacy rage on!”

When I think about it, these aren’t just wiffle balls. They are the core DNA of our sport, and innovation in this aspect of our game is exciting and controversial stuff.

I really want to know what you think. Please post your comments here or on our Facebook page. Let the marketplace hear your voice as well. 

Glen Peterson is a retired engineer who spent a successful career at Caterpillar. He is a 5.0-rated tournament player who has had earned dozens of gold, silver and bronze medals at the USAPA Nationals, the US Open and other tournaments. He now works with PickleballCentral in a variety of product management roles and is sponsored by Selkirk Sports, whose paddles he uses in competition.

 

23 thoughts on “USAPA Reapproves Jugs Pickleballs, Clarifies Ball Conditioning Requirements for Pure 2

  1. Wow, great article. So what are the expected lifespans for a pickleball ball. I know that in high level tournaments tennis balls are replaced at 7 games and then every 9 games in a match. For pickleballs I cannot find this information or estimates of lifespan. Can anyone tell me what the expected lifespan of a tournament pickleball ball is vs a club pickleball ball?

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    • Richard, you raise a great question. Unfortunately there is no rule or common practice related to ball life. At some point Jugs and Pure 2 balls begin bouncing under the minimum of 30 inches. I have a dear friend with whom I play singles every week who always begins with a new ball…and then passes me a thousand times! Hey, the jugs ball only costs a dollar and lasts three hours! That is value.

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  2. I have been playing for just under six months and decided to enter a tournament playing mixed and men’s. I play at the Community Life Center in Greenwood, Indiana. We just what I would call, balls bought by the bag full; cheap but playable. But when I showed for the tournament the Onix ball was being used and on a rubber material type floor. The ball was heavier and the flooring did not allow the ball much bounce. I should mention the place I’m referring to, Five Seasons Sports Center, Indianapolis. I was placed with a male partner I didn’t know so we did what we could together. But I have a female partner and we play well together. But we couldn’t figure out why everything we did just didn’t seem to work and our shoots looked off. After reading this article about balls and courts it all makes since now. Thank you for the information.

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  3. I found your article interesting as we have been wanting to test the bounce of our balls. We play on an outdoor Rennes court. Seems like blacktop. There is some coating looks like aluminum threads with sort of vinyl green over it. The rules say drop from 78 inches onto a granite block. We would like to use our own surface to east but don’t know if the inches should be the same for the bounce. Suggestion?

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  4. I come from table tennis. There are specific standards that all makers of table tennis balls must meet. There have been balls i preferred over others but ultimately a standard is required so we could worry more about technique and less about the ball. I am a 4.5 player working toward 5.0. I much prefer the onix pure or pure 2. The dura’s are inconsistently round and wobble. I don’t think a better feeling non-wobbely ball that is easier to control hurts the 5.0’s. Sounds more like the 5.0’s thing to protect their turf (no offense intended). It opens up the game to better shot making. Better response and feeling leads to confident shot-making. That leads to better shots and better volleys. Everyone at our club uses the onix pure 2 and our level of play has been raised. Ultimately we need one standard-whether its the rock-hard dura ball or the round onix pure. I would rather worry about technique than the ball. So pick one and lets go play!

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  5. Excellent article Glen, it is a complex issue that you have done a great job of explaining. I never could have guessed when I started playing that I would be hooked on a game with the same name as a preserved vegetable, and have to squeeze the balls 96 times in order to play. It is a testament to how good a game it is that we all continue to play and love the game and the Pickleball community so much.

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    • Thanks Laura! Pickleball is such a quirky name for such a social game. Sure is fun to be involved in the game at this early stage! Glen

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  6. I just wonder if higher level players should dictate the balls we all play with. When pickleball was invented they tried to make the sport so mediocre athlete would be able to be competitive against a better athlete. Wonder if we need to move away from that philosophy. 4.5 and 5.0 players are good enough to win no matter if the ball is Jugs, Dura, etc. Make minimum requirements and let’s play.

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  7. I find this all very interesting. I play in the 3.5 – 4.0 range. To me it takes more skill to hit a livelier ball soft than it does a softer ball. This of course is just the opposite of what the 5.0 players complain about. Either way I love the game and will enjoy watching who is going to control the outcome of what type of ball will be approved.

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    • James, great observation. Even though the Dura bounces less than the Pure 2 when both are new, the Dura seems a more lively ball to many players. At least the Dura seems to come off the paddle faster.

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  8. So great to hear someone at the top finally made an official ruling. For many months, our club here in Ft. Myers, did not know which ball we should be playing with. All players, no matter what skill level, or age, must play outdoors with the DuraFast 40. Period.

    Joe Knaeble
    Myerlee Gardens Estates
    Ft. Myers, FL

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  9. Well, there are two things we can do with indoor pickleball. Keep the new bounce limit and force every company to change the balls, or play with the Juggs balls that almost everyone loves to play with, the balls that caused us to love the game int he first place. I’m pretty sure the rules committee will choose the worse of the two. As for outdoor pickleball, I don’t care. It’s a completely different game that just happens to have the same rules.

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  10. The Dura 40 is the only ball I use on the court unless a TD has decided to use the Pure 2. I agree that the Dura keeps the sport true while the Pure 2 evens the playing field. Getting better requires long hours of practice and drilling….not training wheels. The USAPA has made a great decision. Thanks for listening to player recommendations.

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  11. Brian – thanks for the comments. Glen did indeed indicate he might be a little biased towards the Dura. He has been playing with it for years and is involved with product development for PickleballCentral.
    The Pure 2 requires conditioning not because of what Pros feel or say, but because Onix used conditioning as part of the process when they got their ball approved. They successfully introduced their ball and it is indeed very popular in many areas.
    The USAPA has just moved to testing balls through a professional, independent lab with clearly laid out criteria. I think you will see that indeed over the next few years market forces will determine what balls are purchased. Having many choices means the market can pick the ball(s) that work best.

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  12. Hi Glen,

    Well written article. However, I can tell, immediately, that it is written by someone who has a bias towards the Dura. I sense the owners of the Dura, in realizing they have lost some serious maket share to the Pure 2, is happy to hear the inconsistent USAPA is “doing something” about the ball. The Pure 2 has become a widely accepted ball in many circles. Clubs and individuals have been gobbling them up at a rapid pace. Many tournaments have adopted the Pure 2 as their official tournament ball. So, I can understand your approach to writing this article with this type of slant.

    The reality is this ball is being penalized because a few 5.0 players are demanding the USAPA ban this ball. We are talking about less than 5% of the Pickleball population. Talk about the tail wagging the dog. There have been suggestions in some circles that suggest someone is being paid. How insane has the debate become.

    I am not a 5.0 player like you and I would not say I am a skilled player. I enjoy playing the game!!! In addition, I am the president of my club. In 2015, we spent over five thousand dollars ($6,000) for the Dura balls. The balls came in a box of 200 (?). On cold days, players in my club would crack about ten to fifteen balls within a two-hour period. About a third of the same box of balls were out-of-round. This made for inconsistent play. The familiar sight, before each game, is to see a player toss a ball in the air to see if it is wobbling. My club decided to switch to the Pure 2 last September. Since then, there has been a total of fifty balls lost. Five of them were broken and the other forty five were lost via the five finger discount. There was no need to toss the ball in the air to see if it was round and the bounce was consistent. My club members played with the Pure 2 right out of the box and did experience some (not all) of the balls bouncing a tad higher than the Dura, initially. This condition was quickly rectified after a game or two. A situation that could be lived with considering the alternative. By the same token, I have experienced the Durafast 40, with its inconsistent bounce and unpredictable behavior, when conditions are hot (~90°+). This is not the experience with the Pure 2. My club bought one thousand dollars worth of the Pure 2 balls (4 boxes of 100 balls each) and at the rate they are being utilized, it might take another three years or more before there is a need to purchase anymore.

    What I can conclude, from your article is that, according to you, the future of Pickleballs will be determined by a few select 5.0 players and not the thousands who live and play with the Pure 2. It seems to me that the USAPA is not basing their specifications on any scientific data, but by the standard set by the Durafast 40 ball. Because, as you so succinctly put it, your ball has been around since the inception and it is the “gold” standard by which all other balls need to be measured. Like other balls in different sports, the USAPA needs to define the characteristics for manufacturing Pickleballs. I agree that a Pickleball is not a wiffle ball.

    I look forward to seeing what the USAPA is going to do in the future. Let the market forces determine the purchasing of the balls and not the USAPA creating the perception they are favoring one ball.

    Yours truly,

    Brian Joseph

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    • Brian, I really appreciate your perspective and insights! Actually I agree with you on nearly every point. 5.0 players ought not drive this sport! Clubs like yours should drive this sport. After all, Pickleball is not a spectator sport focused on elite players but a sport for participants. “Come and Play” not “Come and Watch” is our mantra. The Pure 2 Outdoor ball is a fantastic ball. I love it! Again, thanks for your great comments!

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    • Brian,
      While I respect your playing experience with the Pure 2, you have clearly misrepresented some facts and have made some incorrect assertions. The USAPA is trying to preserve the sanctity of the game and nothing more. Just because you do not agree with this prudent direction, please do not label Glenn’s views as biased. Do you even know him? He is one of the most respected people in the game. You will get a chance to purchase a myriad of balls starting in 2018 that will all conform to more stringent performance standards that maintain the integrity of the game. Hopefully one will meet the needs of your club.

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    • Hi Brian
      Let me guess you…. are in a cooler climate…with chilly mornings. I can see the dura ball cracking when it’s below 60 degrees far easier. I am a 4.0 player in Florida and REALLY notice the Pure 2 Ball as sitting up and almost waiting for you after it bounces, this creates longer rallies and it’s harder to score on strong opponents. I can see why beginners and intermediate players prefer the Onix ball, It’s easier to play with and lasts longer. Why not have two level of balls, a recreational /
      club ball ( Onix Pure 2 ) and a competitive outdoor ball ( Dura or Tops )? OR different balls for colder play ( Onix Pure 2 ) and warm areas ( Dura ).
      Doug L

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  13. great article Glen….I will share this with my entire retail distribution network around the globe that are so confused by the rules that surround this little plastic ball….I too much prefer the Dura 40 and Top balls for outdoor play at higher levels and the Jugs ball for indoor play! Perhaps the solution is simple for both the manufacturers of the Jugs ball and the Onix Pure 2 ball……get them to “Condition” them themselves prior to shipping them to Pickleball Clubs and Retailers…….I don’t understand why this would be the responsibility of the pickleball player let alone a tournament committee?
    A further note on the Jugs balls testing criteria from the USAPA/IFP……instead of using the same criteria for an outdoor ball, which you have explained the ground surfaces are different, why can’t the USAPA/IFP change the criteria for the indoor ball on a wood or carpet surface. Perhaps they could use the existing bounce characteristics of the indoor jugs ball as the “New” indoor Wood floor criteria and voila!!!!!…….no need to do anything to the all ready great Jugs indoor ball we have?? just my thoughts!!

    Brooke Siver
    President
    Manta World Sport

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  14. What are we leaning about surfaces of outdoor courts? I had the Dads Club at my elementary school, where I volunteer, add a court to their redo of the playground, but what I got was concrete with a bounce-inducement surface of warm jello. Maybe hyperbole, but you get my drift. What do we need to do to make this a playable surface? I play indoors on wood but would like to play outdoors to improve me game.

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