A friend of mine gave me a new pickleball ball to try out last night. This brand is new to the market and so I was a little unsure how I would feel about it. In the end, it actually plays and looks very similar to a couple of already established balls on the market. This had me thinking about the differences in the types of balls that are out there and why we care so much.
First of all, I’ll start off by clarifying that there are indoor balls and outdoor balls. The easiest way to tell which is by the size of the holes. Indoor balls have larger, but fewer holes, whereas outdoor balls have smaller but more holes.
The first image is an indoor ball and the second image is an outdoor ball.
Like all pickleball equipment, balls must meet a series of standards to get the USAPA Approved stamp. There is a list of approved balls for tournament directors to consider when running a tournament.
Indoor and Outdoor Balls
According to the USAPA, both types of balls must have a minimum of 26 holes up to 40. There’s not actually a rule that states indoor balls can only have 26 holes and outdoor has 40. Manufacturers have the flexibility. So, must be made of a durable material that is one uniform colour. USAPA allows for a small ridge on the centre seam only if it does not affect the performance of the ball in any way. The size of the ball allows for a range of 2.87 inches - 2.97 inches, yet, the maximum “out-of-round” diameter cannot exceed 0.020 inches. For anyone who’s confused by out-of-round means, well some balls are notorious for losing their round shape over time (sometimes a really short amount of time). The fact is that these balls are made of plastic and plastic is a malleable material. If you can’t see the shape distortion by just looking at the ball the next easiest way to see is when the ball is in flight it will actually flutter through the air.
Both types of balls also fall under the same weight range of 0.78 - 0.935 ounces. Every outdoor ball that I have weighed sits at exactly 0.93 and every indoor ball I’ve weighed
Believe it or not, the way a ball performs can change ever so slightly based on the dye. For example, the Onix Fuse Indoor ball comes in yellow and orange; yet the yellow ball plays much faster and harder than the orange ball. The specs are the exact same between the two, it’s just the colour that is the difference!
The Outdoor Ball
The material of an outdoor ball is hard and slightly thicker than an indoor ball and has 40 holes. This ball will usually play off of the ground and paddle very quickly. The sound off of the paddle will be deeper and louder because it’s heavier. Some outdoor balls will crack very quickly (after 4-5 games).
Popular choices for outdoor balls: Franklin X-40, Dura Fast 40, ProPenn.
The Indoor Ball
Typically there are 26 holes on an indoor ball. These balls will be slightly lighter than an outdoor ball and softer. The reason for this being that indoor surfaces are even and more predictable. The ball will perform on a mostly consistent basis off the ground. The indoor ball usually lasts longer and instead of cracking, the indication of an aging ball is that it becomes softer and easier to squeeze.
Popular choices for indoor balls: Onix Fuse (yellow), Penn 40, Onix Fuse (orange)