The Rise of Pickleball
By Cody Sung
Volume 3 Issue 2
December 23, 2022
Image provided by News12
We are approaching the close of 2022, and during this year you have surely learned of new things you never knew before. Many of us, including myself, have learned of a booming sport: pickleball. Described as “America’s fastest-growing sport” by NPR and other sources, it has a long tail of history behind it. Let’s not forget it. Let’s explore it.
Bainbridge Island is not a household name in America. But it is for America’s pickleball. After all, it’s where it started. On a summer like any other in 1965, the Pritchards, McCallums, and Bells all were together in the same rented log cabin. The kids in the family were bored and wanted something to do. So they went to the badminton court and started playing. The adults, noticing the deficiencies in the equipment meant for ping-pong and not for pickleball, crafted new paddles and new balls. According to “History of Pickleball: More Than 50 Years of Fun!”, it rapidly spread across Bainbridge Island during the summer and into Seattle.
The game continued to be developed further, with rule changes and further improvements. However, pickleball’s ability to develop further was limited since there was no organization to handle it – yet. That is, until Barney McCallum, Joel Pritchard, and Bill Bell, three key players in the founding of pickleball, put $500 into a novel company: “Pickle Ball Inc.”, founded on February 13, 1968. It would be the company responsible for marketing the pickleball sport to a wider audience.
Pickleball experienced further growth, expanding to Hawaii in the 1960s (where it was called pukaball), prevalent in Maui, Florida in the 1970s with a debut in The Villages, a sprawling retirement community, Arizona in the 2000s centered around Surprise, and recently nationwide and internationally, mostly Canada. The growth required a national organization to be created, the United States of America Pickleball Association, USAPA for short. Founded in 2004, it is in charge of rule regulation for pickleball and is the organization to turn to for pickleball.
This brings us to today. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, the number of pickleball players has nearly doubled to 4.8 million and is rapidly entering the mainstream, with some estimates predicting over 40 million players by the decade’s end. Why? A combination of tennis, table tennis, and badminton, it is advertised by the USAPA as fun, fast-paced, simple, addictive, and has a strong community perfect for a pandemic boom.
The gameplay, as mentioned above, is simple. Designed to have all as equals, not just the strong, emphasizing strategy and error reduction while giving benefits to speed and power. Usually, pickleball is played with doubles; two players on each side. To start, an underhand serve is made diagonally and alternating from the right-hand side of the court to the left-hand. Each server is only allowed one serve attempt. If both servers fault (the ball goes in the net or outside the designated area), the other team gets to serve. Only the serving team has the chance to win points. Games are played to eleven points, however, a team must lead by two to win. While in pickleball it is possible to volley (not letting the ball touch the ground before hitting it, with the exception of the first two shots of the game), there is a no-volley zone, commonly called the kitchen, within seven feet of the net on both sides. It is illegal to volley there. Apart from a few other basic rules, this is it when it comes to pickleball.
While pickleball’s simple gameplay and welcoming environment for beginners have allowed it to gain rapid popularity, it has also caused tensions in communities across the United States. Its easy setup, costing only around a few hundred dollars, can transform any hard surface into a pickleball court, including tennis courts, which can be converted into as many as four pickleball courts. Combined with its explosive popularity, it has led to intense turf wars that have divided communities and caused friction with the tennis world. Even in towns that have managed to adapt to pickleball, there is another issue: the noise. Vox has demonstrated the paddles made for pickleball combined with hollow balls cause about twice as much noise on contact as a tennis ball and racket. While not bad on its own, with many pickleball matches going on the noise adds up, and it has caused complaints from residents and bans from parks. Luckily, there is a fix: designated clubs for pickleball, which reduces the strain on public spaces and isolates the noise issue. Developers nationwide are already starting to do so. And for pickleball, it means it is finally on top.