The paddle sport with a silly name is gaining a serious following.
Leonardo DiCaprio plays daily. Vanity Fair reports Amal and George Clooney have their own home court. Larry David casually mentioned picking up the sport in Season 11 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Lala Kent had an epic meltdown on Vanderpump Rules during a match in Palm Springs.
Since all the cool kids are doing it, here’s everything you need to know about it.
It started as a dad invention.
The sport traces its origins to the Pacific Northwest in 1965, where three fathers invented it from various pieces of equipment they had from different sports to keep their kids busy.
The combination made too much sense: Pickleball is best described as giant ping pong played on a mini-tennis court using paddles and a bright, wiffle-like plastic ball.
Unlike tennis, there’s a no-volley zone up at the net, and doubles partners tend to move in parallel, making it inherently socially distanced and therefore perfect for the pandemic. That may be why its popularity grew by 21.3% from 2019 to 2020, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2021 Topline Participation Report.
It’s of the moment—but it’s here to stay.
While most pickleball players can tell you that it’s one of the fastest growing sports in America, what they should add is that it’s also the friendliest. A proper, dedicated court is about ⅓ the size of a tennis court, so you don’t have to run yourself ragged sprinting for balls—and if you get smacked by your opponent’s ball, the only thing it’s likely to bruise is your ego.
There are more than 30,000 courts all over the country, many of which are public. You can look them up on the USA Pickleball Association’s Places2Play site, where folks of every age and ability can join the some 4.2 million players in the game (and counting).
It’s a lifestyle.
Pickleball enthusiasts are choosing to live near the courts of their dreams, lobbying city councils to convert underused tennis courts, or building courts in their backyards.
Beth Cole, a sales associate at Corcoran’s Palm Beach office, first learned to play in the Seattle area 30 years ago, and helped campaign for courts at the club near her summer home in western North Carolina. She has invited many family members and neighbors to play on her home court in Palm Beach, FL.
“The best thing about pickleball is how quickly someone can pick it up if they are reasonably coordinated,” said Cole. “I introduced clients of mine to pickleball in our driveway, and they enjoyed it so much they got their condo building to build courts.”
The most appealing part of the sport, however, might be how easy it is to throw banter across the small court, and all the social interactions you have with people you might not otherwise meet. “It’s one of the few sports which appeals to players of all ages, and men and women can match up competitively. We have a lot of fun mixing up groups and it’s fun for everyone,” Cole added.
Ready to give it a try? Here are 11 pickleball destinations across the country we’d love to visit for pick-up games with locals.
Set to open in the spring of 2022, three pickleball courts will be replacing the underused bocce courts in Brooklyn Bridge Park, with a promise from newly elected City Councilmember Lincoln Restler that he’ll be out playing when the courts open.
Brooklyn Bridge Park, Pier 2, Brooklyn
This paddle sport haven offers open play at different levels for everyone from the aggressive player to the guided novice, starting at $6 per person. They also host the Nike Adult pickleball camp with pickleball pros including Jennifer Dawson, Steve Dawson, and Callan Dawson.
875 Santa Fe Drive, Encinitas
This desert center offers 24 pickleball courts, with courts organized by level and pro-coaching from Morgan Evans. While they only offer daily drop-in fees for homeowners at the Palm Desert Resorter, short-term memberships for one week or one month are available.
77333 Country Club Drive, Palm Desert
This complex, a guest of Florida SouthWestern State College, has 16 courts, a weather cam, and is open to nonmembers for a $5 drop-in fee during peak playtimes but free to the public from noon to 5pm.
26300 Airport Road, Punta Gorda
This indoor sports center has six indoor hard-court pickleball courts with air conditioning and respite from bad weather. Drop-in play is available for $7 for weekdays before 3pm and $10 for weeknights and weekends.
4141 John Young Parkway, Orlando
This racquet sport facility has four dedicated pickleball courts, and four courts shared with tennis. At this time, the facility is not offering open play but does offer a one-month short term membership for $75 for a single player.
78-7190 Kaleiopapa Street, Kailua-Kona
With locations in four states, this combination indoor/outdoor pickleball complex rents courts on an hourly basis and offers open play on Sundays for $5 per person. Come for the pickleball, stay for the beers and fried chicken.