April 22, 2015
By Carolyn Price, OutdoorsNW Publisher
Photo at right: OutdoorsNW Publisher Carolyn Price takes on her new sport of Pickleball. Photo by Carolyn Harvey
America’s Baby Boomers are leading the charge for what appears to be the country’s fastest growing sport—Pickleball.
The governing body of Pickleball, the USAPA, reports that 70 percent of the sport’s players are age 60 and over. This compares with 24 percent between the ages of 40–59 and just 6 percent under 39.
It’s reaching critical mass, the USAPA informs us, that as many as 77 million Americans have played the game. Between the years of 2010 – 2013 the USAPA tripled its membership and it lists a growth rate of 39 new Pickleball venues being added monthly.
The court sport has local roots. In 1965, then Congressman Joel Pritchard of Bainbridge Island, Wash. got together with a couple of neighbors and came up with the game to entertain their bored children one summer evening. As names go, this one was named after Pritchard’s own dog, Pickles.
Being of the Boomer generation, of course I am hooked. I was introduced to the sport last fall when I visited a fellow Boomer friend in San Francisco who is a Pickleball fanatic.
We headed up to Telegraph Hill, where wild parrots flew endlessly over our heads, while we set up my friend’s net and chalked out the court on an empty patch of concrete at a local school.
Not surprisingly, my competitive spirit fired up and my quick introduction to the game resulted in some fiercely contested battles—giving and receiving some smashing volleys and spikes.
Pickleball is played on a court that is 55 percent smaller than the standard tennis court. At 20 feet by 44 feet, children and adults have an easier time playing Pickleball and diving for volleys.
Pickleball paddles are smaller than tennis racquets and are usually made of wood. The game is played with Whiffle balls and we discovered this added an extra dimension to our outside game when the wind kicked up!
Unlike San Francisco, which is in its infancy when it comes to organized Pickleball, Seattle is a popular place to play and supported by the city.
The Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation runs organized leagues and pick-up games year-round, and it built the city’s first outdoor Pickleball courts at the Maple Leaf Reservoir Park in northeast Seattle last fall.
In addition to its senior-set popularity, Pickleball, which is basically a combination of tennis, table tennis and racquetball, has recently been added to the curriculum in many schools and is fast becoming a multi-generational sport.
As well, YMCAs, Boys and Girls Clubs and community centers are also setting up Pickleball courts. Or you can set up your own court on a flat concrete surface at a park, like we did in San Francisco with my friend’s Pickleball set.
No one yet knows where the sport of Pickleball is heading, but if this rate of growth continues, perhaps we’ll see professional Pickleball circuits (like tennis or golf), inclusion in the Olympics and big sponsorship money.
Do you play Pickleball? Let us know where and we’ll get the word out on our Website. Email Carolyn here