Featured SPORTS

Pickleball skyrockets in popularity

Pickleball players enjoy a doubles match as they participate in the sport that has been skyrocketing in popularity. (Pickleheads.com)

Pickleball skyrockets in popularity

By Jill Alexander

It may have a funky name, but pickleball is a sport taking the country by storm. 

It’s “a combination of tennis, racquetball, and ping-pong played either indoors or outdoors with a ball resembling a whiffle ball with about 40 holes,” said Brandon Mackie, co-founder of Pickleheads.com, a national website that tracks the sport.

The fast-paced game can be played by anyone from five to 95. Nationally, about 40 percent of those who play are women, and 60 percent are men.

Many of those jumping on the pickleball bandwagon are in Scripps Ranch.

“Pickleball exploded at the Club,” said Tal O’Farrell, general manager of the Scripps Ranch Swim & Racquet Club. “We have built eight permanent courts and they are busy all the time. We have added pickleball parties, open socials, and tournament play. We also have four pickleball instructors giving lessons.” 

O’Farrell explained the sport’s popularity.

“I’m excited about this sport because the barrier to entry is so low. Anybody can learn the game in about 30 minutes and be able to play and understand the game after a week of play. It’s the fastest-growing court sport in the world,” he said.

Apparently, pickleball was started in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state; and Bill Bell, a businessman. After a round of golf, they returned to Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island, Wash., to find their families sitting around bored. The property had an old badminton court so they searched for badminton equipment but could not find a full set of rackets. They improvised and started playing with ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. At first, they placed the net at a badminton height of 60 inches and volleyed the ball over the net. Later, the players found the ball bounced well on the asphalt surface and the net was lowered to 36 inches. 

Soon, rules were created, relying heavily on badminton. But the original purpose remained to provide a game that the whole family could play together.

There are various theories about the name, but Mackie said the most notable is that pickleball was named after “Pickles,” one of the founder’s dogs.

While the game has been around for half a century, it has gained popularity in recent years.

“One of the biggest draws of pickleball is it doesn’t require taking fancy lessons or equipment to play. It’s very easy to learn. I see people pick it up in 5 to 10 minutes on their first time on the court. By the end of the session, they are winning games,” Mackie said. “It’s motivating for folks, and I think that’s a big reason people want to come back and keep playing.”

Mackie believes pickleball’s popularity grew during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Our theory is that during the pandemic, pickleball went from primarily an indoor gymnasium sport to an outdoor one for obvious reasons – like gyms (being) closed,” he said. “Once it went outdoors, people saw it more visibly, they heard the loud noise of the ball popping and saw people playing in large groups.”

Today, 60 percent play pickleball outdoors and 40 percent indoors, Mackie said.

Another nice thing about pickleball is it can be set up anywhere, even on a driveway with temporary lines and a portable net, Mackie said.

Pickleball courts can be found in and around Scripps Ranch at:

• The Scripps Ranch Swim & Racquet Club, 9875 Aviary Drive (membership required).

• Scripps Ranch Recreation Center, 11454 Blue Cypress Drive. Play for free on four indoor courts with permanent lines and wood flooring, but bring a net. Available five-days a week from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Call for availability: (858) 538-8085. The center is also home to the Scripps Ranch Pickleball Club, a community-based athletic and social organization focused on playing pickleball in the neighborhood.

• Cypress Canyon Park, 11400 Cypress Canyon Road.
Play for free; hard surface; three outdoor courts and permanent lines. Bring a net.