Why do 2,000,000 Americans play pickleball? That’s the question I asked myself every time I passed the tennis and pickleball courts at my new home development on Arbor Creek in Southport, North Carolina. The first few weeks I was too busy unpacking boxes to join in the fun, but a friend (who plays twice a week) said, “Joe, you’ll love the game because you already love tennis, racquetball, and ping-pong.” She was right.
The game is a combination of the four activities. The paddle, made of graphite or wood, is larger than a ping pong paddle and shorter than a racquetball racket. It is lighter than a badminton racket.
The court is rectangular, 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The “kitchen” measures eight feet long from the net and six feet wide. The kitchen is a safe place where you can’t hit the ball in someone’s face. If the ball lands in the kitchen, you must let the ball bounce once to maintain the volley. Save face, pickleball. (Pun intended)
The official pickleball court is a rectangle with dimensions equal to 20 feet wide by 44 feet long (including lines) for both singles and doubles. The no volley line is the line on each side of the net between the side lines and parallel to the net. These lines are located 7 feet from the network.
You must serve the ball beyond the kitchen and land on the edge of the rectangle to continue playing. The server only gets a serve if the ball goes out of play. Then take out the second player from the same team. You can’t score unless you have the service. We play 7 or 11 points, we win, and you have to win by 2 points.
Wiffle balls come in four colors, from yellow to white. The lightweight paddles allow you to flip the plastic ball by cutting it. The ball bounces reasonably high and cannot be hit with a fly ball the first time it is served during a round of play. One word of caution: don’t back off because a ball hits high above your head. Turn around quickly, run towards the ball in short steps and hit it, or just drop it. No impacted ball is worth crashing on green asphalt. I have crashed 5 times on the ground before learning to play ball more safely and to wear appropriate sneakers for me. I have not fallen in many months, I play scale board.
The beauty of pickleball is not that it is called “pickleball” and supposedly named after a dog named “Pickle”. According to legend, Congressman Joel Pritchard invented the game in 1965 on Bainbridge Island just to keep the kids busy on a summer day. The dog actually got its name after the game was invented. It is now the most popular game in the entire United States, played indoors or out by more than 2,000,000 players in retirement community centers, physical education classes, and YMCA groups.
Why is it sweeping the country beyond the good cheer it provides to its members? Many retreats are stepping out of their comfort zone (the recliner in the living room or the rocking chair on the porch) to play outside with their friends and neighbors in a challenging game of skills and ingenuity in the sun. Do you want to crush your opponents? Are you looking for blood? No. They just want to play the best they can, listen to friends chat, get some sun, exercise, and an exceptional row stroke to remember.
“Good shot!” it is music to the ears of these players.