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WTF Is Pickleball and Why Is It So Popular?

WTF Is Pickleball and Why Is It So Popular?
Tyson McGuffin hits a backhand volley shot - Bruce Yeung/Getty Images/afp

Believe It or Not, That Is the Name of a Professional Sport…

When I initially heard about pickleball I thought it was a new sex game invented in a dungeon somewhere far away like Jakarta. Certainly, I was murky on the rules but figured the guy with the ball would likely be the one having to protect his pickle but apparently, I was dead wrong about that.

So, what is pickleball? I guess the best way to describe the fastest-growing sport in America is to say it’s a game played on a small tennis court with oversized ping-pong paddles. That’s pretty much the long and short of it, and it appeals to a fairly broad base of people because it combines the familiarity of both sports with an area the size of a badminton court.

So, for those who might not have the skill, stamina, or knees to play tennis but enjoy the back-and-forth of ping pong, it makes perfect sense. And even those who are in shape, it gives them another outlet to exercise their athletic prowess. But the most compelling reason to play is that it sure as hell looks like a damn good time.

“It’s social and extremely fun and easy for the whole family to play – everyone from a young kid to a grandma,” says professional pickleball player Parris Todd, a former competitive tennis player who switched to pickleball during the pandemic and hasn’t looked back. “​​Plus, the health benefits are not only the exercise but also the joy it brings.”

What’s Old Is New Again

You might think this is a new fad that was created by a bunch of drunken frat boys during the pandemic. But believe it or not, pickleball was created back in 1965 by three neighborhood dads who brainstormed the game as a way to keep their kids busy on a rainy day. Oh, and they named it Pickleball after a dog named Pickles.

But these creative gents didn’t let the idea go, even after the rain had passed. Only two years later the first permanent pickleball court was created and in 1972 a corporation was created to control the intellectual property and rights of the sport. By 1984 the USA Pickleball Association was formed and in 2018 the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) was created, turning this rainy-day idea into a national phenomenon.

Although the popularity of pickleball moved at a glacial pace, the COVID-19 pandemic was a catalyst to sparking its stunning rise on the sports landscape. And the best part about it was virtually everyone could play, from the snot-nosed kids at the family gathering to ol’ granpappy who wants to show the little bastards how it’s done.

Laura Gainor, director of media relations for USA Pickleball, said, “During the pandemic, many Americans were seeking ways to stay healthy and active near their homes. Due to the pickleball court being a quarter of the size of a tennis court, it’s easy to create a court in your driveway, in a parking lot, or within a gym space, so many people were introduced to the sport during those unprecedented times playing with their family of four in the driveway.”

Pickleball Rules

Pickleball paddles cannot be more than 17 inches in length and must be a flat surface, much like a ping-pong paddle as opposed to the stringed racket used in tennis. And proving once again that this game is an amalgam of several others, the ball is akin to a wiffle ball with 26-40 holes to slow the speed of the plastic sphere which allows the game to go at a more leisurely pace than either tennis or ping pong.

The net is 36 inches high and the court is 20 feet wide by 44 feet long. Go online or check out the big box stores and you’ll find pickleball kits readily available. The court is lined for doubles or singles action much like a tennis court.

The players are called picklers and the ball is served underhand over the net diagonally to the opponents’ portion of the court. Points can only be won by the server or, in the case of doubles, by the serving team. The first player or team to 11 points wins but games must be won by at least two points.

The “kitchen” is a no-volley zone located seven feet on either side. Tournament play consists of three games to a match. But there are also round-robin tournaments and those that are structured to where the player remains on the court just as long as they win.

Big Money Means Big Business

If you think pickleball is a passing fad, think again, amigo. The sport has attracted several heavy hitters who have put their money where their mouths are like Tom Brady, LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Naomi Osaka, and Patrick Mahomes, all of whom have invested in Major League Pickleball.

The next shoe to drop will be an avalanche of sportsbooks putting it on their respective betting menus. So don’t sleep on pickleball. Even though the name is funny the business is serious, and it’s only going to get bigger.

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