Why are 2,000,000 Americans playing pickleball? That’s the question I asked myself each time I rode past the tennis and pickleball courts in my new housing development at 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 will love the game because you already love tennis, racquetball, and ping-pong.” She was right.
The game is a combo of all four activities. The paddle, made of graphite or wood, is larger than a ping-pong paddle, and shorter that a racquetball racquet. It’s lighter than a badminton racquet.
The court is rectangular, 20 feet wide, and 44 feet long. The “kitchen” is seven 7 feet long starting from the net and twenty feet wide. The kitchen is a safety where you cannot slam the ball in someone’s face. If the ball lands in the kitchen, you must let the ball bounce once to keep the volley going. Save face, pickleball. (Pun intended.)
The official pickleball court is a rectangle with dimensions equal to 20 feet wide by 44 feet long (inclusive of lines) for both singles and doubles. The non-volley line is the line on each side of the net between the sidelines and parallel to the net. These lines are located 7 feet from the net.
You must serve the ball beyond the kitchen and land in the boundaries of the rectangle to continue play. The server only gets one serve if the ball goes out of play. Then the second player on the same team serves. You can’t score unless you have the serve. We play 7 or 11 points win, and you have to win by 2 points.
Wiffle balls come in four color from yellow to white. The lightweight paddles allow you to put spins on the plastic ball by slicing at it. The ball bounces reasonably high, and it cannot be hit on a fly the first time it is served during a round of play. A word of caution: do not back-pedal for a ball hit high over your head. Turn around quickly, dash to the ball with short steps, and hit it, or just let it fall in. No hit ball is ever worth crashing on green-colored asphalt. I have crashed 5 times on the ground before I learned to play the ball safer, and to wear sneakers that were right for me. I haven’t fallen in many months, knock on flake-board.
The beauty of pickleball isn’t that it’s called “pickleball” and supposedly named after a dog called “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. Actually, the dog was named after the game was invented. Now it’s the most popular game sweeping across America, played inside or outside by over 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 for its members? Many retirees are leaping out of their comfort zone (the living room recliner or porch rocker) to play outside with their friends and neighbors in a challenging game of skills and wits in the sunshine. Do they want to crush their opponents? Are they out for blood? No. They just want to play their best, listen to the chatter of friends, get a little sunshine, exercise, and an outstanding paddle shot to remember.
“Good shot!” is music to the ears of these players.