History of Pickleball

Ever wondered what tennis, badminton, and table tennis would like if they were morphed into one game? Well, that’s what Pickleball is, and it’s the fastest growing sport in the US today, with more than 3 million players and 5000 courts across the country!

Back in 1976, the first Pickleball tournament was held in Tukwila, Washington, and ever since then the game has been gaining steady popularity.

Origins

Pickleball was founded back in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. Joel Pritchard and Barney McCallum invented the game in an attempt to pacify their kids, who would have very little to do during the long summers when school was closed.

The families decided to play with a plastic wiffle ball, ping pong paddles, and a tennis net. Unlike badminton, the tennis net is placed on the ground, and this made it easier for the kids to send the ball over to the other court.

It was the perfect way to bring the family together at the time with a sport that would be ‘fair’ to people of all ages.

Fast forward two years, and the first permanent Pickleball court was constructed in the backyard of Joel Protchard’s neighbour and friend, Bob O’Brian.

Why ‘Pickleball’?

There are two different accounts of how the name ‘pickleball’ came about.

The first is that the Pritchards adopted a cockapoo from their neighbour whom they named ‘Pickles’. When the family used to play the sport, Pickles would often steal the wiffle ball and run off with it. This led to the Pritchard and McCallum families naming the sport Pickleball after the dog.

The second is based off of Joan Pritchard’s (wife of Joel Pritchard) claim that Pickleball was actually named after the term ‘pickle boat’. The term ‘pickle boat’ was historically used by fishermen and it was the name of the boat that was still fishing at sea while the others were pickling their catch.

But the term ‘pickle boat’ is also used in competitive rowing (Joan Pritchard was a competitive rower) to refer to the team that competes with a mismatched crew. Joan’s theory was that Pickleball is a mismatched mix of elements from different sports, just like the pickle boat, and hence the name.

There are arguments in both cases with the Pritchard’s claiming that their dog Pickles was adopted years after Pickleball was invented. In fact, the dog was named after the game, not the other way around. The McCallum family claims that they remember the night that both families were at the Pritchard’s cabin when they named the game after Pickles. The family also remembers how everyone had a good laugh at the origin of the name.

Whatever the true story was, the media sensationalised the fact that the sport was named after the dog, which would sound more exciting than an ambiguous term used in competitive rowing.

Historical Notes

  • In 1984 the USAPA was established to regulate the sport of Pickleball and to perpetuate its growth throughout the country.  The first composite paddle was also created in the same year.

  • By 1990, all 50 states in the U.S. were playing Pickleball.

  • By 2008 there were over 420 places to play the sport across the U.S. This included 43 states and 1500 individual courts. Of course this didn’t even take into account the courts at home.

  • In 2013, the USAPA started a Grant Program for players serious about setting up Pickleball sites. And by the end of the year they were successful in creating 1400 new sites across the country.

  • As of 2019, there are over 7,928 known places to play across the U.S. This was an increase of 1,335 courts in a single year or 111 courts per month!

From its humble beginning in a small town, Pickleball has grown to be an extremely popular sport across the country. Today even countries across Asia and Europe have started to take a liking to the sport and a few of them even host tournaments of their own.

How is the Game Played?

Like any other racquet sport, Pickleball is played across a net set at a height of 34 inches. It’s played on a badminton-sized court with a perforated plastic ball (pickleball ball) and pickleball paddles. The game started off with wooden paddles but today most players use composite paddles; they’re a lot more durable and improve playability of the game. The pickleball paddle is usually two times the size of a ping pong paddle.

The game can be played both indoors and outdoors with the option to play singles or doubles. The game is scored like tennis with only the serving side being able to make the point. However, unlike tennis, pickleball is not played in sets, and the first person to reach 11 points is the winner.

There’s a very gradual learning curve in pickleball and the game is surprisingly easy to learn. It’s a relaxed, meditative way to unwind for most people. However,
competitive pickleball
can get pretty intense and a lot of the top players have to be in superb physical condition to withstand the rigors of the game.

The equipment for the game is also quite inexpensive and easily portable, which simplifies the process of learning the game and playing it on a regular basis.

The First Paddle

When the game was invented by Joel Pritchard and Barney McCallum, it was played using paddles made from plywood. These paddles were a little more than flat slabs of wood which players would use to rally the ball back and forth across the net. While these worked well enough, they were quite unpredictable, and it was difficult to determine the flow of the game.

Additionally, the wooden paddles were difficult to grip properly and would chip away or break after a few games. As a result, the game remained a pastime for families who would get together to play on the weekends.

Then, in 1984, Arlen Paronto, who was an avid Pickleball player and industrial engineer decided to try something that would change the game forever. Arlen was troubled by the limited power, control, and playability offered by the wooden paddles.

He noticed that Boeing would use large yet lightweight panels in the construction of their aircraft. These panels were thick yet light because they used a honeycomb design under a fiberglass or graphite surface. He decided to take this idea and apply it to creating Pickleball paddles. And voila! Arlen ended up changing the way paddles were made forever.

Today, pickleball paddles use a variety of different materials in their construction, but every paddle employs the special honeycomb design first used by Arlen Paranto when creating the modern paddle.

Of course, today’s paddles are far more advanced than the simple honeycomb-fiberglass face paddles invented by Paronto.

Give it a Shot!

If you haven’t played Pickleball yet, you’re really missing out!  Remember, the game was invented by families to bond with each other and to come together to relieve boredom.  So, if you’re wondering why the game is trailblazing across the country, you can imagine why.

It’s a way to bring the family together and schedule regular ‘hangout’ times with your friends. It’s also a really fun way to stay fit, healthy, and mindful while relieving stress.

Thanks to its multi-generational appeal, easy of play, and the flexibility of the game to be played differently by players of different athletic ability, Pickleball has exploded across the U.S.

2020 marks the 55th anniversary of Pickleball, and the sport is just going to grow. So start playing and join the community!

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