Pickleball

More pickleball paddles than tennis rackets were sold in the U.S. last year, the sport's devotees say.

Pickleball. Pickleball. Pickleball.

Nope, no matter how many times you say it, pickleball still sounds a bit goofy.

But the name aside, pickleball is described by its devotees as the fastest growing sport in North America.

Sort of a mix between badminton and tennis, the game offers a challenging yet easy-to-learn work-out, particularly for seniors looking to keep active while expanding their social network.

Many cities have added pickleball courts to their recreational inventory, recognizing the sport's growing popularity.

Kelowna recently hosted the National Pickleball Championship for the fourth year in a row, and West Kelowna will soon play host to the seniors national title.

Reporter Ron Seymour asked West Kelowna pickleballer Grant Holkestad and other club members to tell us a little about the game.

Q: The Central Okanagan is a hotbed for pickleball, with Kelowna hosting the national championships several years in a row and West Kelowna hosting an upcoming Super Seniors Tournament. Why do you think the sport has caught on in such a big way around here?

A: Both the sport and the Central Okanagan are popular for all ages especially for older people looking to retire and maintain an active healthy lifestyle. Pickleball is easy to learn and play with very affordable equipment. Pickleball is a very social sport where you can play games and carry-on conversations at the same time. A game is fast it usually takes 15 to 30 minutes to finish so you can squeeze in a match into your daily schedule and then move on to the many other recreational and social opportunities the Okanagan has to offer. Marketing, social media, coaching, technological innovation, governance, have all risen to new heightened standards, and the game just keeps getting better for all ages and levels.

Q: When pickleball first emerged locally, there was some conflict between users of tennis courts who didn't want to see their courts repainted to also allow pickleball. Is that animosity a thing of the past?

A: Somewhat. But it is a bit confusing to some having two sets of lines on the same court. I think it is a bit of a territorial thing as tennis enthusiasts are only trying to protect something they've always had.

Ideally, there needs to be dedicated areas for both tennis and pickleball, and forward-thinking city councillors have done just that.

Q: For someone who's never tried pickleball, what would be your best sales pitch for taking up the sport?

A: It is easy to learn, very social, loads of fun, as well as a great way to stay in shape. Just be careful you don't get addicted to it!

Q: There's some disagreement online about how the name 'pickleball' came to be. What's your theory?

A: According to the inventor of the game, they had a dog named Pickle. Whenever the ball came off the court, he chased it. It was originally called Pickle's Ball, and later shortened to Pickleball.

Q: Is pickleball more like tennis or badminton?

A: It's more like pickleball! It's played on a court the same size as badminton, with some carry-over of skills from tennis and badminton. Often, when played indoors, most locations use badminton courts with lower nets.

Q: Is there a pickleball counterpart to 'tennis elbow'?

A: Yes, anytime a person tries to do a physical activity that strains the body there is a potential for injury. A lot of pickleball involves swinging away at a ball. If the technique employed is incorrect, it is possible for injury to occur. Personally I developed a 'Tennis Elbow' the first couple of years I played, but the symptoms disappeared quickly once my technique improved.

Q: Seniors make up the majority of pickleball players. Is there any realistic prospect of attracting significant numbers of young players, or is it destined to be mainly for the senior set?

A: One of the reasons pickleball has appealed to the senior crowd is the fact that it is much easier on the joints than tennis. A player does not have to run as far, then stop as suddenly, as in tennis. That said, pickleball is growing in all age groups. I understand there were more pickleball paddles sold in the U.S. last year than tennis racquets. That's a huge indication of the sport's growth.

There are also several schools in Canada and the U.S. teaching it as part of their physical education program. There is a large professional group and the majority of these players are under 35.

Q: Do you foresee pickleball ever becoming a televised sport?

A: It already is televised. CBS Sports has televised gold medal pro matches of the US Open Pickleball Championships in Florida, and the U.S. National Championships have been live-streamed for the past two years.

There was also a livestreatm of the 'The Battle of the Paddles', a series of matches of pro pickeblallers sponsored by PaddleTek and Selkirk Paddles. These are two of the major manufacturers of Pickleball paddles and they both have professional teams they support. Just like Nike supports Tiger Woods. But the paychecks for paddleballers have a few less zeros, right now!

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