Pickleball was created in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington by three dads trying to entertain their bored children. A hodgepodge of tennis, badminton, and ping pong, they eventually named the sport after one of their dogs, Pickles. Pickles loved chasing the hard plastic whiffle-ball type balls.
Its popularity grew around the Seattle area and eventually spread to California, the state with the most courts in the country. Pickleball is now the fastest growing sport in America with Florida having the second most courts, including the new ones in Gulfport.
What’s The Big Dill?
Pickleball has few barriers to entry: Get a decent paddle for less than $50 at Walmart and head to one of the public courts.
Four players cover a smaller-sized court than tennis, so less mobile players can still do well. A single match lasts about 15 minutes and tends to be social as players rotate. Players only earn points on serves, which must be hit underhanded.
The first one to reach 11 points wins. If your opponent scores 11 to your zero, you’ve been pickled. Although, it’s relatively easy to learn and immediately play, it can also become fast-paced and competitive.
What Are The Dill-emmas?
Like with every trend, there are growing pains and critics.
The “pop pop” sound that the ball makes tends to annoy neighbors of the courts. Though Zeynep Moore, who lives across the street from the courts in Gulfport’s Chase Park, said “I love it, the sound doesn’t bother me at all.”
The game is inherently social on public courts for one reason: You can’t reserve a court. Even if you have four people playing together, once others are waiting, the expectation is that the winning team splits and takes on two new partners so everyone gets a turn.
Different courts have different rules, so it’s always best to ask. There are often skill-level based groups or leagues playing on public courts. This leads to the biggest issue in this area, not having enough courts to accommodate all picklers.
St. Petersburg volunteer, Jayne Barris, teaches newbies on Mondays and Thursdays at JW Cate Recreation Center on 22nd Avenue and 58th Street North.
“This fall will be our third year offering beginner group lessons. I have to stress that I am a volunteer because the City of St. Pete charges pickleball instructors $10 an hour for court use,” Barris said.
After her little gherkins graduate the beginner group, she encourages players to join a “meet-up” group or to use the app, Team Reach, to organize games.
Barris said the “dark side” of pickleball is when players fight over courts. Barris reminds players, “no ball is worth a fall” and “we are here to have fun!”
Gulfport’s pickleball courts are a safe place for beginners.
Recent college graduate and Gulfport resident, Kelli Alford, and friend Nick Church, recently bought a couple of $9 Franklin Demolisher paddles and hit the court.
“73 year olds can do it, so I figured I can do it!” Church said.
John Khawly, another young Gulfportian, is hooked on the game.
“The mornings are beautiful and I love playing here,” he said while neon green balls pumped out of his $1,800 pickleball ball serving machine. “The first time I played, a 60 year old creamed me. I only got two points and I was hooked. Never again!”
Connie Bachman and Heather Barnhart have been playing for two years.
The two play in the early morning to avoid the summer heat. They say they love the game for the “cardio, competition and meeting new people.”
As Nancy and Brian Maude score the winning point against Bachman and Barnhart, Brian yelled, “and winning!”
All in good fun, the two teams met at the net to tap paddles, the customary way to end a game with good sportsmanship.