Pickleball: Jump on the bandwagon and get pickling — but stay out of the kitchen
It may be hard to believe that the fastest-growing sport in the United States shares a name with the jar of pickled cukes in the back of your fridge, but it’s true. Pickleball is America’s new pastime. Around 36.5 million people played pickleball at least once between Aug. 2021 and Aug. 2022, according to the Association of Pickleball Professionals. The growing popularity is visible as a portion of tennis courts at clubs and parks across the country have been converted to smaller courts with lower nets — and Tahoe-Truckee’s recreation areas are no exception.
“The demand has been exponential,” says Dan Jenkins, pickleball instructor and coordinator at Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District (TDRPD). “With COVID and lockdown, it really picked up interest. I think people were looking for something to do to get outside and play a sport and be with friends. It checked all of the boxes. It grew then, and it continues to grow now.”
Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by Washington State Congressman, Joel Pritchard, and his friends Bill Bell and Barney McCallum. To entertain their kids, they brought ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball down to an old badminton court at Pritchard’s home and started playing. Eventually, they lowered the net down to 36 inches and started creating new rules. The origins of the name is up for debate, but the popular story is that it was named after Pritchard’s dog, Pickles, who enjoyed snagging the ball during matches. By 1976, the first known pickleball tournament was held in the Evergreen State.
“The sport itself is very accessible, not only to aging athletes who can’t move as well, but it’s also becoming popular among the younger set as well,” notes Jenkins. “We’re getting quite a mix of people that are interested in the sport.”
Pickleball is played on a 20-by-40-foot court with lightweight paddles and a perforated plastic ball. It can be played as singles or doubles, but the latter tends to be more popular. Points start with a cross-court serve and typically continue until the ball is hit out, in the net, or someone hits a clean winner. The game often develop into all players being at the net with rallies alternating between hard volleys and soft “dinks”.
“In tennis, you’re hitting a lot of ground strokes, so you’re practicing your cross courts and down-the-lines more than anything else, and in pickleball, you have to slow it up,” explains Jenkins. “We have this thing in pickleball called the kitchen, or the no-volley zone. That’s about 7 feet from the net and sideline to sideline, and you can’t step in there to volley until the ball bounces in there first. In pickleball, you can get these fast rallies going back and forth for volleys, but then someone does a reset and all of a sudden it’s a slower game. You’ve got quite the variety of physicality there.”
The sport has become so popular in Truckee that a volunteer organization, Truckee Tahoe Pickleball Club, has formed to help TDRPD raise funds to build a 17-court pickleball complex at the River View Sports Park. The project includes a stadium court for professional tournaments.
“I think that the reason it has become so popular is the sense of community and comradery that people get,” says Jenkins. “The equipment doesn’t take much. You just need a paddle, and you show up to drop in and say hello, and you’re meeting new friends.”
TDRPD and other clubs offer beginners clinics for locals and visitors alike. Interested in dropping in for a match? Check out one of these pickleball courts around the basin.
- Truckee-Donner Recreation and Park District Community Rec Center, Truckee. Four indoor courts. More info: http://www.tdrpd.org.
- Incline Tennis and Pickleball Center, Incline Village. Twelve outdoor courts. More info: http://www.yourtahoeplace.com.
- Kilner Park, Tahoe City. Four outdoor courts. More info: http://www.tcpud.org.
- Olympic Valley Park. Three outdoor courts. More info: http://www.placer.ca.gov.
- South Lake Tahoe Recreation and Swim Complex. One indoor court. More info: http://www.cityofslt.us.
- Kahle Community Center, Stateline. Two indoor courts. More info: http://www.communityservices.douglascountynv.gov.
- Tahoe Paradise Park, South Lake Tahoe. Eight outdoor courts. More info: http://www.tahoeparadisepark.com.
Editors note: This article originally appeared in the Summer 2023 edition of Tahoe Magazine.
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