Have you ever played pickleball or wondered where it was invented? I am sitting in a McDonald’s in Port Orchard, Washington, which is a ferry ride away from Bainbridge Island, also in Washington.
This is the city—Bainbridge, WA–where pickleball was invented about 50 years ago. Learn all about the rich and varied history of pickleball as a game and the most popular sport in the US in 2021 and 2022.
How did the sport of pickleball originate?
For those who are interested in playing pickleball, the game is a sport that comes with an interesting past that is more than half a century old. “In the summer of 1965, pickleball was founded by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum on Bainbridge Island, Washington,” according to the USA Pickleball Association.
Pritchard, a future lieutenant governor of Washington, was the main person who came around to the idea. However, no one truly knows why the game pickleball is called “pickleball.”
What is the origin of pickleball and why was it invented?
The game of pickleball was started as a way to play a game on an outside court at Joel Pritchard’s private residence. “Pritchard’s property had an old badminton court, so they started there with hopes of playing. However, they couldn’t find enough rackets for a full game, so instead, he improvised by using spare ping pong paddles and a wiffle ball.
With these bits and pieces lying around, a brand-new game was born,” explains the Long Cove Club. Actually, Pritchard and Bill Bell were the two men who came up with the idea at the time. Barney McCallum came along later in the story.
Why do they call the game pickleball?
Some say the dog did it–seriously! The dog belonging to the Pritchard family was named Pickles, and that same pooch regularly chased sports balls into the bushes. So it would make clear sense why the game Pickleball was named based on the family pet.
However, it could also not be the case. According to Hoffman Estates Pickleball, daughter Peggy Pritchard-Olson got the dog after the game was invented. Therefore, that theory is debunked.
Instead, the originators of the game were believed to have named the game after a military concept. When rowing a boat, soldiers who are in the slowest boat are said to be in a pickle boat.
Joan Pritchard, who is Joel’s wife, reportedly came up with the concept of calling the sport Pickleball because they used the remaining odds and ends in their sporting equipment to get it started. Therefore, the game becomes the pickle boat, or in this case, the pickleball!
Can I visit the first and original pickleball court?
If you are ever in Western Washington in Puget Sound, which includes Seattle, you can visit the original pickleball court. According to Long Cove Club, after conceiving of the sport, “Two years later in 1967, Joel Pritchard constructed the first, permanent pickleball court in the backyard of Bob O’Brian, who was Pritchard’s neighbor and close family friend.”
Today, technically anyone can drive by the first pickleball court, which was established two years after the game was founded. Hoffman Estates Pickleball states, “That first pickleball court remains shrouded in moss and vines here on Bainbridge. It’s a magic place. When the vines are parted, a chorus of angels can be heard and the court glows with an otherworldly iridescence.”
However, according to All Pickleball writer Jennifer Lucore, you will want to call David or Barney McCallum, who now own access to the property, in order to make a game day of it. She was able to get onto the court back in September 2013 for a game of pickleball.
Is pickleball popular in Canada?
In Washington State and the Pacific Northwest, where pickleball originated, it is super popular. But what about the neighbors to the north? Up there where they drink maple syrup for breakfast–and love it–they also love pickleball. Not surprisingly, like hockey, pickleball is a sport that carries well across these two North American cultures.
The sport has been commissioned by a Canadian research company to compare the sport to hockey, golf, tennis, and golf. According to Pickleball Canada, the paddle welding sport is fielded once a month by more than 1 million Canadian households.
Forty-five percent of these pickleball players play at least four times a month. That is the commitment of a game a week on average. Pickleball Canada adds that in 2022 there were three times more pickleball players in the country compared to two years prior.
Is pickleball popular in the USA?
Yes! Pickleball is increasingly popular as of post-COVID. The sport was selected as the official state sport of Washington, where it was formulated. This was proclaimed in 2022, by the sitting state governor, Jay Inslee.
The Center Square reports, “Jay Inslee signed HB 5615 into law this week, making pickleball the official state sport of Washington. The bill signing ceremony took place on Bainbridge Island, where pickleball was invented in 1965 by the state’s late Lt. Gov.”
How did that come to be? The Center Square continues, “The push to have pickleball as the official state sport began with a conversation between Sen. Lovick and his neighbor, Chuck Wright.
The two men felt that since Washington has a state flower, a state bird, and other state symbols, it should also have a state sport. The fact that pickleball was invented in Washington made it a top candidate.”
The originators obviously want their precious pickleball to pick up steam. Other states with official sports include Colorado where pack burro racing is the main game, as well as lacrosse in Maryland. It is a marketing move to increase the popularity of the game by making it the select state sport.
How do I play pickleball as a beginner of the game?
The game of pickleball has five classic rules. The USA Pickleball Association states that pickleball is all about the serve, the score, and the line calls. Players are restricted by the number of bounces of the ball–one bounce on each side. There is also the rule that the ball has to stay inbounds and out of the kitchen. Also, pickleball games end after one side scores either 11 or 15 points.
What kind of court is used for playing pickleball?
The game of pickleball is played on a court similar to that of badminton or tennis. Racket Sports World explains, “Pickleball can be played on a plain concrete surface, if there is no choice it can be played on grass or clay, but ideally, it should be played on a professional smooth and durable concrete surface, with either a polyurethane surface or a specialist acrylic coating.”
What is the difference between a pickleball court and a tennis court?
The size of a pickleball court is much smaller than a tennis court. One tennis court will hold four average-sized pickleball courts. This is another reason why the game is such a success. Tennis courts can be divided up to allow for more individuals to have playing time at once. For schools and sports associations, this gives more players a chance to play.
But can I play pickleball on grass?
It is not advised to play pickleball on a grassy surface. The main problem is the inconsistency of the grass and dirt, which will inhibit players from getting a clear shot or bounce. Therefore, pickleball cannot be played on grass.
There are exceptions, as pointed out by Racket Sports World: “As long as your grass is compacted and offers a hard surface – it might take a lot of mowing, leveling, and then, constant playing to keep it this way – you can play pickleball on a grass surface.” As you can see, this is not something most potential pickleball players have handy.
However, those homeowners and the associations where the grass is tightly grown at a professional level are at the advantage of being able to play this game in an atypical fashion. The easiest and most efficient way to play and score while pickleballing is on a clay surface.
What is the pickleball equipment needed to play this game?
To play pickleball, you will need a few pieces of equipment. Fortunately, thanks to the boom in popularity, you can find pickleball equipment for an affordable price, as well as used sports equipment. The equipment you need includes a net set, along with a pickleball and a paddle for each player. The pickleball is similar to a wiffle ball, in that it is plastic and full of holes.
The paddle is similar to a ping pong paddle, but with a squared shape and rounded corners. According to Rookie Road, “The pickleball company, Pickle-ball Inc., initially sold a set of four paddles along with a net and plastic ball for $30.”
You can find pickleball equipment made by many more brands today. This includes Stiga, Diadem, OneShot, Gamma, Joola, and ProXR. Pricing now ranges from $50 to $150 a set.
If you play pickleball, you are therefore a pickleballer.
What do I call the place where pickleball championship matches are played?
For those pickleball fans and players who want to really get into the game, try going to a Pickledome. This is an official pickleball court where league tournaments are played.
What age do you have to be to play pickleball?
You can start playing pickleball if you are as young as seven years old. This is a good age to start, and individuals who are at least seven–and up to 19–are called juniors.
Do pickleballers play doubles like they do in tennis?
Yes, you will see a lot of pickleball players teaming up with doubles to play this game. However, single players can play, too. Yet, doubles with four total people playing at once is the most common way to play pickleball.
What does it mean to be pickled when playing pickleball?
If you are pickled, your team gets no points throughout the entire game. Essentially, zero points leads to the name pickled.
What is a person who is really into pickleball?
The people who are very excited about pickleball are known as picklers. These are obsessed fans and most likely players, whether amateur or professional. If you are someone who gets really happy about pickleball, consider yourself a pickler, too.
If I take an illegal shot into the kitchen, what is this called?
This illegal move that is committed in the kitchen is called a volley llama. If you perform this move while playing pickleball, you are a volley llama.
What is a falafel?
Other than a ball of ground up chickpeas in Indian and Mediterranean cuisine, a falafel is a dead paddle. This means that the pickleball is not going to go as far due to a short shot. A falafel happens when the pickleball is hit without any power. You could also say that the pickleball feels awful about not being playable as a result of this weak move.
Why is it called a kitchen in pickleball?
There are special terms for pickleball, as with any sport. For instance, the term kitchen is commonly voiced loudly when people are hitting a pickleball. Amazin Aces states, “Pickleballers everywhere can be heard referring to “the kitchen” while playing.
This term can be a cause for confusion among some players who have never heard it. The kitchen is simply another word for the non-volley zone on either side of the net.”
What does it mean if I get a golden pickle?
As it stands, a golden pickle is as special as it sounds. If I got a golden pickle, I would have destroyed the competition. According to The Pickler, “A golden pickle is when a team wins a pickleball game using its first serve, never allowing the opposing team to score a point, or even serve the pickleball.”
Why is pickleball so popular?
Pickleball was started over half a century ago, so why is there suddenly a surge in popularity? After all, the state of Washington only recently named it the state sport. Why did the state not make this the official sport decades prior?
Mainly because the game of pickleball is increasingly popular due to the pandemic of COVID-19. With increasing numbers of athletes, both amateur and professional, unable to meet in public for sports and games, more people are looking for alternatives for extracurricular activities.
Pickleball, like Gaga Ball, is one of those alternative ball games that are seeing a surge. This is similar to the food trends including cronuts, which are a mix of croissants and donuts, where you have a combination of more than one item to create a new object of desire. Here, you have pickleball, which is a mix of tennis, table tennis, and badminton.
Therefore, if you are someone who likes to play tennis or table tennis with a ping pong ball, or use a shuttlecock to play badminton, you too might enjoy pickleball. This mismatch of games allows for players who are into those older games and sports to be able to jump right into pickleball and play like a champ.
Also, by having a smaller court size with pickleball, as compared to a tennis court, players who struggle to get a tennis ball across the court will have an easier time when playing pickleball. Here the players are able to hit the ball a lot softer, but still with power, in order to get a single bounce in each team’s court.
How do I find a place to play pickleball in my backyard?
If you are in the US, the USA Pickleball Association has a database for finding a local pickleball court. There are approximately 8,000 pickleball court locations in the US, as of 2019. Additionally, about 110 locations for pickleball are being added to the database each month. The database is called the Official USA Pickleball Places 2 Play (P2P) database.
The association also has 1,900 pickleball supporters and 40,000 members who are actively engaged in the database by adding and updating information. This also indicates there are a lot of pickleball players throughout the country.
Where can I play pickleball if I visit Bainbridge Island in Washington?
If I were to go to Puget Sound to play pickleball, which is where Bainbridge Island is, there are plenty of options. However, there is a unique exception. In Bainbridge, WA, where the game originated, there are only two courts for pickleball. This is at Battle Point Park on Bainbridge Island, and Bainbridge High School in the Lower Gym where Strawberry Hill Park is located.
This is interesting. Compare this to Puget Sound including Seattle and Olympia, WA where they have 98 pickleball court locations. That leaves visitors and fans of pickleball who are visiting the birthplace of the game with plenty of places to play and explore.