The ball is still round and, no, you can’t eat it

No pickles are harmed in the playing of this sport.

Many pickleball participants say they’ve become addicted to the sport. — Photo: CBC

By: Meera Eragoda, Staff Writer

If you’re like me, you’ve heard the word pickleball floating around, but you knew that looking into it would be as disappointing as an ice cream social with no ice cream. What I failed to consider is that ice cream socials can actually be fun, even without ice cream. Similarly, pickleball is a sport relished by many, despite not having anything to do with pickles.

Pickleball is played on a court that is identical to a badminton court in terms of size and markings. However, unlike in badminton, the net is lower and the area directly in front of the net, called the kitchen, is a non-volley zone (where players can only return the ball after it has bounced). Pickleball is played with a green plastic ball with holes, essentially a wiffle ball, and a paddle that resembles a ping-pong paddle. This sport is best described as a Frankenstein-esque mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong.

Pickleball was invented in the 1960s by three families who spent their weekends on Bainbridge Island (what a life!), as a way to rustle up something for their kids to do on a day that was too gloomy for the beach. They had a badminton court but couldn’t find a birdie, so they used a ping-pong paddle and a wiffleball. The rules came out of an effort to tailor the game to the founding adults. One was very tall and had a strong serve, so the others insisted on the non-volley zone. The height of the net was measured to the waist of another of the participating adults.

As for the name, it may seem like a jar-ring departure from what the game actually is about. Nobody really seems certain where it came from. The major competing theories on the origin of the name are that it is either a reference to a pickle boat (where the crew consists of leftovers from other boats) or to one of the founding families having a dog named Pickles who frequently ran off with the ball.

A game that started out for the kids was soon co-opted by the adults. Now, pickleball’s largest constituency is drawn from an older demographic, though the young are starting to adopt it as well. It’s a social game that’s easy to pick up, is light on the joints, and is relatively low-cost compared to other sports. But don’t let this get you thinking that you can invite your pickleball-playing grandparents over to the court and smash them with ease. Given its emphasis on hand-eye coordination and strategy, rather than speed, agility, or fitness levels, age isn’t as much of a disadvantage as it can be in more strenuous sports. 

If you want to play pickleball in BC, information on how to do so can be found at Starter kits with a net, two pickleballs, and two paddles are about $70, with just the balls and paddles available for about $25. This sport is literally the epitome of good, wholesome fun, and who doesn’t want that?