A new sport is gaining momentum: a blend of tennis & ping-pong.
By Aiden Connell Community Beat Reporter
Whether it is curiosity, injury recovery, or just plain boredom, humans are constantly seeking new ways to challenge each other and have some fun. From the likes of wrestling in ancient times, to the modern-day Spikeball, a different and exciting sport seems to pop up every so often to keep the mind sharp.
As of late, a new sport has seen a boom in popularity: pickleball.
This new sport seems to be a sort of crossbreed between tennis and ping pong. The scene of pickleball may seem a bit familiar at first, involving two people at a tennis court. Each person grabs their racket, but these are a bit smaller and more solid than a usual tennis racket. They look more like oversized ping-pong paddles. The players also play on a court half the size of a normal tennis court. They appear to be hitting a neon green ball back and forth across the net, much like a tennis ball, however, the ball looks a bit different. There are holes in the ball. It’s just a bright green whiffle ball.
Pickleball was conceptualized as far back as 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Joel Pritchard, according to usapickleball.org. It spent its first-decade gaining traction, having tournaments arranged, and being featured in racquet sports magazines. By 1984, Pickleball had an official rule book organized by The United States Amateur Pickleball Association (U.S.A.P.A.) and soon spread in popularity around all 50 states by 1990.
However, in recent years it has been picking up speed faster than ever before. It has been the largest-growing sport in America for the past five years, according to Vermont Public. There is a reason for the sport’s sudden spike in interest. The sport offers a lot in terms of versatility. It’s easy to learn the ropes, yet difficult to master. Because of that, it is appealing to any newcomers, no matter their age.
“I’ve never heard of it, but I thought I’d have fun learning what it was,” Tyler Janssen, 25, said. “At first, I thought it was going to be a mostly older person sport, but… on a lot of competitive nights, there’s a lot of younger people. Last night when I went, the median age was probably low 30s.”
Pickleball courts are usually about half the size of a normal tennis court, seeing as the whiffle balls being hit on their ping-pong-like rackets do not travel as far as tennis balls on their woven rackets. This essentially means that anywhere that has a tennis court, may very well have a pickleball court.
There are many courts in Tampa such as HCC Tennis & Pickleball Court, Rowlett Park
, and Northdale Park, as well as some closer to Oldsmar at Bicentennial Park and Tampa Bay Pickleball. The City of St. Petersburg even offers Pickleball classes at Child’s Park every second Tuesday and every fourth Friday of the month.
After attending one of these pickleball classes in St. Pete, it was easy to see how this sport can bring people together.
“We began teaching people under the City of St. Pete., three years ago during COVID. It was an amazing time because people didn’t want to be indoors, but they wanted to socialize and still have the chance to be outdoors,” pickleball instructor Jerry Downing, 70, said. “We saw people just renew their lives in physical, mental and emotional ways.”
Everyone was so kind to one another, all being eager to team up and learn the sport of pickleball, further brought together by Downing’s helpful and friendly coaching. This seems to be the redeeming quality of a lot of sports, but for pickleball specifically – the personal relationships that can be developed through friendly competition, as well as the mental vacation and light exercise that feels so needed in today’s day and age.
“I definitely have gained a ton of new friends through [pickleball],” FSU student Josh Phillips, 20, said., “A lot of people that I would have otherwise never met…It’s a lot more personal than other sports.”
Yet not only can pickleball can provide new horizons for personal endeavors, but for financial and potential business opportunities as well.
“I’m a brand ambassador for Engage Pickleball,” Phillips said. “I reached out and applied for Tallahassee, and I get to use their products and I get a discount code as well. So, I can get money off paddles and whatnot.”
It seems this new sport of pickleball has a lot to offer, as this new sport combines many familiar aspects of a few different sports, making it easily digestible and appealing to novices. It can help people develop new and personal relationships with one another and even may lead to business deals. Yet it has a way to go, as it still is not an Olympic Sport. According to pickleball paddle manufacturer Paddletek, the sport’s fast-growing popularity is lending people high hopes for its inclusion by 2030.