Many people hear of pickleball when their town is asked to accommodate its seemingly sudden popularity. The paddle ball game is an overnight sensation half a century in the making.
The Sports and Fitness Industry Association says it is the fourth-fasted growing sport the past five years. As shocking as that might be to those who haven’t yet picked up a paddle, Jersey Shore pickleball players are probably just as surprised that three other sports are growing faster (they would be BMX, cardio tennis and trail running).
In 2014 there were already 2.4 million U.S. pickleball participants. As of last year, make that 3.4 million and growing at 5% a year.
This year CBS was to provide the first live national coverage of the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships, but the April event was canceled because of COVID-19.
Pickleball promotes fitness with its quick pace, and socializing with less distance between participants. It also doesn’t require a big investment in equipment. It’s played on a tennis-like court but less than half the size, with a hollow plastic ball with holes. Competitors aren’t allowed to approach the net and must serve underhand. Many say all this prevents men from dominating the sport.
Brigantine and Avalon apparently were Jersey Shore leaders in embracing pickleball. Now it’s also popular in Ocean City, Somers Point, Ventnor, Margate, Absecon, Egg Harbor Township and elsewhere.
This year alone Brigantine has created six new outdoor pickleball courts, Middle Township has added courts to Rio Grande Park, and Ocean City has heard requests to use part of a former auto dealer lot for more pickleball space.
Pickleball is more senior-friendly than tennis and Harvard Medical School sees lots of benefits — improved balance, strength, sharper minds, and supportive socializing.
There also are some drawbacks. One is that it’s not an aerobic workout, and another is that like any sport, pickleball has injury risks. Ankles can be strained or sprained, knees sprained or ligaments torn, leg muscles ripped, and damage to forearm tendons can cause a pickleball version of painful tennis elbow. Quick steps to hit balls can lead to falls and fractures.
Jersey Shore towns seem to have handled pretty well the inherent friction between pickleball and tennis players for court space. They should keep in mind that courts can serve both groups by adding lines that meet standards for color, spacing and width.
The pandemic has encouraged people to engage more in safer and healthier outdoor activities, including pickleball. By next spring and summer, when vaccines presumably will have diminished the coronavirus threat, look for pickleball to reach a new peak.