Langley seniors turn to unique fusion sport for fun

A sport that fuses tennis, ping pong, and badminton, and is named after Pickles the pooch, turned a half-century this year.

And its popularity in Langley and around the world is rising at a meteoric rate.

Pickleball got its start back in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Wash., the brainchild of Joel Pritchard, William Bell, and Barney McCallum.

One summer’s day, they handed their kids ping pong paddles and a Wiffle ball, and lowered the net on their badminton court.

According to McCallum, the game was officially named after the Prichards’ dog Pickles which would chase the ball and run off with it

In 1972, pickleball was officially incorporated to keep up with demand for paddles, balls, nets, and other gear.

Today, Langley is one of pickleball’s many hubs.

The sport is so popular locally, last year City of Langley staff painted lines specific to pickleball on the tennis courts beside Douglas Park Community School.

John Robertson not only competed in pickleball at the 2014 BC Seniors Games in Langley, he also helped with the registration and organization of the sport at last summer’s event.

The Langley resident has played pickleball for the past two-and-a-half years and noted that it’s one of the fastest growing sports in North America.

pickleball
Pickleball enthusiast John Robertson demonstrated a volley at the Douglas Park tennis courts recently. – Troy Landreville

To wit: just 24 competitors played pickleball at the 2012 BC Seniors Games in Burnaby. Two years ago at the Kamloops Games, the number grew to 120, and for last September’s Games in Langley, 252 pickleball players played on six courts inside the Walnut Grove Community Centre.

But the game isn’t just for seniors, Robertson stressed: “It’s a tremendous workout, it’s easy to play, easy to learn, and in some of the schools, they’re beginning to teach it, now.”

The rules are fairly simple. According to pickleball.com, players on each side must let the ball bounce once before volleys are allowed, and there is a seven-foot no-volley zone on each side of the net, to prevent “spiking.” The server continues to serve, alternating service courts, until he or she faults. The first side scoring 11 points and leading by at least two points wins. Pickleball can be played with singles or doubles.

Robertson said pickleball is “addictive.”

“It’s a game that we can play as seniors, relatively easily, yet the competitive level of play can escalate,” he said. “There are ratings from 2.5 to five, five being a very good player. You can play it at any level; it’s a very social game and it’s lots of fun although there’s a competitive component to it.”

Robertson is currently rated by the USAPA Pickleball as a 3.5 level player.

In northern climes, pickleball is played indoors at rec centres but in the south it’s an outdoor game.

For three to four months each winter, Robertson resides in Casa Grande AZ., where he is a member of the Palm Creek Pickleball Club, which boasts a whopping 760 members.

In November, Palm Creek is hosting the world nationals, which is open to players from all ages, from teenagers to seniors.

Arizona is where Robertson picked up the sport and continues to hone his skills.

“At Palm Creek, 60 per cent of the residents are Canadians, so we come back home in the summer looking to play pickleball,” Robertson said.

The challenge is, the indoor courts are often being used primarily for other activities and summer programs, “so it reduces our play,” Robertson said, adding that in the entire Lower Mainland, there isn’t one dedicated pickleball court.

Local players are heading outdoors to get their pickleball fix.

On a recent Sunday, 26 players used the two courts at Douglas Park.

In the Lower Mainland, Fraser Valley Pickleball organizes six tournaments each year in various regional facilities.

Pickleball paddles are lighter than tennis racquets and are typically made out of composite or graphite, and can be purchased at most sporting goods stores or online.

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