Canada Day weekend will mark my first Pickleball experience. A group of friends have held an annual tennis tournament for years. Each year, my husband and I attend and come in last but what we lack in skill, we make up for in enthusiasm and costuming. This year, they are changing it up and we are going to play Pickleball instead. It looks more like ping pong than tennis and I am pretty good at ping pong. The court is much smaller so it’s easier for people who are not quite as agile as others. It looks like I am going to like it.

This led me to ask the question “What is Pickleball, why is is suddenly everywhere and where the hell did it come from?”

Once upon a time, in a small suburban town, a new sports craze was sweeping across the community.

It was a game unlike any other, blending elements of tennis, badminton, and ping pong. This game was known as pickleball.

The inventor and “Father of Pickleball” is Joel Pritchard, whose story begins in 1965 at his summer residence on Bainbridge Island, Washington. After a round of golf with his friend Bill Bell, they returned to find their families sitting around, bored and complaining about the lack of activities. Joel reminisced about his childhood when they would invent games to play. His son Frank challenged him, suggesting that he should create a game himself. Inspired by the idea, Joel looked at their backyard badminton court and gathered some broken paddles, racquets, and a whiffle-type ball, laying the foundation for what would eventually become pickleball.

Soon after, Joel ventured to the workshop located at the rear of the property, where he began crafting paddles out of plywood. Since Bill Bell and his family were staying with them, they joined forces to develop the game together. It was around the same day when Joel expressed, “You know who we need? We need Barney.” Barney McCallum happened to live just a few houses away from the Pritchards on Bainbridge Island. Without hesitation, they contacted Barney, who promptly came down to join their efforts. From the very beginning, the three of them collaborated, working diligently to refine the game. And thus, the captivating journey of pickleball began.

Pickleball might have originated in the 1960s but it had remained relatively unknown until recently. The sport’s unique name piqued the curiosity of many, leading to a surge in its popularity. As word spread, pickleball courts started popping up in local parks and recreation centers, attracting players of all ages.

One of the key factors behind pickleball’s rise to fame was its accessibility.

Pickleball Ontario Youth Initiative

The game could be played on a smaller court compared to tennis, making it ideal for neighbourhoods with limited space. Its modified equipment, consisting of a paddle and a lightweight plastic ball with holes, made it easy for beginners to pick up and enjoy. It also makes it much less expensive than tennis. You can get a full starter kit for pickleball for less than the price of one tennis racket.

At the heart of the pickleball revolution was a passionate group of players who formed a tight-knit community. They organized tournaments, shared tips and strategies, and welcomed newcomers with open arms. Pickleball became not just a sport but a social gathering where friendships were forged and bonds were strengthened.

The local newspaper caught wind of this newfound enthusiasm and dedicated a full-page article to the rising popularity of pickleball. The story captured the attention of residents near and far, and soon people from neighbouring towns started flocking to experience the excitement firsthand.

With the surge in interest, the town council decided to invest in the development of dedicated pickleball facilities. They transformed an unused tennis court into a state-of-the-art pickleball complex, complete with multiple courts, seating areas, and even a snack bar. The vibrant colours of the courts and the echoing sound of paddles hitting the ball became synonymous with the spirit of the community.

Pickleball transcended age barriers

Bev Schalin, 88, and her husband Earl, 94, are regular pickleball players, shown here on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, in San Diego.
(K.C. Alfred/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

attracting not only retirees looking for a low-impact sport but also young families seeking an activity to enjoy together. The sport provided a healthy outlet for exercise and friendly competition. Parents played alongside their children, and grandparents showcased their skills to a captivated audience.

As the popularity of pickleball continued to soar, it caught the attention of professional athletes and celebrities. Tennis legends traded their rackets for paddles, showcasing their versatility and skill in this new game. Celebrities began hosting pickleball tournaments for charity, raising funds and awareness for various causes.

A Trend Is Born

pickleball equipment

The media soon picked up on the trend, featuring pickleball in sports magazines, television programs, and even commercials. Major sporting goods brands began manufacturing high-quality pickleball equipment, catering to the growing demand. Rackets started to look more stylish and unique.

Pickleball became more than just a sport; it became a cultural phenomenon. It represented a community that embraced inclusivity, camaraderie, and the joy of competition. The local schools added pickleball to their physical education curriculum, ensuring that future generations would continue to carry the torch.

As the story of pickleball unfolded, the small suburban town transformed into a hub for this exciting sport. Visitors marvelled at the passion and unity that surrounded the game, and neighbouring towns sought to replicate its success.

Pickleball had captured the hearts of the community and left an indelible mark on the town’s history. It was a testament to the power of a simple game, bringing people together, fostering relationships, and inspiring a new generation of athletes.

And so, the rising popularity of pickleball, born out of curiosity and embraced by a community, became a shining example of the positive impact sports can have on society.

You can find everything Pickleball on Amazon

Is Pickleball on your Canada Day lineup?