Relish a new sport: Pickleball


Pickleball players enjoying a game at the Community Park. Photo courtesy of Bob Martin.

Usually when people think of sports they think about the big three: football, baseball and basketball. But there’s a new game trying to reach the Mount Rushmore of athletics — pickleball. 

If you are looking for a casual sport to stay active, or play with friends, consider pickleball. Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States. All you need to play is a court, net, paddle and a ball. Pickleball sets can be found online or at sporting goods stores for around $35. 

Pickleball is a paddle based sport that can be played indoor or outdoor in pairs or singles. To initiate play, the player must serve underhand and hit the hollow ball over a 36-inch-high net using their flat-faced paddle. Then the teams battle back and forth by hitting the ball over the net and onto the opponent’s side of the 20 x 44 court. A point is scored once the your team or opponent commits a rule infraction.

Pickleball has only recently gained popularity and media attention this past decade but has actually been around for over 50 years. According to the United States Pickleball website, “Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington. Three dads – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities — are credited for creating [the] game.”

Chico residents began to pick up on pickleball’s popularity in recent years after Bob Martin, a Chico pickleball ambassador, brought the game over a decade ago. Martin taught badminton at Butte College for “about 10 years.” He was reintroduced to pickleball after a trip to Arizona where “they had nine pickleball courts and 450 people playing.” He then attempted to introduce his badminton class to pickleball but “none of them were interested.”

Martin painted his first pickleball court at “the beat up Durham recreation tennis courts in June 2013.” After he volunteered to become the first-ever ambassador of pickleball for the Chico area, he reached out to the Chico Area Recreation and Park District board to get permission to paint more courts alongside fellow ambassadors Troy Steffy and Mike Kunkis.  

A popular place to play pickleball in Chico is at the Chico Area Recreation and Park District Courts located at the Community Park at 1900 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Parkway. 

“If you go to the courts and show up in the morning around 9 a.m. when it’s not hot there’s at least 35 people waiting to play pickleball,” Martin said. 

The pickleball community is a “very welcoming community” and the “learning curb isn’t that steep” Martin said. 

“Show up to the courts and ask anyone playing [pickleball] if you can borrow a paddle they’ll most likely give you one,” Martin said. “Most of the people really serious about the game have multiple paddles and are more than happy to teach you how to play.” 

Leagues are also available through the Chico Area Recreation and Park District and Chico Pickleball if you are interested in getting involved in a more competitive atmosphere. Chico Pickleball is hosting the fifth annual Chico Classic Pickleball Tournament this upcoming Saturday and Sunday at Community Park. 

“I don’t see it being a hit professionally, but they’re talking about it becoming an Olympic sport,” Martin said.

Alex Poletti can be reached at [email protected]