Pickleball has exploded in popularity in the last two years, leading to the racket sport being dubbed as America’s unofficial pandemic pastime.
According to USA Pickleball, more than one million Americans have picked up a paddle in the last two years.
As pickleball has exploded in popularity, there are now over 8,500 locations on USA Pickleball’s Places2Play map, including more than two dozen in Albuquerque.
What is pickleball?
The basic aim of pickleball, like with other racket sports, is to hit the ball over the net and prevent an opponent from hitting it back.
- A fun sport that combines many elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong.
- Played both indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court and a slightly modified tennis net.
- Played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes.
- Played as doubles or singles.
- Can be enjoyed by all ages and skill levels
In the summer of 1965, pickleball was founded by Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell and Barney McCallum on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Pritchard’s wife, Joan, had come up with the name “pickle ball” — a reference to the thrown-together leftover non-starters in the “pickle boat” of crew races. Many years later, as the sport grew, a controversy ensued when a few neighbors said they were there when Joan named the game after the family dog, Pickles. The Pritchard family have held fast for decades that the dog came along a few years later and was named after the game.
Pickleball in Albuquerque
Kathy Baca, who volunteers on the Albuquerque Pickleball Club’s Managing Council at Paradise Hills Community Center, said she understands why the sport is growing so much lately.
“It’s fun; it’s easy to learn,” Baca said. “And good exercise. It’s a social event, too.”
Baca and her friends get together to play mostly in northwest Albuquerque. Paradise Hills Community Center has open pickleball gym from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday from and from 7:15-8:45 p.m. Wednesday. Baca plays through the Albuquerque Pickleball Club, which brings the community together and helps its members find times and places to play. The group also plays at Ventana Ranch Park, Lyndon B. Johnson Middle School and Taylor Ranch Community Center.
“There is a club so it’s kind of organized; however, like at the tennis courts, if people have their own nets, they can go set some up,” Baca said. “We don’t have permanent nets here on the west side. They’re portable nets so we have to go set them up. So that’s why we have a scheduled time of play, day and time. It’s open play where we take all levels from high level to low level to beginners. But we get about on an average eight to 10 nets over at Ventana Ranch.”
Baca has been playing pickleball long before COVID-19 shut down the world. But the pandemic that began in 2020 really helped the sport gain popularity as people scrambled to find ways to safely have fun.
“Since COVID, it has exploded,” Baca said. “We can play outdoors and it’s fun. You make a lot of friends. It’s a social thing. And it’s a good exercise. It’s just a great sport. It’s a easy to learn and not too difficult. Any age can play. Usually, I think it was more of a senior-age sport because younger people would be at work or in school, but it’s really exploded in the younger generation also.”
Jessica Smetana, 28, a Miami-based media personality, told the Neighborhood Journal she picked up pickleball post-pandemic and has become passionate about the sport.
“Pickleball is relatively simple to learn and inexpensive to play,” Smetana said. “It is fast-paced, competitive and requires finesse and agility over power and speed, making it appealing for any age group.”