What is pickleball, and why is everyone obsessed with it?

Think of it as a low-stakes game of tennis

A couple taking a pickleball class at their retirement home in Florida. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) (Joe Raedle, 2021 Getty Images)

My parents celebrated their wedding anniversary with their first vacation since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and not only did they come home refreshed and tan, they came home obsessed with a game called pickleball that I could not understand.

My mom said that the resort they stayed at in Hilton Head, South Carolina had pickleball courts, with tons of people playing the game from morning until dusk. She described it as something like tennis, except the ball is bigger and the game isn’t as tiresome.

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I brushed this off as just a one-time fad that they would soon forget about, but seeing the look on my dad’s face when he opened his own pickleball rackets from my mom on Christmas morning, I soon began to wonder what was the deal with this sport -- and why were people becoming so obsessed with it?

Turns out, pickleball was created all the way back in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Washington, by three dads who were trying to entertain their bored children. It’s a hybrid of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, and it can be played on an indoor or outdoor court.

The courts are the same size courts that are used in badminton, and the net is about 3 inches lower than one you would use to play tennis.

Just like tennis, badminton and ping pong, the rules are pretty much the same. If the ball goes out of bounds or bounces twice on the court, your opponent wins a point. You can play singles or doubles.

The equipment isn’t anything too fancy, either. The rackets are slightly bigger and more durable than a ping pong paddle, and the ball that is used is a Wiffle ball. You can easily find pickleball equipment at most sporting goods stores these days, since the game has become so popular.

The best part about pickleball, though, is how easy it is for anyone to pick it up, no matter what age.

Since the court isn’t huge like a tennis court, the amount of running back and forth and up and down a court is very minimal. That’s why it’s easy for young kids to get the hang of, as well as people in their 50s and 60s.

That doesn’t mean it’s not a good workout. The game is played very quickly, so your reflexes are working overtime.

You’ll be getting a good sweat in, but having a fun and social time playing.

So, what are you waiting for? Just take a look at this video from playpickleball.com to see just how fun it looks.

The hardest part about playing pickleball will be finding a court to play on.

But you might be surprised to learn there are plenty of pickleball courts near where you live. USA Pickleball’s website has a search engine where you can find places to play pickleball close to home. You can access it here.

Another way to play without using an actual pickleball court is just playing in the first two smaller boxes on a tennis court. It’s similar to the dimensions.

There are probably folks out there who have been playing pickleball for years, but if you’re new to hearing about this sport with a funny name, you’re not the only one.

My parents are waiting for the snow to melt in Michigan to break out their rackets again, but as soon as it warms up, they have plans to play their new favorite sport at a court near their house.

Will you be trying pickleball soon? Let us know in the comments.

This story was initially published in 2022. It has since been updated.

About the Author

Jack is a Digital Content Editor with a degree in creative writing and French from Western Michigan University. He specializes in writing about movies, food and the latest TV shows.

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