In the summer of 1965, when golfing buddies Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum invented pickleball in the backyard of Pritchard’s home on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, Washington, none could have divined that, more than a half-century later, their quirky creation would be the fastest-growing sport in North America. Today, in addition to the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) and the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), there are local clubs, international tournaments, magazines, myriad websites and Facebook pages, and even a YouTube channel devoted to the sport.
So, what is pickleball?
As legend has it, Pritchard (then a state representative for Washington; later a U.S. congressman) and Bell returned from a round of golf one afternoon to find their kids bored and fidgety. With an old badminton court on site but no full set of racquets in sight, the men sought to divert their families by improvising with ping pong paddles and a softball-sized wiffle ball, and by lowering the net to 36 inches at each end and 34 inches in the middle. When McCallum was exposed to the new game the following weekend, the trio devised pickleball’s unique set of rules.
The curiosity quickly caught on, with yet another Pritchard friend, neighbor Bob O’Brian, building the first permanent pickleball court in his own backyard in 1967. By 1972, a corporation to protect the creation of pickleball had been formed, and four years later, players competed at Tukwila, Washington’s South Center Athletic Club in the first known pickleball tournament. The USAPA was formed in 1984, the same year that Boeing industrial engineer Arlen Paranto crafted the first composite pickleball paddle. The IFP was born in 2010.
Easy to learn, easy to play, low impact
“Pickleball is easier on the body than so many other sports,” says Barbara Wintroub, an award-winning player, USAPA ambassador, and pickleball coach based in Palm Desert, California, who is credited with exporting the sport to Mexico at Baja California’s spa retreat Rancho La Puerta. “It doesn’t require intense range of motion like other sports. It’s weight-bearing, and because you change directions, it’s bone-building. Yet it doesn’t entail the risks of injury such as with running, tennis and CrossFit.”
“People try pickleball and love it, so they tell others, who also love it. The word spreads, and pickleball becomes your social life,” maintains Wintroub, who is available for private or small group instruction. “You can put four pickleball courts on one tennis court. A player only has to cover 10 feet. Pickleball is easy to learn, fun to play, and has a ‘drop-in’ component. The players are wonderful. Just come and you can play with anyone there.”
For more information about pickleball, visit the USA Pickleball Association’s website at www.usapa.org.