Pickleball explodes in popularity in the pandemic

CALGARY — It involves a paddle, a ball and a net. The paddle is bigger than a ping pong ball racket, the ball is about the size of a soft ball but hollow with holes all over, and the playing surface is half the size of a tennis court.

Tony Tighe is the president of the Calgary Pickleball Club and says the sport is gaining in popularity here.

“The demand for outdoor pickleball in the summer has just gone crazy,” said Tighe. “We have four outdoor courts that we offer pickleball through the City of Calgary on their outdoor tennis courts and every one of them is full every day, seven days a week.”

The game was invented in 1965 near Seattle, Washington by three dads whose kids were bored with their usual summer activities. Tighe says the sport has only been around here for a handful of years after it was brought north by snowbirds – Western Canadians who spend winters in the U.S.

“They go down to Phoenix, down to Palm Springs,” said Tighe. “Pickleball is huge down there, it’s bigger than tennis in the States, it’s everywhere, there are thousands and thousands of people playing in every city.”

The Calgary Pickleball Club has upwards of 650 members who play in four City of Calgary designated areas. At North Glenmore Park, two of the four tennis courts have been converted into four pickleball courts.

COVID-19 has forced the club to take measures to physical distance and disinfect hands and balls. Only 24 people are allowed into a space at one time. But participation is still high with people playing all hours while the sun is out during the summer months. The sport moves inside in the winter.

Brad Gibbs has heard it’s one of the fastest growing sports in North America.  He retired three years ago and a friend invited him to play one day.

“He’s kind of short and out of shape and old and he really needed some exercise honestly,” said Gibbs. “So I went along with him just to encourage him to exercise more then we ended up really liking it.”

75-year-old Lionel Bellavance used to be a marathon runner and liked playing squash. Now he’s on the pickleball courts five to seven days a week.

“For me it’s almost like a positive addiction you know,” said Bellavance. “It’s not that if I don’t play I feel really down or anything but I just love to do it.”

Tighe says he’s seeing more people in their thirties, forties and fifties taking up the sport, but they’re looking for court time in the evenings after work. And even younger people want to get involved.

“We’re now getting more and more requests for instance for kids to learn how to play,” said Tighe. “We’ve had schools approaching us (asking) can you teach us how to teach the kids.”

Joi Weir just started playing in January while on a trip to Mexico. She fell in love with the game and it’s social aspect.

“It’s so fun and I don’t know, I played badminton when I was a kid but I haven’t played anything since then,” said Weir. “It’s just fun and when you get some good shots, that’s what makes you come back.”

Learn more about pickleball here.

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