By now, surely you've heard of… “Pickelball.” “-Pickleball. “”-Pickleball!” Right? The so-called… “…fastest growing sport in the country.” Pickleball's popularity skyrocketed during the pandemic… bringing it out of retirement communities and into the mainstream.

Oh, my God. It is a phenomenon. I discovered pickleball and a light went off in my head. Where would you be without pickleball right now? I honestly don't know. Now there are fancy new Instagram ads selling trendy paddles and balls… a professional league backed by Kevin Durant and LeBron James… and a Facebook group for pretty much every town in America.

Everybody loves Pickleball. Well, maybe not everybody. “Why don't you take that pickleballand shove it up your ******!” “A catastrophe…” “The lantern flies of the sports world.” So how did pickleball take over? And where can it go from here? It's not hard to understandpickleball's appeal. It's sort of like a giant adult playground game.

That's easy to pick up and find people to play with. Whenever we come out and it's actually nice weather the entire ground is covered with pickleball courts. I live literally like right next door here and I just saw scores of people on the weekends and… I kinda just jumped in. The rules are similar to tennis but played on a much smaller court. Which means less running and quicker games.

And pickleball can be played anywhere. The nets are advertised as being portable and easy to assemble and there's plenty of resources online that show you how to carve up a tennis court into one, two, or up to four pickleball courts. In some places, the impromptu nature of the sport has caused some friction and so-called turf wars for public space. Like at the Peninsula Tennis Club in San Diego.

Where a group of pickleball players staged a dramatic take over demanding its tennis courts be converted for pickleball. In Santa Rosa, public courts dual-lined for pickleball and tennis were vandalized with motor oil. To send the message that the new craze was no longer welcome there. But it's not just the fight for court space that has some people fed up with pickleball. This is a sound level meter.

It measures sound pressure levels in decibels. A decibel is one unit of loudness and it's measured logarithmicallyrather than linearly. Basically, that means that steadily increasing sound level by 10 decibels doesn't look like this… but more like this where each increase of 10 decibels sounds twice as loud. So a motorcycle at 100 decibels sounds twice as loud as a hairdryer.

At 90 decibels. Which is twice as loud as a vacuum cleaner at 80 decibels. This is Sam. He produces Vox Atlas and he's going to help me with a little experiment. Okay, go ahead. Bouncing a tennis ball on a tennis racket averaged around 70 decibels… which is comparable to the noise level of a busy office.

When we measured the sound of a pickleball against a paddle… it clocked in around 80 decibels. That's right where sound becomes loud enough to be irritating. Now, obviously, this isn't the most scientific experiment and of course, tennis matches make sound. But the point is pickleball's equipment: rigid paddles against hollow plastic balls… makes a lot of noise. “I wake up, I hear it.”.

“I walk down the steps,I hear it. ” [imitating clanking] “As loud as a rock concert.” Mounting noise complaints have forced cities and towns from Victoria, British Columbia to Newport, Rhode Island to come up with temporary solutions like limited hours for pickleball and in some places, banning the sport altogether. Both sides of this conflict agree.

Pickleball has to go somewhere. Expanding or creating dedicated spacefor the sport would help alleviate the strain on shared spaces and help isolate the noise issuepickleball brings. A wave of developers have already cashed in on the demand opening state of the art private pickleball clubs across the country. So far, underfunded parks and rec departments have been moving slower.

But progress is being made. Cincinnati recently opened this free-to-the-publicpickleball facility a collaboration in between community fundraisers… the Cincinnati Parks Department… and the philanthropic Cincinnati Parks Foundation converted 8 dilapidated tennis courts into 18 pickleball courts, plus 3 dual-line courts for pickleball and tennis. What was formerly a mostly ignored space.

Drew over 13,000 pickleball players in 2022. There's plans like this in the works all over the country. This one was shared with me by the Peninsula Tennis Club. That's where that angry pickleball takeover took place in April 2022. Their proposal would convert this unused space away from the tennis courts for pickleball courts. These projects need funding, but where pickleball goes other facilities benefit. Efforts to invest in public pickleball courts.

Are resulting in new volleyball courts… basketball courts and skateparks too. But until more courts become available… and maybe even after they do pickleball will likely maintainits DIY spirit. There are pickleball courts around the city but we could just come in here and play like not really plan anything in advanceand just find a spot.. Being able to just like grab a little bag hereand come out.

And text my friends and have people show upand meet new people is very appealing I think.
And how cities are dealing with the boom.

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Pickleball, a recreational racquet sport that combines tennis, ping pong, and badminton, became a national obsession in the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. The sport’s popularity is due to the social nature of the game, how easy it is to learn to play, and the game’s portability. With nets that can be set up on any hard surface, the game is generally more accessible than other racquet sports.

But pickleball’s spike in popularity created a public space problem when crowds of pickleball players began erecting temporary courts on public tennis courts, basketball courts, and parking lots. This, combined with the loud noises produced by rigid paddles and hollow, plastic balls, has created a new fight for space between pickleball players and pretty much everyone else.

As more pickleball facilities open across the country, the strain on other public spaces has been easing. Now, plans are being developed in cities and towns across the US and Canada to embrace the pickleball boom and develop free, dedicated spaces for the sport.

Learn about the rules and find pickleball tournaments near you at USA Pickleball:
https://usapickleball.org/

Find places to play in NYC:
https://www.nycpickleball.com

New York Times article, “Why is pickleball so popular?”
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/09/03/well/move/pickleball-popular-sport.html

This isn’t the first time Vox has reported on pickleball. Check out this prescient 2015 write-up from our very own Phil Edwards, “Meet Pickleball, the next great American sport.”
https://www.vox.com/2015/6/4/8715623/pickleball

Note: The headline on this piece has been updated.
Previous headline: How pickleball took over

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