- Napa Valley Marketplace Magazine
Pickleball It’s a Good Dill
By Kathleen Reynolds
It’s been called the fastest-growing sport in the world. Any age can play it. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to master it. The rules sound a bit complicated at first, but every “pickler” says they’re easy to learn. It’s pickleball and courts have sprung up in Napa County for the last decade.
“Pre-pandemic, we had over 120 people play pickleball at our indoor gym and, although it’s harder to track, we had about 200 people playing at our outdoor courts,” says Samantha Holland, Yountville Parks and Recreation Department director. “The numbers dwindled during COVID, but now they’re coming back up. We have about 30 to 40 now registered for the indoor play.”
“Thursday night, there’re drop-in times during Open Gym. There’s usually a volunteer at our outdoor courts at Vineyard Park to teach newcomers. People can call ahead of time to request a volunteer to make sure one is available.”
Las Flores Community Center in Napa also has dedicated pickleball courts, and a similar number of enthusiastic players.
The only equipment needed are a paddle, a ball and a pair of court shoes. Organized lessons provide the paddle and ball. Usually, experienced players are happy to share different paddle preferences with newbies.
The game is played with a wiffle-type ball and a paddle. The paddle is larger than a ping-pong paddle and can be made from many different things, including high-tech materials. The net is like the net in tennis, only lower by six inches. The court is the same size as a badminton court, 44 feet by 20 feet. The “kitchen,” or no-volley, zone is seven feet on each side of the net.
Yes, the terminology is also part of the quirky fun. You’ve been “pickled” if you don’t score in the game and a “dillball” is a ball that has bounced and can be played. Those are only two examples.
The rules seem simple enough. Like tennis, players must keep the ball within the boundaries of the court and the server hits from the diagonal baseline. The serve can’t land in the kitchen. The games are about 20 minutes long and scoring generally goes to 11 and the winning team must be two points ahead.
Pickleball can be played as singles or doubles.
“Players don’t have to be athletes,” says Samantha. “All levels can play. You need to be able to maneuver on your feet, so about mid-level of athleticism is all that’s needed. But even beginners can find someone to play with. A lot of times, less active players partner with someone more agile.”
Seniors have taken to the sport. A study cited on the website pickleballrush.com indicated:
“Dementia, heart disease, osteoporosis, Type 2 diabetes, obesity, Alzheimer’s and a host of other issues become more and more common the older we get. Researchers are finding in their studies that nearly all aspects of our physical and mental health can be improved with regular physical activity, and some studies have focused solely on pickleball players.”
“From losing weight to lowering blood pressure, improving flexibility to improving muscle strength, combating loneliness to fighting off bouts of depression, getting a better night’s rest to becoming a more well-rounded social being—we cover all the benefits you can gain through playing pickleball regularly.”
The article continues, “While pickleball isn’t as physically taxing as tennis, it offers a good workout, which is exactly what your muscles, bones and joints need to stay healthy and strong. Bones are living tissue, and activity causes new tissue to grow, making the bones stronger. The same can be said of muscles. Joint health is also improved due to better muscle strength around joints and improved flexibility.”
“It’s got great appeal,” says Samantha. “I hear a lot of pickleball players used to be tennis players. The skills are comparable. It’s competitive, but not as hard on the body. Now, younger people have come in since there’s been so much coverage by mainstream media. Mostly, people compete because there’s a nice community with it.”
The media has certainly covered it, describing and demonstrating it on Good Morning, America; The Today Show and Nightly News with Lester Holt.
The sport started in 1965 on Bainbridge Island in Washington state. Neighbors Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell’s children were bored so they improvised a game on their old badminton court, combining badminton with ping pong and tennis. The following weekend, together with their friend, Barney McCallum, they devised rules and thus began the craze that became pickleball. It is named after the “pickle boat,” the last boat in a rowing competition made up of the leftover oarsmen from other teams.
There’s a national organization, the USA Pickleball Association (USAPA), established in 1984 (usapickleball.org). It provides players with official rules and sanctions official tournaments. Their website has brief video introductions to the game, strategy and instructions on building your own pickleball court.
There’s also The International Federation of Pickleball (IFP), the world governing body. Both associations promote the growth of pickleball.
If you’re looking locally, the Yountville Parks and Recreation Department has its own website, yountvillepickleball.com that lists times for indoor and outdoor pickleball, information on free lessons and links to the USA Pickleball Association. Outdoor courts are located at Vineyard Park (1800 Oak Circle, Yountville).