Some people started it while they were on vacation.
Others noticed it in their neighbourhood, or had a friend who enjoyed it, so they started, too.
Pickleball, widely touted as the nation’s – and North America’s – fastest-growing sport, is more popular than ever, and with the weather getting warmer, players are hitting the courts in higher numbers than ever before.
Debbie Lawrance, a member of the Surrey Pickleball Club, White Rock Pickleball Association and Pickleball Canada, started playing seven years ago, after she went on a walk along North Bluff Road and noticed some people playing the game.
Having just retired, she was looking to get a little more active, and it looked like fun.
“They said, ‘Come back tomorrow and bring a paddle,’” Lawrance remembered.
“Basically, that was it.”
After learning the basics, Lawrance embraced the sport wholeheartedly, and now plays it up to six hours a day, seven days a week.
She even represented Canada at the inaugural English Open event in England in 2019.
“It is so much fun! It’s awesome. It will change your life,” she said, noting that beginners are always welcome, but for those who want some fierce competition, there are some pretty serious players as well.
“If you want really good competition, it’s there. But it’s also a very inclusive community and it’s an easy learning curve for beginners… we all start somewhere,” she said, adding that she volunteers her time to teach beginner’s lessons.
“I love it. It’s so rewarding.”
In South Surrey, there are pickleball courts located at Crescent Park and in South Surrey Athletic Park, which features 12 dedicated courts.
In total, the City of Surrey has 73 pickleball courts, with 30 dedicated solely to pickleball (the remaining 43 are shared with other racquet sports).
Lawrance also noted the power of the connections made through playing pickleball, with many players enjoying the social aspect and even planning social events or fundraisers together.
“One of the most surprising things was the friendships that are made, just by playing pickleball,” she said.
“There’s something for everyone.”
Gayle Boutilier, a White Rock Pickleball Association member, agreed.
She picked up the sport while vacationing with friends in Palm Springs in 2019, and noted that, while in the past, the sport has been associated mainly with seniors, that is now changing.
“The dynamic has changed from seniors… now it’s in schools and YMCAs – everyone’s jumping on board and families are playing together,” Boutilier said.
“It’s not only a huge social aspect, it gets people active.”
According to Pickleball Canada, recent survey results show that there are one million Canadians playing pickleball at least once a month, with 45 per cent playing four or more times a month.
“The sport is now also attracting younger, working adults as facilities become available during evening hours and weekends,” the organization’s website states.
“The age group showing the fastest rate of growth are players aged 18 to 34, with a 26 per cent increase over the number of players in this group (who played) at least once per month in 2020. This age group also reports a very high frequency of play, with 13 per cent playing 15 or more times/month.”
Survey participants noted the sport is fun, with the second-highest response for playing being the social aspect, according to Pickleball Canada.
While many embrace the sport, there are those who disapprove – usually people who live near pickleball courts, who complain about the noise the sport creates.
“There’s going to be people who complain, but it’s a non-issue as far as our local experiences have gone,” said Lawrance.
Players play on a badminton-sized court, most often as doubles, but singles can participate, too.
Players provide their own paddles, which can range from about $50 to more than $400, depending on the make and model.
Each side has a non-volley zone called the “kitchen,” from which no players can hit volleys (unless an opponent hits a short shot landing in the kitchen, called a “dink’).
Each point begins with an underhand serve, and players play to a total of 11 points, with the winner having to win by two points, among other rules, but Boutilier noted it’s a quicker game than tennis.
“I had played a little tennis years ago but it didn’t resonate like pickleball did, I think because it was a smaller court – you can put four pickleball courts into one tennis court,” she said.
“It’s a faster game – a combination of ping pong, Badminton and tennis all rolled into one in a smaller court – it just seemed a little more fun especially with doubles.”
Nancy de Vink, who is also a White Rock Pickleball Association member, concurred.
“It’s not like tennis or golf, which can be hard to pick up right away,” de Vink said, noting there is a motto posted at the courts encouraging players to treat beginners and veterans equally, as “people are more important than the game.”
“It’s a quick learn and it’s so much fun and a very welcoming sport. You get addicted.”
With certain nights of the week dedicated to mixed doubles play, ladies’, men’s, and even Newbie Nights, the eight dedicated pickleball courts at Centennial Park in White Rock are often busy. Players do not need to become a Surrey Pickleball Club or White Rock Pickleball Association member; that is optional.
“It’s been a wonderful addition to our community – the City of White Rock has been so supportive to us,” Boutilier said, recalling how her family surprised her at the courts for her 70th birthday, with the picnic tables decorated with balloons and other birthday accoutrements.
The association also likes to give back to the community, she said, and mentors Star of the Sea Grade 4-7 students in pickleball. It also donated $1,000 to the Sources South Surrey/White Rock food bank, and holds a Christmas poinsettia fundraiser for residents at Evergreen Care facility.
“It’s a great way to keep people happy and healthy,” Boutilier said.
“We go out there in winter and play with our toques on. It’s fitness, and it’s fun.”