You know how tennis sounds so fun in theory…but then you play for five minutes and you’re absolutely exhausted? Well, pickleball is kinda the answer to that. It’s got the fun back and forth volleying of tennis, but because of lighter equipment and smaller courts (which translates to more courts), both non-athletes and fitness aficionados can play better for longer and more often. Plus, the smaller courts mean you can be chattier with your playmates, attracting players who see it as a social activity too, hence its starring role in this infomercial for the age-restricted community The Villages (ya know, the massive retirement Disney World at the center of the documentary Some Kind of Heaven). "Well, a typical day for me is coffee in the morning, go for a walk, playing pickleball..." the senior residents list off in the first 30 seconds of the half-hour spot.
But these factors have also helped the game explode beyond retirement communities. Per the Boston Globe, “There were 4.2 million players in the United States last year, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a 21 percent increase from 2019, with nearly 30 percent of ‘core’ players under the age of 35.” I, for one, have witnessed this boon first hand. During an elongated stay at my parents' during the pandemic, pickleball became an activity we could all do together...and separately. Me and my husband could play with our friends or we could pair up and play doubles with my dad and his friends. In fact, now my 34-year-old husband is on a text thread with my dad's 60-plus friends, coordinating games and talking smack.
And then there's the savvy entrepreneurs who have identified a relatively untapped market outside of the pro world (yes, there's pro pickleball). Take Adele Hazan and Karen Alexander, millennials who co-founded their own athletic brand, Varsity Pickle, after falling in love with the game themselves. "If you've met someone who plays pickleball, they want you to make sure you know they play pickleball. So we created a line of clothes for people to wear on and off the court that celebrates their love for this fast-growing sport," they told me.