Michael Jones (left) returns a volley as teammate Sue Schwartz watches during a pickleball match at the Centennial Park tennis courts. Photo by Alistair Taylor/Campbell River Mirror

Pickleball: Campbell Riverites are discovering the fun game with the funny name

It’s got a funny name and is fun to play but the growing popularity of pickleball is no joke.

”The name of the game, pickleball, may sound funny but fun is one of the key attractions of the game,” says pickleball enthusiast Graham Hues. “It’s easy to learn, is fun, a great workout and has a great social aspect to it.”

Pickleball is a racket game played on tennis or badminton courts with an oversized table tennis-type paddle and a plastic whiffle ball. The game consists of two players to a side and combines functions and movements similar to games like tennis, badminton and table tennis.

It is fun and easy to learn and promotes a friendly, social atmosphere which can be enjoyed by all ages. The oldest player in Campbell River is 83 while the youngest is 11, Hues says.

Pickleball was born in the 1960s and over the last 10 years, its popularity has exploded throughout North America and many other countries, Hues says. In fact, Hues says it is the fastest growing sport in North America, four years running. There’s even a professional league in the U.S. with some Canadian players and the US National Pickleball Championships are televised by ESPN.

Campbell River has not been immune to the pickleball craze because the demand for the game is much greater here than the supply of available court time, Hues says. Last month, Hues appeared before city council’s committee of the whole to try and find city support for more pickleball space through the conversion of under-used Centennial Park tennis courts.

A little over six years ago, there were 30 players in Campbell River playing three times a week, Hues says. In the first six months of 2019, 170 players have shown up at the Sportsplex, including 20-plus out-of-town visitors.

Pickleball has, by far, the largest number of participants of the Parks, Recreation and Culture Department’s 50-plus Active Living Program. Many south-Island communities offer the game with most having dedicated outdoor courts. And one of the local pickleball players has introduced the game to school district teachers.

Hues is spearheading an effort to get more pickleball playing facilities to meet the demand. One of their focal points is converting some of the tennis courts at Centennial Park. Tennis seems to be on the decline while pickleball is growing and so some of the tennis courts could be converted.

In the last five summers, the Centennial Park tennis courts have been used Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 10 a.m. to noon applying pickleball lines on the tennis courts and has resulted in no conflicts with tennis players. Hues says the president of the Campbell River Tennis Club, which has 70 members, has no issues with the conversion of two courts.

Two tennis court conversions would provide six pickleball courts and would see an increased participation of the same order (24 players vs. eight).

Those courts would also be used by schools and families. Plus the conversion would provide the opportunity for Campbell River to host Island tournaments

Hues says we all know Campbell River has been “found” by retirees and is seeing significant growth. Through his exposure to pickleball playing, he has seen many retirees moving here instead of the Comox Valley due to lower housing prices and the many active lifestyle opportunities that are available.

And it seems a lot of those retirees – and existing ones – are discovering pickleball.