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Pickleball gaining popularity in Richmond

By Samuel Cheng

Published 10:33 PDT, Thu June 23, 2022

Across North America, pickleball is rapidly gaining popularity among people of all ages.

With indoor courts available at various community centres in Richmond and nine newly built outdoor courts (six at Hugh Boyd Park and three at South Arm Park), it’s easy to give this new sport a try.  

Pickleball was invented in Bainbridge Island, Washington in 1965 by Joel Pritchard and Bill Bell. Later, they invited their friend Barney McCullum to join as a partner. Together, the three were credited with the creation of the game as well as coming up with the first set of official rules.

The creation of pickleball was nothing more than a spontaneous idea. It all started during an afternoon when Bell and Pritchard returned to Pritchard’s home after a golf outing. 

Looking to alleviate the boredom, the two dads wanted to play badminton on an old backyard badminton court, but struggled to find the proper equipment. They improvised by using table tennis paddles and a Wiffle ball. 

There were no set rules to the newly-invented game until the two decided to introduce the game to their family friend McCullum. From then on, the trio utilized a combination of tennis, badminton, and table tennis and transformed what was then a family pastime game into a globally growing sport.

Pickleball got its name from the pickle boat in rowing—a team made up of the leftover members of other boats—after Pritchard’s wife Joan said the game reminded her of that situation.

Since then, the dimensions of the paddle, ball, and court, as well as playing rules, have been revised and made official. 

The USA Pickleball Association states that the length of the paddle cannot exceed 60.96 centimetres (24 inches).

The ball has to be made of a smooth molded material, with 26 to 40 evenly spaced holes. The official rules also lay out the requirements for the ball’s diameter, weight, hardness, colour, and the height of its bounce.

A pickleball court is 13.4 meters (44 feet) long and 6.1 meters (20 feet) wide, which is approximately the same size as a badminton court and one third of the size of a tennis court. However, it is possible to play pickleball on a tennis court with adjustments made to the height of the net and the court’s outer boundaries.

Numerous international, national, and local pickleball organizations have established themselves. Richmond is host to the Richmond BC Pickleball Association (RBCPA). Outdoor courts are built in Richmond with support from the RBCPA and the city. 

“Currently, the RBCPA has grown to over 480 members,” says its president Gordon Farrell. “The number of new members has more than doubled in the past year. RBCPA is working with the City of Richmond to try and identify suitable locations for additional new dedicated pickleball courts. It is a process that takes time for decision-making, budgeting, and parks engineering planning.” 

With over 60,000 active players in Canada and more than 4.8 million in the United States, the average age of players is going down.

“There is a common misconception that pickleball is a seniors' game,” says Farrell. “Originally—and prior to COVID—it was. The majority of pickleball players are still seniors over 55 years (old). But since COVID, pickleball has caught fire with young people of all ages and 11 per cent of the RBCPA members are now under (age) 30.”

At the most recent tournament held in Kamloops, the increased number of younger contestants was clear. 

“At the sanctioned Kamloops Pickleball Open Tournament (recently), RBCPA's younger pickleball players had impressive winning results. This indicates the impact that younger players are going to have on the sport, and vice versa,” says Farrell.

Pickleball also became the official state sport of Washington on March 7, 2022.

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