Pickleball. Have you heard of this? It’s that incredibly popular tennis-ping-pong hybrid that everyone plays, from Ellen Degeneres (“I’m obsessed with it”) to most people in Naples, Florida, it seems. (A center with 60 courts is called “the pickleball capital of the world”.)
As if pickleball wasn’t hot enough already, here’s something else to add to the buzz. The most bouncy and talked about American game is also very good for rhymes.
So said Penn Incumbent, co-creator with his wife, Kim, of a viral rap video called “the Pickleball Song”. The Holdernesses recently rose to fame as winners of Fantastic race on CBS. But before that, they were just a hilarious pair of YouTubers who exploited their marriage and family life for comedic gold and a billion views.
In the pickleball video, Penn leans into the camera to shout, “My wife, yeah, she used to be cool / But to her, pickleball is a real big deal now. dill!”
Kim is right that it’s a really big, uh, deal. According to USA Pickleball, the sport has grown like a cucumber vine, growing an average of 11.5% per year since 2017 to reach 4.8 million pickers in the United States alone. As Penn Holderness might rap, “This pickle works.”
If you haven’t experienced the sport yet, stroll through any of the 9,524 pickleball-friendly parks, community centers and sports complexes across the United States and listen to the plink, plink, plink, plink sound of oversized whiffle balls bouncing off composite paddles.
What jerry Seinfeld Once joked about tennis, it’s even more true about pickleball: it’s “essentially ping-pong, and the players are standing on the table”. But four 20-by-44-foot pickleball courts can fit in the space required for the Sport of Kings. Plus, it’s easy to understand, requires minimal athleticism, and has a fun vocabulary all its own. So maybe there’s new royalty in the field.
We can’t all smash like Roger or slash like Serena, but pretty much anyone can play pickleball. “A man I was playing against recently was limping,” says Ann Farrell Pulliam, 55, recently converted to pickleball in Vienna, Virginia. “So I asked him, ‘Does your leg hurt?’ He said to me: ‘No, I have Parkinson’s disease.’ I felt bad. Then his team totally killed us.
Pulliam is a great case study in the popularity of pickleball. She lost her husband to cancer in June 2021, just before their 30th wedding anniversary. She barely left the house for months except to attend her grief group. “A friend called me to check on me,” she recalls. “He said to me, ‘Get out of bed. Take a shower. Put on clothes. Go play pickleball. So I took to Facebook and asked if anyone had heard of the game. Now I play five times a week and my phone contacts have doubled. It saved my life.
One of the reasons for Pulliam’s change of attitude: other the incessant noise you hear on a pickleball court is laughter. “The first time I laughed since my husband died was on a pickleball court,” Pulliam says. “You have to remember the fun rules, when to turn on the pitch and it’s all four of us to remember the score.” It’s mostly a doubles game, which quadruples the hilarity.
And, as Pulliam says, pretty much everyone is a beginner, which takes the pressure off. This is even true for Ben John, whose greatest claim to fame was his status as his brother’s hitting partner on the professional tennis circuit. “I was playing tennis one day in 2016,” he says, “and I heard this funny noise coming from the pickleball court next door. I tried and I thought, This game is great, especially because I beat my father all the time. Now, as the world’s No. 1 ranked professional pickleball player in singles, doubles and mixed doubles, the 23-year-old Johns is also beating a lot of other people.
Johns, who now has the ultimate sporting status symbol – his own signature Joola paddle – loves that the sport is still young. “Golf has been around for four hundred years, tennis for longer. There is a right way and a wrong way to play them. But pickleball is still in a period of experimentation. When you understand something, you expand the sport yourself. You can help it grow.
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So why are you sitting there reading? Take a paddle, a ball and three strangers (who will soon become friends) and customize the pickleball. But don’t take it too seriously, or you could be ejected from the field. It’s just pickleball, y’all.
Related: 10 things you need to bring to the pickleball court
How pickleball was born
Three fathers living on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965 were tired of hearing their children complain of boredom. So they created a mix of ping pong, tennis and badminton to stifle stomach aches. It worked.
But what is this crazy name?
- Theory 1: Because it’s a mix of other sports, the wife of one of the game’s creators coined the terms in reference to the remnants of the second rope that came with the pickle boat in rowing .
- Theory 2: “Pickles” was a ball-hunting dog belonging to one of the creators, and it was named after him.
But even the creators of pickleball couldn’t agree on where the name came from, and now they’ve moved on to that big pitch in the sky. So feel free to spread your own theory.
Related: 10 things you need to know about pickleball, the sport everyone’s playing in the US right now
How to Talk Like a Pickler
Flapjack: For each serve and return of serve, players must allow the ball to bounce before hitting it. These bouncing entries are called flapjacks, for some unknown reason.
Dill scoop: An incoming ball that has bounced once and is therefore available for you to hit.
The kitchen: An area 7 feet on either side of the net, where it is forbidden to hit the ball unless it has bounced first. This rule prevents kitchen smashes, which are no fun and dangerous up close.
Dink Kick: A boring shot in which the ball is bounced from your kitchen to your opponents, with little hope of a return.
Opa! After two bounce sequences, players can shout “opa!” to mean that from now on it’s okay to hit a ball in the air (unless you’re standing in the kitchen, in which case you need to revise your pickleball rules).
Marine : If you don’t score any points in a game, you’ve been pickled. But it will remind you: it’s happy hour with your new best pickleball friends. Order a Dirty Martini, with pickle juice.
Related: These Celebs Love Pickleball