The increasing popularity of a fast-growing national sport with a funny name might be turning out to be more than New Smyrna Beach can handle.
Pickleball players say the city is not equipped to handle the growing number of residents anxious to play a paddleboard game that has been described by those who play it as "nearly addictive."
While the number of local fans who occasionally enjoy playing pickleball is estimated to be in the hundreds, only a couple of pickleball courts are open to the public. Both are tennis or basketball courts that have been adapted for pickleball matches.
“Right now, our nearly 100 club members usually have to travel to Port Orange or Daytona Beach Shores, because the city only has a couple of public places to play, and those have to be shared with other sports,” said Larry Wilson, president of the New Smyrna Beach Pickleball Club, an organization experiencing rapid growth despite having been formed only a few months ago.
Both neighboring cities have opened new multi-court facilities to meet requirements set forth by the U.S. Pickleball Association.
Pickleball is a low-impact sport all ages can play that combine aspects of ping pong, tennis and badminton.
Mr. Wilson said his club approached New Smyrna Beach city officials about building multi-court regulation complexes, but was told funds were not available due to hurricane recovery expenses.
Between now and the November election, the club plans to talk with candidates for mayor and two city commission seats in hopes of gaining their support when money does become available.
“We are trying to move the city forward by providing public pickleball courts,” the club president said.
Some occasional-use courts will be made available on existing basketball courts when the city gym reopens after hurricane repairs are completed.
“The basketball court in the gym is large enough to provide for three pickleball courts,” Mr. Wilson added.
According to the U.S. Sports & Fitness Industry Association, nationally there were about 2.8 million players in 2017, an increase of 12.3 percent over the previous year.
While the sport can be played by all ages, the low-impact physical activity has become especially popular with aging baby boomers entering retirement. While considered a fun way to get moving, it’s also relatively less stressful on aging joints than other sports, the SFIA reported.
But the fun sport has no age limits, Mr. Wilson stressed.
“I played recently against an eight-year-old and an older man who was 90,” he said.
As a personal testimony to the health aspect of playing pickleball, Mr. Wilson said being introduced to the sport could have saved his life.
“When I retired from the Kennedy Space Center about two and one-half years ago, I weighed 300 pounds and suffered from diabetes and hypertension,” he recalled. “Since taking up pickleball, I have lost 60 pounds and brought down my sugar levels and have my blood pressure under control.”
Other benefits from the modest physical activity required to play pickleball, cited by the Sports & Fitness Industry, include an increased mood and overall improvement in mental health, burning calories in a recreational manner, working on balance and agility, toning muscles, increasing energy and reducing chronic diseases.
“But the best thing about pickleball is that it provides healthy socialization and physical activity at the same time,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s a great way to meet new people and be part of a community.”
Another benefit of playing pickleball is it encourages other physical activity.
“As I lost weight and gained more energy, I just felt like doing more, which kept my weight dropping. I felt like a much younger man,” he said.
One of the club’s goals is to encourage children and young people to take up the game.
“It’s an easy game to learn and a beginner can learn it right away,” Mr. Wilson said. “It’s the club’s goal is to teach kids the game, which they can enjoy the rest of their lives.”
Why is it called pickleball?
According to the U.S. Pickleball Association, real pickles are not associated with the sport’s name.
When organized in 1965, co-founder Joel Pritchard’s wife began calling the game pickleball because “the combination of different sports reminded her of the pickle boat oarsmen chosen from the 'leftovers' of other boat crews."
But, according to co-founder Barney McCallum, the sport was named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who would chase the ball and run off with it.”
Others claim both accounts may actually be true. In the early years, no official name was assigned to the game. However, a year or two after the game was invented, the Pritchards bought a cocker spaniel and named it Pickles. As the game progressed, an official name was needed and “pickleball” was it.
For more information, call (386) 402-6023.