Pickleball's Nationally Growing Popularity Is Hitting The Roaring Fork Valley Too
There’s no smashing in the kitchen—that’s the first rule of pickleball. There are five other rules, but the requirement that the ball bounce in the nonvolley zone, a 7-foot area on each side of the net known as “the kitchen,” is the one that makes pickleball a game of skill and strategy famous for protracted rallies punctuated by shots known as “dinks.”
Invented in 1966 by three enterprising fathers looking to entertain their kids during the summer on Bainbridge Island, Wash., pickleball is now surging in popularity nationwide. The sport is a mashup of tennis, badminton and table tennis, played with solid paddles and a perforated polymer ball—think larger whiffle ball—on a modified badminton court. The close quarters of the court lead to fast-paced points requiring excellent hand-eye coordination, and team communication when playing doubles. It also means that there is less running than in tennis, making it easier on the joints and thus attractive to people 55 years and older, who make up 75 percent of the pickleball playing population, according to the US Pickleball Association.
Deemed one of the fastest-growing sports in America by the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, pickleball is also on the rise among younger generations and, interestingly, professional athletes in other sports. PGA pros Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson are all avid players, as is hometown Olympic silver medalist Alex Ferreira, who picked it up in gym class his freshman year at Aspen High School. “It’s my favorite sport ever,” the Superpipe specialist says. “The summer after next, I’m going to start competing—that’s where I see myself. The future is in pickleball.”
There are many opportunities for interested players to try the game in the valley, with courts and open play offered Saturdays at Aspen Elementary School and daily at the Aspen Recreation Center, Snowmass Club and Snowmass Recreation Center. Pickleball is a social sport and the community is growing. “We went from six players to over 120 players in three years,” says Pickleball Aspen’s Sam Louras, who co-founded the group alongside retired Aspen firefighter Ron Baar. She also serves as the Aspen ambassador to the USA Pickleball Association. “There are more people who want to play than there are available courts,” she adds. Luckily, that demand is in the process of being met. The town of Carbondale is in the midst of fundraising for six new courts that recently won approval, and the City of Aspen expects to see additional courts added to the ARC by 2020.