Pickleball is one of Canada's fastest-growing sports. But the paddle and ball can make a racket
Some residents who live near pickleball courts have grown sour on the burgeoning sport
Pickleball has been a blessing for some during the COVID-19 pandemic, offering up exercise, fresh air, and a chance to socialize outdoors.
But for some who live near pickleball courts, the cacophony that comes with the burgeoning sport can be a curse.
Many pickleballers play their sport on reconfigured outdoor tennis courts. The sport has ties to tennis, but uses a paddle instead of a racket, and a hard ball instead of a fuzzy tennis ball. The results can be noisy.
Connie Ball, who lives near pickleball courts in Blue Mountain Park in Coquitlam, B.C., has been fighting against the sound for 18 months.
"You can't go down for a nap," she said of the noise. "It's just invading. It goes right into our home."
The courts in Blue Mountain Park were repurposed in 2020 for pickleball, but after noise complaints from Ball and other neighbours, the city limited play to the hours of 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., with a one-hour break at noon.
The battle for court space is playing out across the region.
Organizers like Erin Davidson of the PoCoMo Pickleball Club are trying to find a balance.
"Noise, land value, and land availability need to be taken into consideration," Davidson said.
After months of planning, the Vancouver Park Board and the Vancouver Pickleball Association recently announced they will turn several tennis courts into pop-up pickleball courts, although no timeline has been given.
George Harvie, the mayor of Delta, B.C., has written a letter to pickleball officials voicing support for the sport, but also asking them to consider altering equipment to reduce noise.
"It can be quite annoying," Harvie said. "It's like a perpetual aluminum bat hitting a baseball," he said.
But the president of the Vancouver Pickleball Association argues that using a softer ball would change the nature of the sport.
"It would be equivalent to making hockey players use sponge pucks," Greg Feehan said.
Feehan said he is sympathetic to noise complaints, noting that in addition to the sound of paddles hitting balls, pickleball is a "very boisterous" sport filled with chatter between players.
Noise complaints, he argues, highlight the need for better facilities for a sport that has grown faster than anyone anticipated.
Pickleball continues to grow
The sport dates back more than half a century to its beginnings in Washington state.
After playing golf one summer day in 1965, congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell returned home to Bainbridge Island, Wash., to find their families sitting around with nothing to do, according to USA Pickleball.
The property had an old badminton court. Pritchard and Bell searched for badminton equipment, but couldn't find a full set of rackets, so they improvised and started playing with Ping-Pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball.
From its modest roots, the sport's popularity has surged in recent years. The pandemic has prompted even more people to pick up a paddle.
Karen Rust, president of Pickleball Canada, says a recent Ipsos survey indicates there are around 900,000 households in Canada playing the sport, up from an estimated 350,000 two years ago.
Steve Deakin, who competes in pro-level tournaments and is Canada's top-ranked doubles player, says pickleball has broad appeal among people of all ages and abilities.
"With pickleball, I find I can get four beginners on a court that haven't even touched a paddle, and have them playing within five to 10 minutes," Deakin said.
With files from Dan Burritt and Aly Thomson