New Brunswick

Pickleball craze grows in N.B. — even though many people haven't heard of it

Pickleball, known to many as the sport with the weird name, is a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton. It's also played on a badminton court. 

'I'm absolutely, totally addicted to it,' says president of the Fredericton Pickleball Club

Pickleball is one of New Brunswick's fastest-growing sports. But what's the big deal? (Maria Burgos/CBC)

When Karle Scott wins a point on the pickleball court, he lightly taps his partner's paddle with his. 

Scott is turning 80 this summer. But when he scurries up and down the court chasing after a bright orange ball — you'd never know it. 

"It gives me a reason to get up in the morning," he said, while taking a break from playing at the Currie Center in Fredericton.

"I look forward to it every day."

When he was younger, Scott often played hockey, baseball and badminton.

About three years ago, the Fredericton man was looking for an activity to help him stay in shape. 

"I was thinking about tennis but realized I was probably too old to do so."

Then someone suggested pickleball — a sport he had never heard of.

So he checked it out online.

Karle Scott, 79, has been playing pickleball for the past three years to keep in shape and meet new people. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

"I've been playing ever since," said the former principal of Nackawic High School.

The sport gives him the exercise he needs four times a week and helps him meet new people. 

He's hoping to play pickleball for as long as he can.

"I would hate to think when I get up in the morning that I couldn't do something, particularly pickleball, because I really enjoy it."

But pickleball isn't new.

The sport has been around for more than 50 years, but it only started growing across the province five years ago. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

In fact, it's been around for more than 50 years. But the sport has been gaining popularity in New Brunswick over the past five years. Back then, there were about 20 members of the Fredericton Pickleball Club. That number has jumped to more than 200.

The sport is especially popular among people between 55 and 75 years old. 

Darcy McKillop, executive director of Sport NB, said pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the province. 

So many people have been signing up for the sport that some cities are building outdoor courts designed specifically for pickleball. 

How it works

Pickleball, also known to many as the sport with the weird name, is a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton. It's also played on a badminton court. 

Most people play doubles at different schools and churches in Fredericton. There aren't enough courts to play singles because there's so much demand to play across the region.

Pickleball is played with a paddle and plastic three-inch balls with holes.

Rick Brown, 71 , plays pickleball two or three times a week. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Rick Brown, 71 , was looking for a new sport to play in Fredericton after he stopped playing volleyball.

"It was getting a little too competitive for me," he said.

Brown started playing pickleball three years ago, after a friend suggested the sport.

"There's no pressure, everybody's here to have fun."

Alden Briggs, president of the Fredericton Pickleball Club, has been playing for almost four years.

Pickleball enthusiasts were playing the sport at the Currie Center in Fredericton last Thursday morning. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

He and his wife, Dawna, were introduced to pickleball at a retirement community in Florida, where they visit over the winter.

Now, they play almost everyday. 

"I'm absolutely, totally addicted to it."

How pickleball got its weird name 

Briggs, who retired from NB Power in 2015, said the social aspect of the sport is very strong and it's also easy to learn or as competitive as a person wants..

"It's not like golf … it takes months and months and years and years to get better, to really start to enjoy golf," said the 63-year-old.

"You don't have to be an athlete to play [pickleball]."

About 1,000 players belong to Pickleball New Brunswick. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

Many people believe the name came from the founder Joel Pritchard's golden retriever, Pickles. But the name actually came from Pritchard's wife, who was reminded of the pickle boat crews who were assembled from the leftover oarsmen of other fishing boats. 

Similarly, pickleball was put together from three other racquet sports. 

A healthier society 

Briggs believes the more people who play the sport, the more it will improve New Brunswick's health-care system.

The sport is easy on the joints, increases longevity and people are happier.

Some pickleball players describe the sport as an addiction. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

"People are healthier and that has to translate into a reduction in health-care costs," he said. 

Although the sport took off in what Briggs calls the "geriatric age group," he said it is appealing to everyone.

And it's being introduced in schools across North America.

The sport is a combination of tennis, ping pong and badminton. (Maria Burgos/CBC)

He's hopeful this will create a happier and healthier society. 

"Once you get over the name and you realize all the benefits there are to pickleball … it's going to change the world."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Elizabeth Fraser

Reporter/Editor

Elizabeth Fraser is a reporter/editor with CBC New Brunswick based in Fredericton. She's originally from Manitoba. Story tip? elizabeth.fraser@cbc.ca

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