Nova Scotia

Pickleball's popularity proliferates provincewide

Pickleball has been called the fastest growing sport in North America. But don't let its quirky name fool you: it's a serious sport that a rising number of Nova Scotians are picking up.

Sport combines elements tennis, table tennis and badminton

A number of people play pickleball on courts in Arisaig, N.S. (Submitted by Pat Morrison)

Like many pickleball players before him, Pat Morrison's interest in the sport was sparked by asking a simple question: "What's that?"

As he sat in a Halifax-area café sipping coffee with a friend eight years ago, he was told about a game that combines elements of tennis, table tennis and badminton.

A few days later, he played for the first time.

"The next day I was at the sporting goods store buying my first paddle," said Morrison, 64, now the vice-president of Pickleball Nova Scotia. "And the rest is history."

Pickleball has been called the fastest growing sport in North America. But don't let its quirky name fool you: it's a serious sport that a rising number of Nova Scotians are picking up.

And if you've ever felt the satisfaction of acing a serve or dinking the whiffle-like ball into the opposing team's "kitchen" — the non-volley zone at the front of the court — you likely already know why the sport is so addictive.

A group plays pickleball on a home court in Hammonds Plains, N.S. (Aly Thomson/CBC)

Morrison said Pickleball Nova Scotia had around 200 registered members just three years ago. That has swelled to nearly 900 this year.

But the actual number of players in the province is likely much higher, given not everyone is a registered member, he said.

Dedicated pickleball courts — similar in size to a badminton court — have been popping up across the province, as communities establish their own clubs and organizations.

Lines have also been painted on existing tennis courts, although Morrison concedes the sport's popularity is surpassing that of tennis in some areas, so much so that some are being permanently converted into pickleball courts.

The craze even drove one resident of Hammonds Plains, N.S., to build a regulation pickleball court in their own backyard.

Part of sport's appeal is its broad accessibility, said Morrison. It's low impact, fairly simple to learn, requires minimal gear, and it is welcoming to players of all skill levels.

Pickleball has been called North America's fastest growing sport and is especially popular among the 55-and-over crowd. (Submitted by Pat Morrison)

Because of this, the vast majority of pickleball players — sometimes referred to as "picklers" — are over the age of 55. 

"It's a very social game, and I think that is really one of the things that drives the older players to the sport, because it opens up a brand new community of friends and even family," said Morrison, adding that his organization includes people in their nineties.

"It's something that is great for the mental health and well-being of the aging population."

Although the paddle sport is fairly new to many in the province, its history dates back more than half a century to 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. They improvised and started playing with Ping-Pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. 

Winter travellers picked up paddles in U.S.

Many Nova Scotian seniors were introduced to the sport while travelling to warmer southern states during the winter months, said Morrison.

Ian MacDonald is one of those snowbirds.

He picked up the sport in Florida in 2016 and brought it back to his home community of Arisaig, N.S., a village of roughly 300 people nestled on the Northumberland Strait.

The community now regularly attracts more than 100 picklers from across Antigonish County to its two-year-old outdoor pickleball park and indoor court inside the community centre.

Although it's especially popular among the area's older demographic, it's a sport that brings people of all ages and all walks of life together, said MacDonald.

"We see grandkids going out to play with their grandparents. That's not usual at all," said the 68-year-old man, who retired six years ago after working as a petroleum engineer overseas.

Pickleball piquing the interest of youth

Morrison said younger Nova Scotians have shown increasing interest in competing in tournaments across the country in recent years, as they are introduced to the sport and see the potential to play at the professional level.

He agreed it's not uncommon to see people of similar skill levels playing each other, despite age gaps of sometimes several decades.

"There are a lot of people who will get out and play with family members that may not have had many things in common in the past," he said. "It's a way of bringing together many age groups to share stories and share good times."

Morrison predicts the pace at which pickleball is growing will not soon slow down.

"We're seeing both natural growth of the sport, as well as a push being created by the organized clubs that is going to be driven into a younger demographic over time," said Morrison.

"It's no longer being seen only as an old person's sport."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aly Thomson

Reporter/Editor

Aly Thomson is an award-winning journalist based in Halifax who loves helping the people of her home province tell their stories. She is particularly interested in issues surrounding justice, education and the entertainment industry. You can email her with tips and feedback at aly.thomson@cbc.ca.

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