Pickleball’s prominence grows in Park City
Odds are, if you’re interested in sports, you’ve heard of pickleball. Or at least seen something about it. But pickleball enthusiasts in Park City say its popularity has boomed in the past few years. Players say people have flocked to the sport because it’s easy to learn, fun to play, and the community is great.
Kevin Chaidez, who organizes the Sunday round robin league at the Basin Recreation Fieldhouse, got into pickleball through his wife, Beverly Chaidez, and his sister.
“And I have to admit, I scoffed at first,” he said. “You know, ‘Pickleball? What is that?’”
Remi Smith, a local enthusiast and coach-in-training, said she had the same reaction when her mom started playing four years ago.
“I’m like, ‘Ok, that’s an older grandma thing.”
“And then …” she said.
But Kevin Chaidez cut her off: “And then, you know, I became addicted,” he said.
Kevin Priebe, internationally certified pickleball instructor and Park City resident, said he has watched the sport grow in Park City over the last four years from a 25-person informal group to an engaged pickleball community that swells to an estimated 350 players during the winter months.
For those who haven’t gotten the bug yet, here’s how it works: The game is an amalgam of tennis and pingpong, played with oversized pingpong paddles and a Wiffle ball instead of a tennis ball. Courts are half the size of tennis courts, with the first 7 feet in front of each side of the net partitioned as a volley-free zone called “the kitchen.” Serves are underhand, as are most returns. The strategy is to get both players on a team (if playing doubles) to move up from their starting positions at the baseline to the kitchen as soon as possible, thus putting the other team on the defensive through a barrage of volleys, much like the serve-and-volley tactic in tennis.
“Whereas tennis you’re farther back and you stay split,in pickleball (it’s) everyone up to the kitchen line, then you just battle it out,” Smith said.
It’s as intense as it sounds, with games quickly demonstrating their pingpong roots. But the dimensions of the court, tactics of the game and use of a Wiffle ball means it’s surprisingly forgiving on the players’ bodies: an underhand serve means no rotator cuff issues. Holding the kitchen means less stress on the knees from changing directions. A hollow ball means less impact on the elbow.
“Most people (who come out) are athletic,” Smith said. “They’ve played racquetball, tennis, golf, pingpong, badminton – those kinds of things – and they can’t do it anymore, but they can do this.”
As a result, pickleball is wildly popular with older people, and the courts are becoming commonplace in retirement communities around the country.
“I visited my parents in Pheonix where it’s huge,” Priebe said. “The age where they live in the community is 55-plus. They now have almost 1,300 (pickleball players) inside their gated community. Tennis? Two hundred and fifty playing tennis. So pickleball has totally taken over.”
The players unanimously said the community was the best part about the game.
“It’s so social,” Smith said. “The games are about 10 minutes long and a lot of times you switch partners. And you’re so close; you’re 14 feet from one line to the other and you’re up here battling it out. It’s fun.”
Smith and Priebe said the game has spread across the U.S., making the community broader than ever, which means they can play while traveling.
“You can take your paddle anywhere in the U.S. and show up, show your paddle and assimilate into the game, and off you’re playing,” Chaidez said.
Smith estimated that she has played pickleball at 40 different venues this year, and the spirit of the game is the same everywhere.
It’s also relatively simple to play. Chaidez said unlike other sports, players don’t have to spend months or years practicing before they can play a decent game.
“You can quickly be rallying and having fun,” he said. “And she’s fabulous,” he said pointing at Smith. “She’s played a little over a year and you wouldn’t believe it. Some sports – golf, tennis – it seems like forever you’re in that learning stage.”
Kevin, Kevin and Smith all said they hope to see pickleball become more mainstream in Park City, and said additional allotted time at venues and pickleball lessons would help the community grow.
“We have professional instructors; we have a community that’s interested – it’s kind of like it’s bubbling but it doesn’t want to boil,” Kevin Chaidez said.
One of the reasons it’s not yet boiling, he said, is because increasing availability at venues like the PC MARC and Basin Recreation Fieldhouse usually means taking hours away from other programming and tennis in particular.
Jessica Moran, recreation and marketing supervisor at the PC MARC, said the organization is doing its best to accommodate pickleball play, the demand for which has grown quickly. Sydney Bull, recreation and aquatics director at Basin Recreation said for now, Basin Rec’s mission is to provide a venue and help build the community through sports, and pickleball is a part of that, though Basin Rec must also serve other sports.
Chaidez and others still would like to see more.
“People say tennis makes more money, but that’s because it’s been here for 10 years,” Chaidez said. “You have to invest in the sport of the future.”
The Park City High School softball team is winning, and that’s news. It’s been close to a decade since they recorded a winning season.