Pickleball: The Hot New Sport Sizzling Across Australia

Pickleball, America's fastest-growing sport, has been embraced by celebrities like Bill Gates and Murray Bartlett from the TV show White Lotus. Nick Kyrgios, Naomi Osaka, Kim Clijsters, and LeBron James had all become part-owners of pickleball clubs and invested in the major league.

Here in Australia, the sport is gaining traction like wildfire.

Where did the hype come from?

So, what exactly is pickleball? How did a game invented in the 1960s by three fathers gain popularity in Australia? And how do you win?

In the summer of 1965, businessman Joel Pritchard, later a US congressman, invited his friend Bill Bell to his summer home on Bainbridge Island, Washington. When they returned from a game of golf, Pritchard's sulking 13-year-old son caught their attention.

"I was complaining to my dad that there was nothing to do on Bainbridge," recalled Frank Pritchard, Joel's son, in an interview with Pickleball Magazine. "He mentioned that when he was a kid, they used to invent games."

Frank cheekily responded, "Oh, really? Then why don't you go make up a game?"

Thus, they took to the backyard badminton court armed with two ping-pong paddles, a perforated plastic ball borrowed from Frank's baseball practice set, and a spirit of inventiveness. They enlisted the help of their neighbour, Barney McCallum, who later played a crucial role in developing the game's rules and equipment, to create larger paddles.

What does Modern Day Pickleball look like?

Often described as a fusion of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, pickleball is also a game of strategy akin to chess. 

  • Players aim to stay two or three shots ahead of their opponents, employing strategic manoeuvres
  • The game also incorporates elements of cricket, particularly the banter. 
  • Played on a hard court roughly one-fourth the size of a tennis court, pickleball is typically contested in doubles but also includes singles matches.

The International Federation of Pickleball now boasts over 60 member nations, including India, Germany, Sweden, and Peru. Based in Arizona, the federation has established liaison offices in several cities in China and aims to have pickleball recognized as an Olympic sport. 

In Brisbane, Jen Ramamurthy, director of the Pickleball Australia Association, discovered the sport in 2018 after watching a segment on TV. "When I started, there were only about 10 people playing in Brisbane," she recalls. "Within that year, the numbers grew to thousands."

The Australian Surge in Pickleball Popularity

Established in 2020, the Pickleball Australia Association has witnessed membership surge to 4,000 within two years. 

Currently, between 12,000 and 15,000 people now play pickleball in Australia, with 70 clubs and associations spread across the country. 

Like any addictive pursuit, pickleball is easy to pick up. Newcomers can engage in competitive play, whilst fostering a more intimate and social environment compared to tennis, as players are physically closer and families can participate together. 

Among Australian states, Queensland has emerged as the mecca of pickleball, with an overwhelming demand for the sport.

"In Queensland, we're not promoting it because we can't cater to the number of people who want to play," Ramamurthy reveals. Hutchinson faces a similar predicament on Sydney's northern beaches, with his introductory classes booked out six weeks in advance. 

He remarks, "It's about to get out of hand. You'll find a lot of people call us, get into it, and become completely obsessed—the pickleball obsession syndrome." Hutchinson himself stumbled upon the sport just before the COVID-19 pandemic when he spotted a group playing with a peculiar yellow ball.

The Celebrity Pulse 

The game's popularity has been further fueled by celebrity endorsements. 

In July 2022, tech magnate Bill Gates revealed his long-standing love for pickleball, even predating his founding of Microsoft. Talk-show host Ellen DeGeneres launched a line of pickleball paddles with a gorilla theme a month later.

In November, The Late Show with Stephen Colbert hosted a star-studded pickleball tournament featuring pop star Kelly Rowland, actor Emma Watson, and Australian White Lotus star Murray Bartlett.

The involvement of celebrities has only enhanced the game's public relations. 

Basketballer LeBron James and tennis player Kim Clijsters have invested in Major League Pickleball teams, which debuted in 2021. Nick Kyrgios joined forces with Naomi Osaka and Patrick Mahomes to become part-owners of the Miami Pickleball Club. 

So where does Laneway Paddle Co come in?

As pickleball continues to captivate enthusiasts worldwide, Laneway Paddle Co, an Australian luxury paddle brand, is proud to cater to the growing pickleball community. 

With our exceptional selection of high-quality paddles, we aim to enhance the pickleball experience for players of all skill levels. 

Visit our website to explore our premium collection of paddles and elevate your pickleball game with Laneway Paddle Co.

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