On a rainy Saturday morning, we pull into the parking lot of Commonwealth Pool in Saanich, excited to try North America’s fastest-growing sport.
It’s called pickleball and it was invented not far from Victoria on Bainbridge Island in Washington state more than 50 years ago. For much of that time, few people had heard of the game with a funny name, but in the last few years it’s exploded in popularity.
“It’s become hugely popular,” says Andy Vixaysouk, who organizes the Saturday morning pickleball drop-in clinic at Commonwealth.
“We’ve had more than 1,000 people come and try it, and they all say they love it because it’s easy to pick up and it’s lots of fun.”
My 71-year-old mom, Dee, is one of them. An avid badminton player, she discovered pickleball a few years ago and hasn’t looked back. My mom now plays pickleball competitively and it’s at her urging that my boys and I are trying the sport that’s a combination of badminton, tennis and table tennis.
Handing us each a small paddle and a wiffle ball, Andy lines us up against the wall of the gym for the warm-up. Much like the tennis drills I remember as a kid, the goal is to hit the ball back and forth against the wall as many times as you can.
“Pickleball is all about control,” Andy explains, as he teaches us the basic skills. “You want to keep the ball low, around waist height, with nice easy strokes.”
At first, we’re scrambling after the balls, but it doesn’t take long to get the hang of it. Laughing as we get more daring and try to hit balls to each other, it’s clear everyone is having fun and we haven’t even started the game, which is played on a badminton court with a net and rules similar to tennis.
“It’s easier than tennis but it can be very intense, depending on what level you’re at,” says Andy. “It’s really good exercise and it’s better than medicine – that’s why people get addicted to it.”
As we start to play our first game, it’s easy to see why so many outdoor tennis courts are now being converted to pickleball courts. You’re not running around a large court, which is why millions of people from age five to 95 are now playing pickleball all over the world. It’s even being taught in schools on the West Coast.
After facing off against different partners of varying abilities in mixed doubles, we’ve won some games and we’ve lost some. But we’ve all had a blast – and we’ve gotten a great workout.
“So what did you think?” my mom asks.
“We love it!” they both shout, and my younger son, Tate, just has one question:
“Can we come back next week?”
The full list of where to play (indoors and outdoors) in Greater Victoria is at: victoriapickleball.org.
The Commonwealth Clinic runs 8:30-10 a.m. Saturdays year-round and is just $3.