By Nat Wexler | Photo by Holly Leitner
It’s not quite tennis, it’s not quite ping pong, it’s not quite badminton — pickleball is best described as a clever blend of the three. And in the past several years, this sport, friendly to hobbyists and committed athletes alike, has swept the nation. Tennis courts that had fallen into disuse have suddenly received new life with the addition of painted pickleball court lines. Nationally, experts estimate that more than 5 million people now play the sport, a number that has doubled in about five years. And pickleball’s popularity shows no sign of slowing down.
Although it may seem like pickleball fascinated the country nearly overnight, the sport has been around since 1965. It was invented by two dads on Bainbridge Island in Washington state, to entertain their families. There are a few different theories about how the game got its name. The first theory claims that one of the families that invented pickleball named the sport after their dog, Pickles. Another says the game got its name from “pickle boat,” a rowing term used to describe a hodgepodge team of oarsmen left over from other boats. Regardless of the origin of the funny name, today, pickleball has become one of the fastest-growing sports in the United States.
One reason pickleball gained popularity during the pandemic is because of the size of the court. Pickleball courts are roughly one-fourth the size of a standard tennis court. During COVID restrictions, this allowed players to stay physically distanced while still socializing: due to the court size, it is much easier to carry on a conversation on a pickleball court than on a tennis court. Pickleball can even be played in a driveway, due to the court’s compact size. Additionally, the sport is accessible to people of all ages, including many who enjoyed tennis when they were younger but find it too taxing now. Then there’s the low bar for entry: for beginners, the game can easily be learned in about an hour.
Following these national trends, pickleball has seen a surge of interest in the Geneva Lake area. Here’s everything you need to know to get out on a local pickleball court:
Pickleball equipment can usually be purchased at any store that sells sporting goods. Some facilities will also have balls and paddles available for rent. To play pickleball, an individual will need the following:
- Paddle. A pickleball paddle is a smooth rectangle with a handle at the end. It is reminiscent of both a tennis racket and a table tennis paddle.
- Ball. The first ball used in pickleball was a Wiffle ball, and the current ball loosely resembles it. A regulation ball is made out of hard plastic with circular holes cut out of it. Balls with smaller holes are typically used for outdoor games, so that wind will have less impact on gameplay.
- Net. A pickleball net is roughly three feet tall and is placed in the center of the court to divide the two sides, similar to a tennis net.
- Athletic clothing and shoes. To maximize mobility, it is recommended that players wear clothing and shoes that allow freedom of movement.
HOW TO PLAY
There are a lot of similarities between tennis and pickleball when it comes to the rules of the game. Like tennis, pickleball can be played either singles or doubles. To start the game, a player serves the ball underhand from their own baseline to the box on their opponent’s side, diagonal from them. If the ball bounces twice on a player’s side, the other side gets the point. The area of the court closest to either side of the net is known as “the kitchen,” and players cannot volley from this area. Games are typically played to 11 points, however, a game needs to be won by 2 points. Unlike tennis, pickleball is not a sport of strength — many beginners make the mistake of hitting the ball as hard as possible.
WHERE TO PLAY
Locally, there are several places to play pickleball. Many of the public tennis courts in Lake Geneva and Fontana are striped with pickleball lines: approximately four pickleball courts can fit onto one tennis court. Some of the best places to play pickleball in the area include:
Lake Geneva Tennis (630 Veterans Parkway, Lake Geneva) offers the most robust pickleball program in the area, with various opportunities for people of all ages to engage with the sport. LGT offers private lessons for individuals or groups, open play, courts for rent, skill-building drills and special pickleball events. The center also offers pickleball memberships, which allow a player the most access to the program. Guest passes can be purchased as well. For more information about a pickleball membership and to see the schedule, call (262) 812-0033 or visit lakegenevatennis.com.
The Big Foot Recreation District offers a drop-in pickleball league for players of all ability levels aged 16 and older. Depending on the weather, games either take place in the gym at Big Foot High School or on the school’s outdoor courts (401 Devils Lane, Walworth). Players can bring their own paddles or can borrow one. Residents must have a Big Foot Fitness Center ID to participate; non-residents will need a “Pickleball Only” ID. Check the website bigfootrecreation.org/pages/ActivitiesCalendar for specific days and times.
Grand Geneva Resort & Spa in Lake Geneva (7036 Grand Geneva Way, Lake Geneva) offers two outdoor pickleball courts. Paddles and balls are available. The courts are lighted so players can also play during the evening hours. Grand Geneva offers open-play pickleball for players of all skill levels. Reservations must be made in advance. Call the Grand Geneva Fitness Center at (262) 249- 4750 to make a reservation or visit their website at grandgeneva.com/fitness/activities.