What Is Pickleball and Why Is It So Popular?

Pickleball is trending (understatement). So, why is it suddenly the fastest-growing sport in America?

Just as bacon “took over the world” in 2013, pickleball became the sport of the summer this past year. Everyone from Michael Phelps to Leonardo DiCaprio to fitness influencers to families took up the game—which saw a sudden spike in popularity during the pandemic, when more than a million Americans started playing. 

Not just a great way to get exercise (though a fun one), pickleball—a cross between tennis, badminton and pingpong that’s played with paddles and a Wiffle-like ball—became an obsession. Read: a trend that nearly 4.8 million people have joined in on. The New Yorker even went so far as to question whether pickleball could “save America.” (Pause for consideration. Meh, we’ll go with a bit of an exaggeration. But the sport does unite people from all walks of life across the nation, so there’s that.) 

At the competitive level, the game boasts two national championships: the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships and the Professional Pickleball Association Tour, launched in 2018 and recently acquired by the owner of the Canes (!). And it soon could be played in the Olympics. Getting in on the action locally, Raleigh’s Seven Oaks Swim & Racquet Club is hosting its first-annual Pickleball Jamboree on Saturday, Aug. 13, to benefit the Ronald McDonald House of Durham & Wake, a tournament open to all levels. If the actual tourney doesn’t sound like a racquet to you, there’s an afterparty with Gonza Tacos Food Truck, beer and live music (um, let’s rally!).

So… what’s the deal? Founded over 55 years ago (by three middle-aged dads—fun fact!), pickleball’s spike in popularity is a credit to its accessibility—anyone can play, no matter their age, station, etc. The smaller court also allows players to maintain convo during play. NTM, it’s easy to learn and puts less strain on your body than, say, tennis—and who doesn’t love a light yet effective workout?!

Needless to say, pickleball is a pretty big dill (s/o to the Holderness family for their supercatchy “Pickleball Song” that you should absolutely blast while on the court) and isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. If you haven’t already, now’s as good a time as any to jump in on the trend. Just remember to dink responsibly—and don’t get smashed. 

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About the Author

Angela Brown
Angela Brown is the author of our Business & Economy section.