Pickleball on the rise

Victorian champion Aaron Blitz has fallen in love with pickleball. 239913 Pictures: SUPPLIED

By David Nagel

A sport named after a family pet more than 50 years ago is now catching on in Victoria with Pickleball enjoying an exploding popularity around the world.

Pickleball combines elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis and is played on a court

the same size as a double’s badminton court – measuring 20 by 44 feet.

In the centre the net is two inches lower than a tennis net, with players using a paddle and a combination of touch, tactics and skill to manoeuvre a plastic ball full of holes to all parts of the court.

Pickleball Victoria Secretary, and state champion, Aaron Blitz said the unique nature of the sport was seeing it boom in popularity. Millions are playing pickleball in the US, with the Pearcedale Tennis Club the home of the sport in Victoria.

Blitz said people of all ages can enjoy the unique challenge of the sport.

“The great thing about pickleball is that two 60-year-olds can compete with two 20-year-olds,” Blitz said.

“There’s some power involved but it’s mainly a game of skill, touch and tactics. We have people playing that have played high-end sport in the past, but also some really enthusiastic players that have never picked up a bat or racquet in their life.

“It’s great fun and far less demanding on the body than playing tennis – me and many others are falling in love with the sport.

“I’m 24, and there is a player who is 82…anybody can play.”

The origins of pickleball date back to 1965 when congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell returned to Pritchard’s home, near Seattle, after a game of golf.

The pair found their families sitting around doing nothing, so grabbed some table-tennis bats, a perforated plastic ball and began improvising on the families disused badminton court.

Barney McCallum was soon introduced to the game and the three men created rules, relying heavily on badminton.

They always kept in mind the original purpose, which was to provide a game that the whole family could play together.

According to McCallum, the game was officially named after the Pritchard’s’ dog Pickles who would chase the ball and run away with it.

Blitz said the dimensions of the court made pickleball an attractive option to mainstream sports.

“At Pearcedale we can fit six pickleball courts on one tennis court, and places like retirement villages are building pickleball courts to maximise participation,” Blitz said.

“The sport has been hugely popular in places like the US, Canada and Asia, but has really taken off in Australia over the last five or 10 years.

“It’s huge in Queensland, where they have 1200 members, and also in New South Wales. It’s a great game for retirees in those states, but we’re ramping things up in Victoria.”

More than 28,000 fans attended the 2019 USA Pickleball National Championships and participation reached 3.3 million that year.

Pickleball is in the process of building a structure and fixture – in Victoria and Australia – that will keep everyone from beginners to experts, challenged and engaged in the sport.

Approximately 30 players – of all levels – take to the Pearcedale courts each Wednesday for a social hit, while elite level tournaments are open to those looking to take their game to the next level.

Blitz finished runner-up, in both singles and doubles, in the national championships held in Brisbane in 2019.

“Technically I’m the Australian champion because the guy who beat me was an American who owns his own pickleball company back home,” Blitz said with a laugh.

“And Matt (Monty) and I lost to the American guy and his son, so we’re the unofficial doubles champions as well.”

The schedule is rapidly building in pickleball, with Pearcedale already hosting two Victorian Opens, with Ballarat hosting a state selection tournament, and a Battle of the Border was pencilled in for the upcoming Queen’s Birthday long-weekend.

Teams of 10 men and 10 women from both states were set to meet in Wangaratta before the recent Covid-outbreak brought a halt to proceedings.

There are also plans for an inter-club competition in the not-too-distant future with clubs from Ballarat, Hampton, Maroondah, Wangaratta and Warrnambool also experiencing some impressive growth.

Those looking for more information on the sport can contact Aaron Blitz via email at hello@pickleballvictoria.org or go to the South East Melbourne Pickleball Facebook page.