Pucker up: The pickleball craze is on the upswing in the Yakima Valley (2024)

Are you a pickler? If so, you have discovered the official sport of the state of Washington!

Described as a hybrid mix of tennis, ping-pong and badminton, the game was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island by then-Washington Congressman Joel Pritchard and two friends. Pickleball allegedly came into being as they improvised what sports gear they could find to begin a game that everyone assembled could play. According to selkirk.com, the game may have been named for a co-inventor’s dog named Pickles — or it could have come from the term “pickle boat,” a craft with spare crew members from other boats.

In any case, pickleball has become one of the fastest growing sports in the nation, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. In Yakima, it is played from the Yakima Athletic Club to Franklin Park, the Yakima Tennis Club, Yakima Family YMCA, Yakima YMCA Aquatic Center and the Sozo Sports complex.

“It’s easy to pick up,” said Zahira Mendoza, as she practiced with friend Lilian Bravo recently at Franklin Park. Bravo explained that the two are tennis players, so they were able to bring those skills to the game.

“It’s not a super-high-intensity sport, but it gets you moving,” said Luis Calva, who was practicing on the next court with Bobby Plewniak. “I’m new to town,” added Plewniak, who moved here from Florida. Turning out for the game, “you meet wonderful people,” he said.

The equipment for pickleball is simple: a paddle that is larger than a ping-pong paddle but shorter than a tennis racket, and a plastic ball with holes. The number of holes in the ball might vary, as could the weight and hardness of the ball, depending on whether you play inside or outside.

Much like tennis, the basic goal is to serve and return the ball across a net.

“It’s a lot easier than tennis,” said Carrie Sattler, group fitness manager and director of pickleball at the Yakima Athletic Club. “There’s a smaller court, so you don’t need to cover so much ground.” The entire court is 44 feet long by 20 feet wide, she explained. This compares to a standard tennis court which may run 78-120 feet long by 36-60 feet wide.

About four years ago, there were only 10 to 12 people who came to play pickleball at the club, recalled owner Steve Pratt. Now, with a converted outdoor tennis court that accommodates four pickleball courts, there are some 85 enthusiasts who play, he said.

I have to admit that the experts lost me somewhere along the line as they explained about “dinks” (soft shots designed to land in a non-volley zone), the “kitchen” (section of the court next to the net from which you cannot volley) and as I read about “dill balls” (shots that bounce once on the other side of the net). However, like any other game, understanding pickleball is just a matter of time and practice, coaches and players assure.

“Really anyone at any age level or athletic ability can enjoy it,” notes the website, prevention.com, quoting author Erin McHugh. Individual players or teams stand on opposite ends of the court and hit the ball back and forth with a paddle. In serving, the ball must bounce beyond “the kitchen line” (or area right next to the net) before it is returned. The return also must bounce once. Then, players can volley the ball, either in the air or after a single bounce, McHugh explains.

Everyone I talked to seems to love the game.

“You can pick up a paddle, be playing and have fun immediately,” said Pratt, who had joined in a game with three other men.

“It gave me a sport back,” observed Mark Sobolik, on a break from playing at the Yakima Athletic Club. “It gave me a sport to play in my upper 60s.”

“I’ve never played a sport, but three weeks and I’m totally addicted,” agreed Esther Lanphier, 59, who was playing on an adjacent court. “It’s challenging — physically, mentally and socially, and there’s a really supportive environment.”

Pratt said one 84-year-old player has joined in the fun, and the club is also offering free clinics to attract youths.

“It can be a family sport,” Mendoza suggested.

“It feels like a nice, community sport,” Bravo added.

So, what was I to do in the midst of all of this enthusiasm? I went online and checked out the price of pickleball equipment. Paddles range from about $15 to $275 each, frequently offered in sets of two. I ordered a couple of economical paddles, deciding to take up the game myself.

So far, so good. However, I'm not sure you could call me a pickler just yet.

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Pucker up: The pickleball craze is on the upswing in the Yakima Valley (2024)
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