Pickleball: The Social Sport Defying Gravity Replacing A Tennis Court Near You
37 million+ Americans playing on 35K courts.
If it weren’t truly 100% a ‘pick-up’ sport, so user-friendly, so fun and so available to the masses, it would be easy to neatly categorize Pickleball as the “it” sport of the moment, with the hyped-up but limited shelf life of Pokemon GO. But not so fast, folks. This sport - despite bearing a name that gives nails-on-a-chalkboard vibes to anyone with an ounce of athleticism in their blood – is the fastest growing sport in the U.S., with estimates ranging widely from 5-37 million Americans playing across 10,000 USA Pickleball-registered facilities, which doesn’t include makeshift courts popping-up on driveways and cul-de-sacs from Sacramento to Sarasota. (DIY tactic can be found in this writer’s backyard where, during a quick 10-minute trip to-and-from the local Starbucks, her husband, as if by immaculate conception, transformed their backyard basketball court to Pickleball Central using an all-in-one kit he bought for less than $100 on Amazon.)
Last weekend theTUNDRA ventured beyond its LA offices to the Coachella Valley Grand Prix Pickleball Tournament at PGA West, the legendary golf club in La Quinta, California. Within the first five minutes of joining the crowd at this otherwise exclusive resort country club, you begin to understand why Pickleball is resonating with so many so quickly. Simply put: It’s fun. It’s competitive. It’s loud. It’s kind of all that – and more for reasons psychologists will spend the next 10 years exploring. But most importantly, it’s a shared experience that goes beyond the game. Everyone fits in here, where Pickleball is – regardless of skill level and demographic – not just in a gracious, welcoming way like you’re being greeted at the front door of a party you are attending as the guest of the invitee, but from the minute you arrive you’re part of the sport. Let’s face it: as a society we were isolated before COVID – communicating via screens fed a too-convenient predisposition to connect with one another digitally v. physically. As Elon Musk said at the 2016 Code Conference: “We’re already a cyborg,” he declared in no uncertain terms. “You have a digital version of yourself, a partial version of yourself online in the form of your emails, your social media and all the things that you do.” COVID just exacerbated that isolation – it didn’t create it.
If last weekend’s Coachella Valley Grand Prix Pickleball Tournament is a barometer of why this sport with such a peculiar name is surging as a record-setting cultural phenomena, then Pickleball may have the power to positively evolve social culture beyond the screens we’ve become too comfortable living behind.
Below are a few moments from last weekend’s Coachella Tournament – we usually have more photos from events we cover, but we got too caught-up living the experience to capture it digitally. (Damn, we’re woke – thanks to Pickleball…)
In the end, perhaps a sport that doesn’t take its working title too seriously gives newbies like us the confidence and comfort to give it a go, regardless of how uncertain we may feel venturing into the physical world again. Here are a few snapshots of what that looks like, set against the undeniable desert beauty of Coachella Valley.
(Stay-tuned for TUNDRA’s Coachella Tournament video coverage later this week.)