See for yourself why pickleball is so popular

When I turned 65-years-old, I stopped playing pickup basketball at the local high school here in Homer. I was just getting too beaten up. Not by the 20 and 30-something youngsters I was playing with, but by my failing body parts.

I had heard about "pickleball," but the name sounded goofy and "not my style". I can't remember who made me come watch, but the first time I saw a game played I understood that this was going to be my next sports addiction. I realized that I could bring into this simple game the wisdom of my aging athletic brain, the foot skills I had from years of playing tennis in my teens, and the hand/eye coordination I had learned in playing countless games of ping-pong in college. Plus, nobody was going to knock me down.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 by Joel Pritchard, a congressman from Washington state and Bill Bell, a local businessman, at Pritchard's home on Bainbridge Island, Wash. By 1990 pickleball was being played in all 50 states. In 2005, the USA Pickleball Association was established. And in the U.S. it's now estimated that about 3.3 million people play pickleball. That's 1% of the country!

This first column is going to introduce you to the basics of the game and help you find someplace to play or, at least, go watch. Or Google "pickleball" and see any number of tutoring videos and game action.

A pickleball court, at 44 feet long is 66% shorter than a tennis court. And at a mere 20 feet wide, playing doubles (which people of a certain age like to do) makes the effort needed to move to the ball much easier. I like to tell newcomers that "you can work as hard as you want to in this game". Meaning, you can designate yourself to chase down lobs, or lunge for the ball when needed. Or not.

But, that said, one of the main reasons I've discovered for playing the game is that it is a highly social gathering, where all players are welcome to play with others, no matter their skill level (players can be rated from a 1 to 5 proficiency). It's true, that players in the 3.5 to 4.5 skill set level like to play against one another (playing against a better player only makes you better), but generally, an established group will welcome new players.

My wife and I have met a more diverse set of people, and made lasting friendships from being involved in this great game. We really love that aspect of it.

Another difference in pickleball: Unlike tennis, where you can volley from anywhere, in pickleball a non-volley zone extends 7 feet back from the net on each side, commonly called "the kitchen". Players move to the kitchen when they can to start a "dinking game", which is soft back-and-forth drop shots to one another to try to move their opponent out of position for a winning shot. The game can speed up and slow down very quickly at this point, and I've found eye/hand coordination improves over time. The regulation ball is a form of Wiffle ball – a hard plastic with holes in it – and doesn't sting a lot when you get "tagged" by mistake.

Paddles are specific to the game but look like oversized ping-pong paddles and can range in price from $35 to almost $200.

Scoring happens only when the serving team wins a point. Games are generally played to 11 points. Each side's players get one service each (not two serves like in tennis) and when a side uses its serves, play becomes a "side-out" to the other team, who then begin their effort to win points.

There are more rules, of course, and the best online resource for reviewing them can be found at the Pickle-Ball, Inc. website, the corporation that Joel Pritchard and friends started back when the sport was invented. Go here to learn about the rules and more history on the game.

To find places to play near you, the best online resource I've found is

Or you can ask around your town, your local rec center, or you may have already heard a friend raving about this game with the goofy name.

Next month: Playing in Hawaii.

Jim Lavrakas has lived in Alaska for almost a half century. The self-proclaimed "squirrel man" has found a lively outlet in the pursuit of pickleball. You can reach him at