Pickleball, the deliciously named paddle sport, is seeing a big boom in the Boise area.
According to Dave Grube, President of the Boise Area Pickleball Association (BAPA), nationwide pickleball participation grew from 3.4 million players in 2019 to 5.1 million players in 2020, and this trend appears to be consistent with growth in the Boise area. Last fall, twelve dedicated pickleball courts opened at Hobble Creek Park, adjacent to the West YMCA. These courts are being heavily utilized by pickleball enthusiasts from all around the valley.
Invented on Bainbridge Island west of Seattle in 1965, pickleball is played on a hard surface smaller than a tennis court with a net, solid paddles, and a perforated plastic ball. The goal is similar to tennis: get the ball over the net and score on your opponent’s side. However, this game is played in a condensed space, has its own funky rules, and is fun to play with minimal ability or instruction.
“You can be a rec player, a social player, a competitive rec player, or even a tournament player,” Grube said. “There’s room for everybody.”
In addition to being fun and simple to play, pickleball is dotted with unique terms like, “the kitchen,” “poaching,” “dinking,” and “slammers,” which are part of the quirky lexicon players use to describe gameplay. Although, Grube said pickleball vernacular varies quite a bit from region to region. Nonetheless, the light, backyard flavor of the sport makes it tasty to the most rudimentary of sports palates.
Booming in the pandemic era
Boise native and former TVCC head men’s basketball coach Ryan Zimmerman started playing pickleball several times a week when the gyms closed down for the COVID-19 pandemic. He is now deeply immersed in the local pickleball community, regularly organizing games around the valley. “Pickleball is like tennis on training wheels. I think any racquet or paddle sport experience transitions itself very easily to pickleball,” he said.
Grube, who is also a national pickleball gold and bronze medalist at his level, says pickleball has seen tremendous growth for a few reasons.
“It’s easy to learn, although it takes a lifetime to perfect, and it’s very social,” he said.
Zimmerman has theories about pickleball growth as well.
“It has to do with accessibility. A wooden paddle would probably cost someone $5-10, and balls aren’t expensive. Public parks allow anyone to participate. You don’t have to have a club or gym membership to play,” he said. “Athletic crossover is another reason for its growing popularity,” Zimmerman said. “At high levels of play, you’re seeing collegiate tennis players transitioning to pickleball and being very successful. It’s also the commercialization of the sport; there are Youtube channels dedicated to live events, and pickleball is also getting picked up by ESPN on their various platforms.”
“COVID has had a big effect on pickleball in the Treasure Valley; it’s the reason I started playing,” Zimmerman said. “When the gyms closed down, and it wasn’t prudent to continue playing basketball, pickleball became a viable option to get a little exercise and competition in a relatively safe way.“One day, we had three or four former college basketball players, an All-American BSU wrestler, another former BSU wrestler, an All-American quarterback, and a top-twenty world-ranked pickleball player at the same local park at the same time.”
Big local names
Visit a local pickleball court around Boise these days, and you might see a range of players from dominant seniors honing their craft, to those looking for a bit of exercise, to younger players letting the competitive juices flow.
Among local players, several former Boise State athletes can be found pickling on a regular basis, such as Jim McMillan (Boise State Football All-American), Kirk White (Boise State Wrestling National Champion and coach), and multiple former Boise State basketball players, including Roberto Bergeson, Abe Jackson, and Bryan Defares.
“Before, pickleball was a retired person’s game. Now, you see it spreading out,” Grube said. Zimmerman noted the diversity among players as well. “I think as much as we’re seeing crossover from athletes, we’re seeing entire families playing: little children, their parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles; everyone is able to come out and enjoy it together,” he said.
Susannah Barr is a local pickleball player and certified professional pickleball coach who has reached immense competitive heights. Currently ranked #15 in the world for women, Barr has two USA Pickleball national titles and six gold medals from the International Indoor Pickleball Championships. She also recently won a bronze medal at the Las Vegas Open.
Barr has seen the growth of pickleball in the Treasure Valley first-hand. “Pickleball has grown so much. We have more courts, more players, and more competition. If you go to a local park, you will find almost every pickleball court full. Players range from seniors who have played for years to high level players practicing for tournaments to families just out having fun. Leagues, tournaments, and clinics fill up quickly. Even Centennial High School now has a pickleball club. I ran a round robin event a couple of weeks ago that filled up literally within minutes,” Barr said.
Locations across the valley
According to the BAPA, there are twenty-five different Treasure Valley locations to play pickleball, including sites in Boise, Meridian, Eagle, Nampa, Middleton, and Caldwell. There are both indoor and outdoor courts, and while many are on larger existing tennis courts, some courts are specifically dedicated for pickleball play only.
Plans for new pickleball courts are in the works as well. Alta Harris Park, in Boise’s east end northeast of Barber Park, is scheduled to include the construction of twelve dedicated pickleball courts. The City of Boise approved the construction design of Alta Harris Park in 2019, but higher than expected construction costs have delayed completion of the pickleball courts until sometime in 2022, at the earliest.
“The community really needs even more courts in all parts of the valley to deal with the growth in player population.” Barr said. Grube even has a long-term vision for a pickleball facility near I-84 in Meridian, which would include twelve dedicated indoor pickleball courts and eight dedicated outdoor courts that could accommodate any type of pickleball event.
Boise is yet to host a large pickleball event beyond local tournaments, but that will change this June. The courts at Hobble Creek Park will host the 2021 USA Pickleball Pacific Northwest Regional Championship, slated to take place from June 22nd through June 27th, which is the first of its kind in the Boise area. Barr said Boise was chosen for this event because of its central location, and because it has a great community of pickleball players. “With the new complex at Hobble Creek and the courts at Settler’s Park, we are able to provide the courts needed to run such a large tournament,” Barr said.
Barr also noted the positive effect this tournament will have on the Boise pickleball community.
“This really is putting Boise pickleball on the map. It’s bringing a lot of attention to how popular the sport is in the Treasure Valley. It will also introduce the sport to even more community members interested in trying out pickleball,” she said.
Without a doubt, pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the nation and in the Boise area, and it shows no signs of slowing down. It’s an exciting time for picklers across the Treasure Valley, and there is only one thing to say: Pickle On!