The only thing louder than the distinctive pop-pop-pop of the pickleball hitting the paddle is the laughter from the players following a good rally or a good-natured verbal jab.
“I love the trash talk and the teasing,” says Sandy Thayer, vice-president of the Loveland Pickleball Club.
The one thing you can’t trash talk is the popularity of pickleball. USA Pickleball estimates 4.8 million people in the U.S. now play. That’s an increase of 40 percent in the last two years, and Northern Colorado has experienced a huge boom in the game, especially since the pandemic.
The social aspect of the game is considered an essential part, according to Bob Monroe, past president of the Loveland Pickleball Club. He said there is a rumor the founders of the game from 1965 actually wrote it into the original rules, but it was not put into the official rules that came out in 1976.
“You change partners every 10 minutes, so good-natured banter is just a part of the game,” he said. “Nobody takes it too seriously until you get to tournaments.”
Karen Poulson started playing 10 years ago at age 74 when regular tennis became too hard on her knees. “A lot of people are aging into pickleball,” she says. And at 84, she still tries to get out three times a week.
“I just love it. You can play with whoever is there and you really do meet a lot of people that way,” she says.
Thayer picked up the game in Arizona in 2016 and found the Loveland club when she moved here in 2018.
“It couldn’t be more fun,” Thayer says. “I love the competitiveness and the camaraderie.”
The Loveland club continues to grow as well. Monroe said that when he started with the club in 2013, there were only 50 members. When he was first named president in 2017, there were 137 members. Today there are 693 on the list.
The club pays the city for the use of the courts from 8-10 a.m. during the week so members can schedule court times. They also host clinics and tournaments. Monroe said many of the clinics fill up in 15 minutes.
Donna Knopp discovered pickleball in Kansas City in 2016.
“I just fell in love. It is easy to learn. And it really gets you moving,” says the 62-year-old. “I’m from the age of aerobics and Zumba and this is a lot more fun. I never looked forward to retirement before but now I can’t wait to retire so I can play more.”
Knopp, who is now the president of the Loveland club, says she gets out at least three times a week. “It’s like any sport. You can be as competitive as you want to be,” she says. She is working to improve her game so she is playing games with higher ranked players.
There are clubs throughout Northern Colorado, including Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor. And pressure from pickleball enthusiasts is pushing communities to add both indoor and outdoor courts. Some communities have permanently marked some tennis courts for pickleball.
“We don’t quite have enough for the Olympics yet and we may not get it in my lifetime,” Monroe says. “But it will happen.”
According to Bob Monroe of Loveland, who is also the USA Pickleball Ambassador for the Loveland Pickleball Club, the lore around the name of the game might not be true but is treated by most members as if it is.
Monroe says the three guys who came up with the game in 1965 using a wiffleball, ping pong paddles and a badminton net also had a dog named Pickles who kept stealing the ball during the game.
So, it became Pickles’ ball…and the name stuck.
USA Pickleball has the full rules and the simple rules on their site: usapickleball.org
Basically, the game is played a lot like tennis (singles or doubles). But there are a few differences:
• You serve underhand. Also, the serve and the initial return must bounce once before being hit by the other team or person.
• Players cannot hit the ball on the fly in a 7-foot area on each side of the net (often referred to as the kitchen). This keeps people from slamming returns.
• Scoring is more like volleyball: You get points only when serving.
• Games are usually played to 11 (except in tournaments) and the winner must win by 2 points.
Jared Fiel is a writer in Northern Colorado who loves racquetball and got his clock cleaned the first time he played pickleball against some seasoned players.