Pickleball craze hits Houston -- and keeps growing

Players love it because of the ease of the game, coach says

It’s a game that most people have never heard of, so when KPRC2 hit the streets of Southwest Houston to ask people what they thought pickleball is, we got some pretty interesting answers.

“Pickleball? Ahhh ... I am not sure,” said one woman.

One man we spoke with had an interesting reaction when we asked him about the game with a funny name.

“Maybe like those pickle waffles? I don’t know. Maybe like football with a pickle? I don’t know.”

Another man we spoke with guessed, “I would assume it would have something to do with hitting a pickle with a baseball bat. Am I right? No? Is that not even close?”

Well, no -- not quite.

Pickleball is a game sweeping the country and growing in popularity, with players from all walks of life.

Sharon Meyer is one of them. She said she laughs at the suggestion that the game actually involves pickles at all.

“There are no pickles in pickleball,” she said.

The retired school teacher began playing last year, and she said she is hooked.

“I’m a little bit on the addicted side, so I actually play seven days a week, sometimes twice a day,” Meyer said.

A game with a unique name

So just what is this game with a unique name?

It’s a mix between tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Pickleball has taken off in popularity because anyone at any skill level can hit the courts and play, even if they’ve never done it before.

Mike Goldberg began teaching pickleball five years ago and said players love it because of the ease of the game.

“The amazing thing is that there really are no restrictions," he said. "We have some players that weigh 300 pounds. We have some players who’ve had kidney transplants. We have players who’ve had knee replacements and hip replacements.”

He’s seen the sport explode in Houston, going from just a handful of players playing one hour a week to now well over 1,000 players locally.

“There are probably more like 1,500 to 2,000 (players), and you can play pickleball somewhere in Houston virtually every day, sometimes all day," Goldberg said.

Rules of the game

Much like tennis, pickleball players can use forehands, backhands and overhead smashes. It’s played with a paddle and a Wiffle ball. The paddles come in different sizes, shapes and weights and can range in price from $40 to $150.

The pickleball court is smaller than a tennis court, and Goldberg said there are three other big differences between the way you play the games.

Rule No. 1: You serve underhand, rather than overhand.

Rule No. 2: When you serve and the ball comes back, you have to let it bounce once before you can hit it in the air.

Rule No. 3: Seven feet from the net, there is a no-volley zone, where you can’t hit the ball in the air.

What’s in a name?

And now that we understand the game, back to the question about that unique name.

There are a couple of stories floating around the pickleball world. One of those is the story that a doctor on Washington’s Bainbridge Island created the game back in 1965 while playing with some friends.

“The story that’s out there is that the doctor had a dog named Pickles that used to chase the ball for him, and so he called it Pickle’s ball,” Goldberg said.

Pickleball way of life

Meyer said pickleball has not only benefitted her physically, but it’s also helped her socially, as she’s created many new friendships.

“I retired a year and a half ago and in no way did I think my life would become a pickleball life, and truly, my life is a pickleball life,” she said.

Where to learn and play Pickleball in Houston

The pickleball craze does not appear to be slowing down. According to USA Pickleball, 85 courts are being added each day somewhere in the United States. To sign up to learn how to play pickleball, visit https://www.pickleballhouston.com/.

To find out where you can play locally, visit https://www.places2play.org/.

For information on the Space City Tournament in February, click here.