Pickleball: The spread of the sport across Utah

Aug 10, 2022, 4:38 PM | Updated: 8:14 pm
Utah pickleball...
FILE: People play pickleball on an empty street during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on April 13, 2020 in Charlotte, North Carolina. (Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

WEST JORDAN, Utah — It was just two years ago that the city of West Jordan opened its first pickleball courts. Now, with 20 courts across the city, the sport tops the list of favorite summer activities across Utah and an empty court is a rare site.

And Pickleball isn’t exactly new. The sport that combines elements of other racket sports is celebrating its 57th anniversary this year. In the last half-decade participants — in the millions — have nearly doubled. What has caused this rise and how can you join the fun? 

Accessibility, desire for new hobbies, inclusivity

“I think anybody can play it,” Kearns Oquirrh Park Fitness Center pickleball league and tournament coordinator Jana Helsten told The West Jordan Journal.  

“It is a Goldilocks family game. It is as easy or as hard as you want it to be.”

The spread of the sport can be attributed to many things; increasing accessibility in community centers and parks, the pandemic inspiring new hobbies and the overall inclusivity of the sport. 

For some people, like Salt Lake City’s Tyler Loong, love for the sport is not a new thing. Loong has placed in the top three in nine notable tournaments, including a triple crown win in the Canadian Open. Loong sees the growth of pickleball as a very positive thing. 

“When I first started playing around 7-8 years ago, it was a much more niche sport,” said Loong. “Fast forward to now, you can’t go to a city without public pickleball courts being offered. The difference the past 8 years have made in this sport is truly astonishing.”  

Before the rise

In 1965, Washington state was the birthplace of the founded-by-fathers sport. After a corporation was formed to protect the creation of the sport, it became equally as popular among men and women. The first official Pickleball tournament was held in 1976. Fast forward to the 2010s the sport received more recognition when the USA Pickleball Association established the International Federation of Pickleball organization.

“I’ve been able to witness the growth of Pickleball at an exponential level, second to none,” said Loong.

It is fascinating to see all the new players come into the sport and all the other things that come along with that such as new courts, new venues, new tournaments, new products, new friendships.” 

Helsten told The West Jordan Journal that the sport’s growth is evident by the 40 players a night in three different leagues during the Fall. For cities like West Jordan or Salt Lake City, pickleball is a prominent community-building sport. 

Loong has traveled the country and even the world playing Pickleball and has witnessed firsthand the exponential growth of the sport. With his home court being in Salt Lake City, he sees courts being put up in surrounding cities and indoor courts being improved for the winter months. 

“Yes, pickleball is growing everywhere at a tremendous rate, but here in Utah, it is exploding,” said Loong. “It seems as if everyone is talking about and playing pickleball and it is so much fun to witness this and be involved in the sport.”

Join the fun — how to play

Who: at least two people and up to four.

What: a racket for each player, a pickleball and a court. 

When: During court hours on the list below. 

Where: Any one of Utah’s several courts or any 20 by 40 feet court with a net. 

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Pickleball: The spread of the sport across Utah