Pickleball: the cross-generational game that is, with no exaggeration, sweeping the nation; and it’s sweeping tennis courts, gyms, and driveways across Heber Valley too.
For those of you who don’t know, pickleball is something like a friendly game of miniature tennis played with oversized ping-pong paddles and a fist-sized whiffle ball, all on a court size roughly akin to that of badminton. And people are loving it!
Things started getting serious in the valley when a group of about 20 friends, mostly an outdoorsy crew who were involved with the Wasatch Mountain State Park, tried to get the game going in Heber. They’d heard of its growing popularity in St. George and wanted to do their part to transplant the enthusiasm up north. Cary Hobbs, from Midway, was part of that original group. “[We] gathered at Valais, on the tennis courts,” Hobbs recounted, “and we had an instructor who came up and showed us what the game is about and brought some paddles and balls, so we could sort of try them out.” Since then, that initial crew has sprouted into the fully fledged Heber Valley Pickleball Club, with around 250 members and counting.
While preparing to write this article — I realized that I’ve never played pickleball. I had first heard about pickleball through the grapevine of University students, and I had driven past others playing it around Utah Valley. What’s funny is that I, as an especially young looking 25-year-old, thought pickleball was the next new fad that young people, my age, were doing. On the contrary, and oddly enough, most of the ‘Senior Citizens’ I talked to were under the impression that other people considered pickleball to be an “old people” sport. The truth? Well, the reality is that it’s a game enjoyed by all ages.
That being said, my main contacts with pickleballers were within the senior community, among whom the game has especially gained traction in the valley. Despite a sprained hand and ankle from a Kung Fu class the night before, I payed a visit to the Wasatch County Recreation Center one Friday morning to get my hands on a paddle and see what all the excitement was about. There, I met up with Carey Hobbs and other local pickleball enthusiasts.
So there I was, playing pickleball with the local seniors. And I have to tell you, they were fun, and so enthusiastic, especially considering that I kept them running after the stray balls I kept hitting! My sprained ankle paled in comparison to stories of knee, hip, and disk replacements, from these seasoned pickleball practitioners. For my initiation into the game, we started “dinking” the ball back and forth to get a feel for the weight and paddles. For the rest of the morning, we played multiple games of doubles (in teams of two) which is how the vast majority of players prefer to play. It’s a very social game. What really struck me is how everyone just shows up! Whether outdoors or indoors, people come to the courts and they have no trouble finding others to play with. There’s no logistical inconvenience of finding a court and shuffling schedules to get players together, and generous individuals have spare paddles and balls available for newcomers. That morning all eight indoor courts at the Rec. Center were completely filled up, with others rotating in from the sidelines, which, I learned, is typical on weekday mornings, between about 8:30 and 11:30.
Connie Green, the current president of the Heber Valley Pickleball Club, explained, “I mean, it’s really addicting. I probably play five to six days a week,” Connie said she used to ski five days a week. Only to have that hobby swallowed up by her enthusiasm for pickleball. Another individual shared that he used to be the same way with golf; “I really got into this [pickleball], and now I just don’t have time for golf.” The game is an excellent means of exercise, especially for those who appreciate and need something easy on the joints that doesn’t require extreme exertion. Green shared that, “Most of us are retired, in here. We’ve got guys who are 80…and I mean, look at him,” Green pointed to the court, “he still plays well!”
My weekday morning snapshot of the typical club members only tells half the pickleball story. Younger players and families tend to play at different hours. Carrie Hobbs shared, “If you go out to the courts in the evenings during the summer, they’re full. You’ll find families and individuals that work during the day. You’ll have people who come down to our pickleball courts that I’ve seen having a family reunion; they’ll have the grandmother on one side and they’ll have a five or six-year-old on the other side, and all the people in between, and everybody can enjoy it!”
Pickleball requires courts. While the Recreation Center has happily allowed players to commandeer the indoor space, many prefer to play outside on a proper court. Allan Bell, who was kind enough to be my doubles partner most of the day, explained that, “outdoor courts are a lot better to play on because they’re a dark surface, so you see the ball better, and it doesn’t slide as much.” Hobbs added that, “…through the winter, when nobody’s playing outside, there’ll be as many as sixty people here [Wasatch County Recreational Center] in the morning.” As you can see there is definitely a need for both indoor and outdoor courts for these enthusiasts to get their pickleball on!
To address the growing popularity of the sport, Green explained that the, “club [is] in the process of getting six additional courts,” on a portion of county land across the street from the existing nine courts at Southfield Park. “It’s kind of a conglomerate thing between all the governmental entities and the Heber Valley Pickleball Club,” she continued. The new courts are expensive and through their own efforts the club is doing its part to raise $80,000 to contribute to the project.
Club fees are a modest $25 per year. “With that, we do four in-house tournaments, for members only, and then we also do a summer barbecue and a Christmas gig of some type. So it’s fun! We’re real social,” Green explained. The club also offers beginner and intermediate clinics on Friday mornings included in the membership.
It’s symbolic that a game that was pieced together from bits of other sports should also build a human bridge across diverse age groups and walks of life. In a world of digital dialogue, dating apps, and general disconnection, pickleball is an analog and natural way to meet new people. So, if you want to get involved in the pickleball community, or increase your physical activity, swing by the outdoor pickleball courts or the County Recreation Center, and give the game a try — who knows maybe you’ll discover your next new passion — at the very least you’ll have a ‘Ball’!
To learn more about the Heber Valley Pickleball Club or to join visit: heberpickleball.com