SANTA MARIA, Calif. - The coronavirus pandemic sidelined a number of sports activities, but pickleball has continued its rapid growth. Cities around the Central Coast are building courts to keep up with demand.
Most mornings in Santa Maria, the new pickleball courts are packed at the Hagerman Sports complex.
"We've seen pickleball grow exponentially nationwide," Santa Maria Recreation Services Manager Dennis Smitherman said. "It is definitely the fastest growing sport that we've seen locally in a long time."
In 2020, pickleball saw a growth rate of 21.3% over the previous year, according to the Sport and Fitness Industry Association's Pickleball Participant Report. The report states pickleball grew to 4.2 million players in the U.S. last year. In 2019, over 111 new pickleball locations were added per month around the country.
"It's really a fun game," said Tim Harmon, member of the Santa Maria Pickleball Club. "That's what it's all about."
The Santa Maria Pickleball Club is 100 members strong. After playing on converted tennis courts for years, they worked with the city to get six pickleball-only courts built near the softball fields at the Hagerman Sports Complex this year.
"We raised some money, the city put in some money," Santa Maria Pickleball Club President Terry Armas said. "It's amazing we did it in about a year."
The club has raised more than $20,000 of their $30,000 goal so far.
"They're premiere courts," Smitherman said. "They're some of the most beautiful on the Central Coast."
The club uses the courts weekday mornings. Anyone can drop in for three dollars, or join the group for $10 a month or $100 per year. After noon the courts are open to anyone.
Pickleball is played on a badminton sized court. Paddles about twice the size of a ping-pong paddle are used to hit a perforated plastic ball over a 34-inch high net. Players can not hit the ball out of the air when they are very close to the net. There is a non-volley zone called the "kitchen" that extends seven feet out from the net.
Anyone can pick up pickleball rather quickly. It's typically viewed as a friendly and social sport for all ages.
"If you've never tried it before, a lot of people start here and become really good," Armas said.
The Santa Maria Pickleball Club offers free clinics to teach people the game every Tuesday at 9 a.m.
Edna Rey-Vizgurdas moved to Santa Maria in late 2020 having never played pickleball. She saw it as something fun and safe to do outdoors during the pandemic. Now she's hooked.
"A lot of people had to switch their activities or stay at home," Rey-Vizgurdas said. "So this is one way that you can get outside safely and get exercise and stay healthy, mentally as well as physically."
As COVID-19 restrictions ease up, the city plans to open the courts for night time and weekend use and use them to host pickleball tournaments and other activities.
The Hagerman Sports Complex is located at 3300 Skyway Drive in Santa Maria.
Watch News Channel 12 at 6 and 11 p.m. tonight to see how the game is played. I gave it a try for the first time and had fun with it.