One might be fooled into believing that a game with a name like pickleball shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
They’d be wrong.
“It’s true that the game is just a barrel of fun and for me I only had to hit the ball about four times and I was addicted,” explained Trish Main, the president of the Victoria Pickleball Association.
Main was on hand at the Pearkes Recreation Centre for the first ranked tournament in Victoria’s history.
“And it’s true that past tournaments have pretty much been just for fun where competitors just threw their name in a hat and it was pretty much just a random draw. But the sport is maturing and, for this tournament, the competitors had to register at a ranking level with a partner,” she said. “Players are getting better and the sort can be just as competative as any other.”
The rankings for pickleball are still a recent phenomenon and for the weekend tournament at Pearkes the ranking at which players registered was, to a certain extent, based upon a self assessment. Players arrived at their ranking by comparing their abilities against a chart published by the International Pickleball Federation upon which skills required at each level have been listed.
“Players who have played in a sanctioned tournament they will get officially ranked by the organization so they don’t have to do that self-assessment. In our tournament this weekend we do have some ranked players mixed in with those who have chosen the ranking at which they want to play,” said Main.
But the increased competativeness of the sport has done nothing to dampen the popularity of the sport; a fact that was readily apparent by the sheer numbers of players registered for the weekend event.
“This is the biggest tournament we’ve ever had. The next biggest had only 64 players so to jump up to 140 tells you how popular the sport is getting,”added Main.
That popularity has, for years now, motivated pickleball enthusiasts to become ardent lobbyists for more playing surfaces in the community.
“This venue (Pearkes Recreation Centre) is the best in Greater Victoria, but you can see that, even with eight courts, it’s hard to accommodate a tournament this size,” said Main as she gestured at the scores of players waiting their turn at the courts.
Jan Bergen, one of the competitors in the weekend tournament, agreed.
“The numbers of players are certainly increasing and we really do need more facilities,” said Bergen. “There are more players taking up the game and they are getting better all the time. And now they are teaching the game to young people in schools so you know that those numbers will just keep getting bigger.”
But pickleball’s largest demographic is still based in the older segments of the population.
That’s because the nature of the game does not require the overhand power serves involved in tennis and the smaller court surface allows for a broad range of participants–some of whom might have found tennis’ larger playing surface to be daunting.
“For me, it’s the social aspect that I love,” said Bergen. “I travel with a group of friends and we go to between five and seven tournaments all over every year. In fact, we just got back from Centralia, Washington where we went for just a lovely tournament.”
Main is certain that the weekend’s tournament will be only the first of a regular series of events as the game continues to grow in popularity. There have already been two other tournaments on Vancouver Island this summer, one in Comox and the other in Qualicum.
“Our association is really helping the sport along and we offer clinics for new players, organize leagues and host tournaments whenever and wherever we can. There is a real pickleball family developing, and it’s just great.”
The tournament ran between June 8 and 10. Results of the tournament will be posted on the the organization’s website at victoriapickleball.org.