BERKELEY HEIGHTS, NJ - Pickleball has taken over the Columbia tennis courts in Berkeley Heights -- at least three days a week. It's been a craze on the rise over the past three years. Pickleball is said to be the fastest-growing sport in America.
According to AthleticBusiness.com, more than three million players play pickleball in the United States and that number is growing by more than 10 percent each year over the past decade.
This game is a hybrid mix of tennis, paddle and ping pong played with a plastic whiffle ball on a court that is roughly a quarter of the size of a tennis court.
Why is it a craze in Berkeley Heights? Age doesn't matter. The game is physically easier on the body than tennis. The game is easy to learn and rules are simple. "It typically takes only one hour to learn the rules and become proficient," said Howard Wolfish, who is a founding member of the Berkeley Heights pickleball group that started three years ago. "It's a great game for adults of all ages. You can even be competitive well into your 60's and even 70's."
"We currently have an organized group of about 25+ players who play on Monday and Wednesday evenings and Saturday Mornings. No need to bring a partner, as we play round robin games and you meet and socialize with many other players," said Wolfish. Equipment is provided.
It's very social, that's why I really love it, said Cindy Ryan. "I have met so many people and there's new people that come." She said that a year and a half ago she showed up to a demo day, and has been hooked ever since.
Township Tennis Director Howard Lee attributes the game's popularity to the group keeping it nice and simple. Also, "There is not a lot of spin to the ball and no aces allowed, so you can return the ball," he said. -- "That's why there's so many nice rallies."
How it is played:
- Serves in pickleball are underhand and there are no long volleys like in tennis.
- The game is played around what is called the kitchen line which is seven feet from the net.
- Serves are not allowed to fall in the kitchen area and any player that steps inside the kitchen line during play — even if the ball has already cleared the net on a return — surrenders a point.
- Games are played to 21 points and singles or doubles teams must win by two.
Lee believes that Berkeley Heights has the best facilities in New Jersey with six courts with lights. "You can always get into a game," he said.
Currently, Lee estimates that of the tennis court permits issued, 70 percent of players play tennis and 30 percent play pickleball. He anticipates it going 60/40 next year. There is a $3 fee for non-permit holders.
Direct inquiries to Berkeley Heights Recreation Director Tom Barton at email@example.com.