THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Riley Hobaica loves playing the fastest growing sport in the United States, but it takes time behind the wheel.
“I drive about 25 miles to get here every day,” Hobaica, 22, said on a recent busy Saturday in court in this bucolic town northwest of Los Angeles. “It’s a bit far, but it’s pickleball, (so I) can’t stay away for too long.”
Many fans of the sport find themselves in a similar mess when it comes to finding a place to play. Cities across the country struggle to provide courts, which are much smaller than tennis courts.
The shortage is forcing players into long commutes, long waits on the pitch while other players finish their sets, or seek alternatives, including private sports facilities.
Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the United States, reports the sports and fitness industry, with participation up 39.3% over the past two years.
Baby boomers are attracted to pickleball because it leaves them sweaty without sacrificing knees and other joints as there is less stress and running compared to similar sports like tennis.
But pickleball – which is played with paddles instead of rackets and uses hollow plastic balls similar to wiffle balls – has attracted players of all ages, including athletes and famous celebrities like Olympic swimming champion Michael Phelps , comedian Jamie Foxx and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates.
That popularity, however, comes at a price as cities scramble to provide more land without alienating participants from other sports.
Brent Dennis, director of parks, recreation and marine in Long Beach, one of California’s most populous cities, told the city council in April that he loves pickleball, raving about “the melodic sound of the ball against the paddle”. But he said Long Beach only had one dedicated pickleball court — and 67 tennis courts. Many locals, he acknowledged, travel to the nearby but much smaller town of Seal Beach to gamble.
As part of its pickleball master plan, Long Beach has since planned to add additional boards to tennis courts to make them available for paddleball play as a short-term solution.
Building dedicated pickleball courts doesn’t come cheap. Long Beach officials estimate the cost of a dedicated pickleball court to be $60,000.
Some of the same debates took place in Arizona. Pecos Park in south Phoenix had 16 courts built before the pandemic, but some residents are complaining they aren’t enough, the Ahwatukee Foothills News reported in September. Some have campaigned for additional courts in nearby Desert Foothills Park amid cost concerns.
And while tennis court conversions are a lot cheaper, the addition of pickleball strips is sure to draw fire from tennis players worried that pickleball will reduce their own time on the court.
In May, several residents attending a city council meeting in Coronado, Calif., near San Diego, expressed their opposition to the conversion of tennis courts for pickleball, the Coronado Eagle & Journal reported.
The clash was felt as far east as Asheville, North Carolina, where city officials were inundated with complaints this month over plans to turn three tennis courts into eight courts. of pickleball, WLOS-TV reported.
The shortage of pickleball courts can pit veterans against newcomers.
“The one thing that I have unfortunately noticed with any type of growth is that there are growing pains,” said Beth Brooks, a California pickleball player. “At first when I was playing, everyone was trying to get new people to play pickleball.”
But patience can run out when it comes to appearing in court.
“The longer you have to wait for a pitch, the harder it is to be patient for a player starting out, especially when all the other players are higher level players,” Brooks said.
Currently, the shortage of pitches is particularly problematic for organizations hosting tournaments. They usually need not only dedicated courts, but also seats for spectators, which limits their options.
“California, Arizona, Florida and Seattle are the main cities where pickleball is becoming popular,” said Angus Lee, founder of the California Pickleball Association, “so you see a lot of courts popping up in those states, but the main problem is when tournament directors want to find a large room that can accommodate up to 300 people.
Besides finding courts, Lee said, getting the necessary approvals is difficult.
Most tournament directors use schools or parks to host pickleball tournaments, but with the emergence of more players and the need for a more competitive atmosphere, the demand for tournament venues and pickleball courts larger increased.
Hobaica, the pickleball regular from Thousand Oaks, said that once he gets out of his car, “it’s easy to find a pickleball court, but it takes a bit of time between games because there’s no just not enough land in the parks or on the sites. ”
Noise is another issue. When tennis courts are converted, the sharp thud of paddles replaces the softer hiss of tennis racquets, which can shock nearby owners. Some owners consider the noise to be overwhelming and constant.
Sarah Thomas of Newport Beach, Calif., sued the city in 2016, saying the noise caused her “serious mental suffering, frustration, and anxiety.”
The Los Angeles Times reported that homes near pickleball courts are succeeding in legal fights claiming pickleball violates city noise ordinances.
But there seems to be little to stop the growth of pickleball, whether it’s bothering the neighbors or not.
“If someone my age is addicted to it, I think it’s here to stay,” Hobaica said. “I’ve had at least five different friends in pickleball, so especially in my age group, I think it’s going to keep growing.”