SAN MARCOS — It’s been said that pickleball is the fastest growing sport you’ve never heard of, but don’t tell folks that who have been playing it for years.
Martin Vazquez, from Corona, California, said his wife talked him into it three years ago after he lost interest in racquetball. “She said hey, ‘I found this new game called pickleball.’ And I said, ‘Pickle what? You hit a wiffleball with a paddle and I said is that a real sport?’ She said, ‘Yeah you have to play with me’ and I said I wasn’t interested … and so finally … love at first sight.”
The sport continues to grow in popularity around the country and now also has a place in San Marcos. After some research, the San Marcos Parks and Rec Department decided to host its first tournament Jan. 4 and Jan. 5 at the Corky Smith Gymnasium with about 30 teams signed up.
“It’s been a great thing,” said Dorcy Norton, pickleball tournament director. “Hopefully, we’ll get more going here. They only have limited time because basketball is such a priority in this space.”
Norton is independent and runs tournaments on the weekends all around the West Coast. “San Marcos is very innovative,” she said. “They always have been. My kids played sports in San Marcos.”
She said San Marcos desires to bring new recreational programs that are current and interesting. “I have to say the city of San Marcos is really good about catching onto what is latest and greatest,” she said. “The community service program here is phenomenal.”
Tournaments attract folks like Vazquez and his wife, who love the sport but enjoy meeting new people while traveling the country, more. “We have traveled to play in Hawaii, Texas, Oregon, Florida and Arizona,” he said. “We have met so many people. At the national tournament at Palm Desert, we met people from Canada, Australia, Mexico and all over. It’s a social game and we’ve met a lot of friends. The majority of our circle of friends right now are pickleball players.”
There are many similarities to any “paddle” sport yet many different rules to pickleball. “It’s kind of like ping pong,” Vasquez said. “It’s kind of like tennis. It’s kind of racquetball but different. It’s a similar thing that you are trying to get your ball past your opponent but trying to get your opponent to get the ball out or into the net.”
Norton managed racquetball tournaments when the sport was popular as well. “Thirty-something years ago racquetball was getting ready to boom and take off,” she said. “That’s exactly where pickleball is. When we started playing pickleball four or five years ago, it was mostly an older person sport. Nowadays the median age, I’m not 100% sure but I’m gonna say it’s probably down in the 40s. There are lots of 20-year-olds playing. They are teaching it in the schools.”
What was once considered a sport only for baby boomers has become popular for all ages according to co-director Vicente Rodriguez. “It’s a quick game to learn and it’s also a lot of fun to play right away,” he said. “You don’t have to be an expert to enjoy it. Although, there’s plenty of room to become a nuanced player or an expert player. So, there are high-caliber players that play pickleball as well.”
Depending on the part of the country people are playing in, it’s typically outdoors but can be indoors as well. There are televised professional matches as well now with prize money totaling $25,000 to $50,000. Once a player steps on the floor, he or she is considered a 2.0 or 2.5 level out of 5.
The players can sometimes take the sport very seriously. That’s why tournament Rodriguez always reminds them, “part of pickleball is sportsmanship.” At the San Marcos event, signs were posted all over the gymnasium encouraging players to “have fun.”
Along those lines, he said the sport can quickly become addictive and uses a good game of golf as an analogy to describe the fun behind pickleball.
“When you are playing golf and you hit the ball just right and the right distance and you get the satisfaction, your brain rewards you for that,” Rodriguez said. “You are forever chasing that feeling again in golf. In pickleball, you get that feeling every third shot.”
Players looking for other tournaments and players in the area can search www.usapa.org or pickleballtournaments.com.