Recreation and Park

Pickleball: A Game and Movement

Portola Lutheran Church Pastor Terry Chan and Wellington “Mr. Pickleball” Chen playing at the Crocker Amazon Park court. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF FREDDIE NADARISAY

Pickleball has been called the fastest growing senior sport in the United States. And San Francisco is no exception.

The game is played by two to four players using paddles and a whiffle-like ball on either an indoor or outdoor court about one-third the size of a tennis court. Games usually last around 12 minutes, so everyone gets a chance to play.

Rumored to be named after the founder’s dog, “Pickles” or after a form of rowing where a pickle boat has a mixed crew, people young and old are flocking to the game, eager to participate in both the camaraderie and competition of the game.

“The game is particularly popular among boomers looking for an activity that offers good aerobic exercise without being as strenuous as traditional racket sports,” said Excelsior resident Wellington Chen, known locally as “Mr. Pickleball” for his advocacy of the sport.

“Less than three years ago, pickleball was just an idea,” Chen added. “I had to find the resources. I got the National Pickleball League to visit San Francisco and they helped me get started. I knew it was something that should be introduced.”

Marla Reid, co-owner of the City Racquet Shop in New Mission Terrace and a nationally ranked All-American Collegiate tennis player, said their store recently began stocking pickleball gear.

“It’s a good game,” Reid said. “I’ll probably pick it up when I can no longer play tennis.”

Pickleball enthusiasts love to compete.

“The game is a phenomena people don’t understand. The culture is friendly and inclusive, they’re more willing to help others learn the game,” said Anne Cribbs, chair of the Bay Area Senior Games. “We added pickleball to the games about five years ago, and the numbers of participants are soaring. Cities up and down the peninsula are building dedicated courts.”

San Francisco’s enthusiasts want courts dedicated just for pickleball.

“How can our players compete when the hours of play are limited?” Chen said.

Bill Lafferty, another active player, lamented that while there are 131 tennis courts in San Francisco, yet not one is a dedicated public pickleball court. They’re all multi-purpose.

“We can only play certain hours and days of the week,” Lafferty said.

However, the renovation of Golden Gate Tennis Courts will boast four dedicated pickleball courts plus lights for night games.

A spokesperson for the San Francisco Recreation and Park Department said, “The department recognizes pickleball’s popularity […] and is excited to be creating our very first pickleball-only court at the Golden Gate Park Tennis Center. We are open to lining a few others to diversify recreation opportunities for our communities.”

The pickleball courts at Crocker Amazon are available all day every day except Saturday and when the courts are privately reserved.

Crocker Amazon Park Facility Coordinator Gerald Reader said he’s heard pickleballers’ complaints about the newly resurfaced and lined courts. They’re not enclosed, so players must do a lot of running to recover the ball. There’s wasted space — instead of converting a tennis court into three pickleball courts, they’ve done a one-to-one conversion and no lights for night play.

“I know there are complaints,” Reader said, “but I need to see for myself how the court will play, I need to get a better understanding of the game.”

Reader plans to introduce pickleball to youngsters attending summer camp at Crocker Amazon and to summer campers at the Golden Gate Park Tennis Courts.

Pickleball is played on seven public courts in San Francisco: Crocker-Amazon, Golden Gate Park Tennis Courts, Upper Noe Recreation Center, Glen Park Rec Center, the Palega Recreation Center, Louis Sutter Park and the Alice Marble Tennis Courts.

For more information on equipment, registration, fees and hours of play, visit Visit Facebook to join the San Francisco Pickleball Enthusiasts group.


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