A decade ago, very few people knew what pickleball was. Now, some consider it the fastest-growing sport in the United States.

So, what exactly is pickleball? Why is it so popular? And where can the sport be played in New York City?

What You Need To Know

  • Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, which can be attributed to its gentle learning curve and social nature
  • According to a March report, 50 million Americans had played pickleball at least once in the previous 12 months
  • The report showed that New York City accounted for 11.3% of pickleball players in the U.S.
  • There are hundreds of pickleball courts in the five boroughs, including at Riverside Park in Manhattan and Marine Park in Brooklyn

What is pickleball?

Pickleball is a racket sport that can be played on an indoor or outdoor court. The game is a mixture of tennis, ping-pong and badminton.

Either two or four players hit a ball with paddles over a net until the ball bounces twice, or until one side breaks a rule or cannot return the ball.

The ball is strong, has holes like a Wiffle Ball and is designed to be used on a hard surface. The paddle is flat, smaller and lighter than a tennis racket, and can be made of plastic, wood or other materials.

A regulation court measures 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. The court is split by a net, which is 34 inches in the center and 36 inches at either side.

The court has different zones, including service areas and a seven-foot non-volley zone near the net called the kitchen.

What are some rules of the game?

Each rally begins with a serve, which must be underhand and clear the kitchen to count. Players serve diagonally to an opponent.

Before any player can hit a shot directly out of the air, the ball must bounce once on each side.

Players are not allowed to hit the ball in the kitchen to prevent a player from standing right in front of the net and spiking the ball.

Points are scored only by the serving team, and games are normally played to 11 points — the winner must win by at least two points. In doubles, both partners serve in a turn.

To read more USA Pickleball rules, click here. USA Pickleball is the national governing body for the sport in the U.S.

Del Teter competes in a game of pickleball in Arizona on Monday, Dec. 3, 2012.
In pickleball, the score should be called as three numbers for doubles: the server score, the receiver score and the server number. (AP Photo/Matt York)

When was pickleball created?

Pickleball was founded on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, according to Brandon Mackie, the co-founder of Pickleheads.

After playing golf one summer day in 1965, Joel Pritchard, a Washington state representative at the time, and businessman Bill Bell returned home to find their kids bored with nothing to do. The men grabbed “a mishmash of sports equipment and invented the sport right then and there,” Mackie told NY1.

A lot of the rules of pickleball have stayed the same since that summer. The height of the net was put right at Pritchard’s waistline, and that has not changed in more than 50 years.

How did pickleball get its name?

There are two competing theories about how pickleball got its name, Mackie said.

The first theory is that the sport was named after Pritchard’s daughter’s dog, Pickles. The dog apparently grabbed the ball and ran away while people were playing that first summer.

The second theory involves rowing. Pritchard’s wife was a competitive rower and apparently named the game pickleball because it reminded her of a pickle boat, which is the last boat to finish in a race, oftentimes because of an unorganized hodgepodge of rowers.

Just how popular is pickleball in the United States and New York City?

Pickleball has been the fastest-growing sport in America for the past three years, according to Pickleheads.

“COVID-19 really brought pickleball into the public spotlight in a big way, and people saw it popping up in local parks, on tennis courts. The loud noise of the ball got people interested, and a lot of people tried it during the pandemic,” Mackie said.

Since the pandemic, the sport has only gotten more popular, which Mackie attributes to pickleball’s gentle learning curve, social nature and diversity and inclusion.

Last summer, more people recorded pickleball workouts than tennis workouts on Apple Watches, according to research published by Apple, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and the American Heart Association.

A report by the Association of Pickleball Players released in March showed that almost 50 million Americans had played pickleball at least once in the previous 12 months. This represented an increase of 35% since the association’s last research concluded in August 2022.

The association also reports that as of March, New York City accounted for 11.3% of pickleball players in the U.S. In March, the city and Los Angeles residents accounted for more than 21% of U.S. pickleball players.

People play pickleball at Wollman Rink at Central Park in New York on Wednesday, April 12, 2023.
Wollman Rink in Central Park installed 14 new pickleball courts that were open last year from April 7 until Oct. 9. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Where can pickleball be played in the city?

There are at least 151 outdoor pickleball courts in the five boroughs, according to Eric Ho, the co-founder of NYC Pickleball. This includes courts that are officially created by the city and state, plus unofficial courts at community parks.

“And these are just the outdoor, free public courts. There are several semi-private courts, as well as a growing number of indoor options,” Ho told NY1. He estimates there are at least 100 indoor courts in the five boroughs.

Manhattan and Brooklyn have the most courts in the city with over 50 each, but there are various popular courts in all five boroughs.

A list of one pickleball court in each borough is below:

  • Riverside Park is a popular pickleball destination with five dedicated and free outdoor courts. The Manhattan courts are shaded by oak trees and are cooled down by breezes coming from the Hudson River.
  • Marine Park in Brooklyn has eight dedicated and free outdoor pickleball courts. This pickleball hotspot is the biggest permanent public installation of pickleball courts in the five boroughs.
  • Rockaway Beach in Queens has a dedicated pickleball court between Beach 101st and Beach 102nd streets along Shore Front Parkway.
  • Fairview Park on Staten Island has three dedicated and free outdoor pickleball courts. A passionate group of players competes here, sometimes even bringing lights to the courts to play at night.
  • Van Cortlandt Park is one of the most popular places to play pickleball in the Bronx. There is a free outdoor pickleball court at the park, but players must bring their own net.

For a full list of city pickleball courts courtesy of NYC Pickleball, click here.