Next week, Governor Jay Inslee is expected to sign legislation designating pickleball as the official sport of Washington State. The mash-up of badminton, tennis and ping-pong has come a long way since its invention on Bainbridge Island, Washington, in 1965. Skilled local pickleball players have turned professional, and new businesses are opening their doors to cater to the pandemic boom in recreational gaming. .
Washington will become the 16th state with an official sport when Inslee signs the pickleball bill. Some of the other states that came before have obvious pairings like Hawaii and surfing, Minnesota and ice hockey, Alaska and dog mushing. There are also less obvious designations such as Colorado where the state sport is pack burro racing, or Maryland where it is jousting. Oregon and Idaho do not have official state sports.
In the Washington Legislature, title sponsor Sen. John Lovick (D-Mill Creek) explained why he made pickleball the state sport.
“Washington will one day be known as the birthplace of Boeing, Microsoft, Starbucks and pickleball,” Lovick said, quoting a voter. “Tourists will travel to Bainbridge Island to see the first pickleball court and visit the pickleball exhibit at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. To brag about this history and make pickleball the official sport.”
The measure to designate pickleball has drawn some grunt in and out of the capital as insignificant, “worthless” or a waste of time in a short legislative session filled with high stakes and important problems.
“Sometimes we have to do things that are just fun when we manage what we manage,” Lovick told fellow lawmakers in Januaryanticipating the grunts that would come.
Eastern Washington University in Cheney is preparing to host hundreds of amateur players for the Pacific Northwest Regional Pickleball Championships in July. A few weeks later, a big tournament in Bend will offer 25 thousand dollars in prizes.
Pickleball was the fastest growing sport in the United States for several years, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. Insiders estimate that there are about two dozen professional gamers who call Oregon, Washington and Idaho home. The game now has two competing domestic tournament circuits. Eight players from the Pacific Northwest have collected payouts on the Professional Pickleball Association tour over the past year, according to the PPA manager.
Interest in the sport is so strong that former world number one player Tyson McGuffin, 32, of Coeur d’Alene can turn his success into a personal brand, which appears on a logo clothing line, a series of training camps, a podcast, a $75 insulated water bottle, and of course, a signature paddle made by northern Idaho-based gear sponsor Selkirk.
McGuffin’s primary sport growing up at Lake Chelan was wrestling. He played competitive tennis in college and said on his site that he only discovered pickleball in his mid-twenties, when he was working as the head tennis pro at the Yakima Tennis Club.
Lake Oswego mother Tracie Dejager, 39, said she made the transition from working in real estate to a career as a pickleball pro.
“I always had the idea of doing what you love and the money will come,” Dejager said.
Now it is possible. The money comes from tournament winnings, and she has a gear sponsorship. There is a high demand for lessons, boot camps and instructional videos.
“A little bit over the last couple of years, he’s really grown tremendously,” Dejager said after teaching a clinic for advanced intermediate players in the Portland area.
“If we want to get involved and make a living from it, now is the time, because the number of people playing pickleball is mind-boggling,” Dejager continued. “Ten years ago, even five years ago, I could say, ‘I play pickleball’ (and the comeback was) ‘What are you doing? “”
Dejager teaches at a brand new indoor pickleball center in the Clackamas suburb outside of Portland. This is named RECS — abbreviation of Recreate, Exercise, Compete, Socialize.
The nine rubber-cushioned pickleball courts have replaced an indoor football business, which should also tell you something.
“Football players are kids or adults who work during the day. With pickleball, you have a lot of active retirees and they’re looking to play during the day,” said Kevin Richards, co-owner and director of RECS. “It changes the business model when you’re not just busy at night and on weekends. Now you’re potentially busy 16 hours a day.”
Richards observed that people of all ages have taken up pickleball during the pandemic.
“Because you’re physically away from others you play with and can play outside,” Richards explained. “A lot of people who started coming here and found out about this place said, ‘I started playing during COVID times and I can’t get enough of it.'”
Businesses like Richards’ are popping up all over the Northwest. Pickleball area in Bend was a pioneer in 2018 when it installed eight padded indoor courts. Spokane has since joined the party with a private indoor court named The pickleball playground.
A startup named Volli aims to capitalize on the concept of “entertainment” with a combination of indoor pickleball courts and a sports bar. It’s starting with outlets in Bellingham and Marysville, Wash., slated to open later this year.
Meanwhile, public parks and recreation departments across the region are under pressure to build more outdoor pickleball courts or remodel their tennis courts to meet demand.