With as many as eight million people projected to be playing next year in the U.S. and Canada, pickleball is easily the fastest growing sport in North America.
This week in Kelowna, the game’s burgeoning popularity will be showcased at the 2017 Canada National Pickleball Tournament.
Beginning on Friday morning, 440 competitors from across Canada and 16 American states will converge at the Parkinson Recreation Centre courts for the three-day tourney.
With entrants of varying physical abilities and skill levels ranging in age from 14 to 80, Pickleball Kelowna president Bryan Jackson said pickleball is accessible to a vast range of people.
“The pickleball venue is much smaller than tennis, so even people with physical limitations can be active and compete,” said Jackson. “The hand-eye skills are often as important or more important than mobility, so it really opens it to so many more people.
“And you literally have people of all ages doing it, so it really is a lifelong sport.”
Invented by a politician in Washington in 1965, pickleball is a paddle sport—a sort of hybrid between tennis, table tennis and badminton—and is played with a whiffle ball.
Pickleball courts are one-quarter the size of a tennis court. Twelve dedicated pickleball courts at Parkinson will be used for the tournament, with another 16 temporary courts to be set up on the Basil Meikle Tennis Courts.
Based on skill levels, entrants will play in six divisions—3.0, 3.5, 4.0. 4.5, 5.0 and Open.
In men’s singles, defending champ Kyle Yates will be back, but could be challenged by the likes of 18-year-old Ben Johns, Ty McGuffin, Chris Miller and Scott Moore.
In women’s singles, the much-decorated Jennifer Lucore from Oceanside, California returns to defend her singles title. Gee Gee Garvin from Carlsbad, California should be in the mix, while Pickleball Kelowna member Laura Schwarz will also compete in singles.
There is also expected to be stiff competition in the men’s and women’s doubles, and mixed doubles categories.
With 420 active members here, Kelowna has the largest organized club in the country and has thus been dubbed the ‘Pickleball Capital of Canada.’
This year, close to 80 local athletes will compete in the tournament. At last July’s tournament, Kelowna competitors won 18 medals.
This is the third of three consecutive years that Pickleball Kelowna has hosted the tournament.
The local association is considering a request from the U.S. Pickleball Association to host a pro circuit event in Kelowna in the future.
For more information on Pickleball Kelowna and the national tournament, see pickleballkelowna.com