When Pickleball Island opened in Grand Island in October 2017, the facility had three courts. Six months later, it had seven.
More than 18 months later, Pickleball Island's seven courts are in constant use and four more courts could be added in the near future.
The reason? The continued expansion of the game in Western New York.
“The growth of pickleball has been explosive in the past few years," said Jason Santerres, one of the owners of Pickleball Island along with David Miller and Ken Knight. "Places like The Villages in Florida has a mind-boggling 150 courts. Throughout the United States in places like Naples, Fla., Utah and California, the sport is booming.”
Naples recently hosted the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships with more than 2,000 players competing on 50 courts over seven days.
In 2015, there 2.5 million pickleball players, according to the United States of America Pickleball Association. Last year, the number had grown to 3.3 million, the organization said.
Santerres, one of the founders of the game in the region, said there are approximately 1,800 players in Western New York with 65 locations and 160 courts. The area is also home to the New York State Pickleball Classic, scheduled for July at the Lakewood YMCA in Chautauqua County.
"The game is fun and is very inexpensive," he said. "If people travel they can play anywhere in the United States. Of course, everyone wants to win. However, all the participants are friendly and people congratulate their opponents when they make a good shot. Equipment and technology have also improved immensely."
Santerres, who owns the Grand Island location with Ken Knight and David Miller, serves as a USA Ambassador, part of a group of volunteers appointed by the USAPA to promote the game in their respective areas. Santerres has been an ambassador for nearly nine years. Knight serves as an ambassador in Grand Island.
"Pickleball has become a huge business," Santerres said. "There are multiple manufacturers of paddles, wiffle balls and everything else that has to do with the game. There are also certified coaches and referees that officiate tournaments in Buffalo, other cities in New York state and throughout the country."
Much like the United States Tennis Association, the USAPA serves as a central body that governs the rules. The ranking system for pickleball is similar to the ranking system in tennis.
Most players play for social reasons and exercise. The rules can be learned in one day. The goal is to continue to spread the game as quickly as possible. Players have their choice of playing recreationally or competitively.
Here are some key things to know:
- A court is 44 by 20 feet, much smaller than a tennis court.
- A wiffle ball is used for play.
- The serving is underhand.
- Composite material paddles range in cost from $45-$200.
- Matches are best of three games and games are played until a team or player wins 11 points and must be won by two points (11-9, 12-10 etc.). Points are only scored when a player is serving. The receiving player or team can’t score points. A team or player must win the rallies in order to serve and then can score points.
- If you are an avid tennis player and are a good volleyer (hitting the wiffle ball in the air), you will greatly enjoy pickleball.
Jim Kargen has been playing pickleball for more than 17 years. He first learned the sport in The Villages in Florida and has been one of the main people who has promoted the game in this area.
He first started playing pickleball at the YMCA with Bob Spraul, who would bring his own net. People would be inquisitive about the game as they played. The YMCA made courts available and the more people began playing.
“What draws people to the sport is that it is so easy to play and can be played on a social or competitive level," Kargen said. "Tennis and pickleball complement each other. Ground strokes and eye-hand coordination are similar."
Story topics: Pickleball