Dave Burgoyne and Dave Lopushinsky in action at the Penticton Pickelball Club courts. The sport is growing by leaps and bounds during the pandemic thanks to its outdoor setting.

Golfers aren’t the only people who’ve managed to continue enjoying the sport they love during the pandemic.

Thanks to their outdoor courts, members of the Penticton Pickleball Club have continued to enjoy “the fastest growing racquet sport in North America – and maybe the world,” said president Graham Perrie.

For the uninitiated, pickleball combines the skills of tennis, squash, racquetball and badminton. Players hit a hard, plastic Wiffle-type ball and the courts are roughly half the size used for tennis.

“What really happened originally was a lot of older tennis players couldn’t play anymore and that’s when pickleball took off many years ago and started to evolve,” explained Perrie.

The demographic for years was mainly seniors, but that too is rapidly changing with more and more players becoming hooked at a younger age.

“I go to Mexico every winter and play down there and it used to be all seniors, but now the best players are these young guys in their 20s and 30s,” he said. “The demographic is changing even in our club.”

Like most sports, there are different levels with some experienced players being able to hit the ball with tremendous power. However, because of the smaller size of the courts, the game also includes a great deal of dexterity and touch, using angles and techniques to score points.

“There’s a lot of finesse involved,” said Perrie. “It’s not like tennis, where most shots are long shots and the ball is hit hard. A lot of the winning shots (in pickleball) are up at the net and involve a lot of touch and skill.”

The majority of players in Penticton prefer doubles – although that’s only allowed for family bubbles at the moment – but many of the better players also do singles matches.

“Our club membership at its peak is just over 250, which is pretty impressive for a city this size,” noted Perrie.

The Okanagan Valley has the most pickleball players per capita in the country, with Kelowna and West Kelowna recognized as the unofficial pickleball capitals of Canada, said Perrie, who has been playing the sport for five years and is now in his second year as club president.

There are also large and active clubs in Vernon and Osoyoos.

Penticton city council had approved building four more courts last year, but cancelled those plans due to the pandemic. When club members offered to pay $50,000, council agreed to add two more courts for the 2021 season.

While the facility on South Main Street near the Penticton Seniors’ Drop-In Centre is outstanding, the reality is pickleball has become so popular that more courts are needed, hopefully soon after the pandemic ends, said Perrie.

“We’re way under in terms of courts per capita than any other area in this region. We have a great-looking facility and the city has been great working with us, but we do need more courts,” he explained,

Once the pandemic is over, volunteer instructors will return to help give lessons to newcomers.

For more information, visit www.pentictonpickleball.ca.