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Pickleball apparel no problem for Newport Beach women behind PB&Jelly

Kristen Ridge, left, and Sue Murphy
Kristen Ridge, left, and Sue Murphy prepare on Thursday morning for a pickleball match at Bonita Canyon Sports Park in Newport Beach. The duo founded “PB&Jelly,” which sells pickleball-themed hats and visors.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Kristen Ridge and Sue Murphy met last year at a pickleball clinic.

The sport that is described as a mixture of tennis, pingpong and badminton has been surging in popularity in recent years, particularly among the older demographic. Courts have been popping up around Orange County.

Ridge, 57, whose stepsister, Kathy Mihelic, is a professional pickleball player, grew to love the sport. So did Murphy, 62. The Newport Beach residents play at the Bonita Canyon Sports Park public courts off of MacArthur Boulevard, as well as at the Tennis Club Newport Beach.

They never knew what to wear, though. Tennis clothes fit, but they wanted something distinct. Pickleball apparel typically was just T-shirts with sayings like, “Stay out of the kitchen,” referencing the area near the net where players may not volley from. “Don’t get in a pickle” is another silly pickleball shirt.

Ridge and Murphy founded “PB&Jelly” this summer during the coronavirus pandemic. Their company sells pickleball-themed hats and visors and yes, “PB” stands for pickleball.

“We wanted to class it up and get something specifically for pickleball,” said Murphy, who has a background as a buyer and manager at Nordstrom and taught in the fashion department at Long Beach State for several years. “People wear their Lululemon or their tennis gear or whatever, and we wanted a pickleball look.”

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The merchandise has been selling well, they said, even though COVID-19 has diminished some of their opportunities.

“It’s challenging in a COVID world,” Murphy said. “There was a big tournament in Anaheim a couple of weekends ago, and we could have set up there and sold. But there were no spectators, and no vendors. Even street fair booths and things like that, a lot has been canceled. That’s a little frustrating.”

Sue Murphy, right, adjusts her hat while Kristen Ridge waits to start a pickleball match.
Sue Murphy, right, adjusts her hat while Kristen Ridge waits to start a pickleball match.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Mike Fischer teaches the sport at Big Canyon Country Club in Newport Beach, and he also gives private lessons. He said there are reasons why pickleball has been exploding in popularity.

“Men and women tend to play pretty well together,” Fischer said. “Women tend to beat men pretty easily, and people who are 60 can compete with people who are 23 and do well. It’s extremely inclusive.”

Fischer said that since the sport has been growing so much, it allows a chance for people like Ridge and Murphy to start up companies like PB&Jelly.

“What seems to be happening now is that larger companies, like Wilson, Prince and Head, are coming in and buying some of these smaller companies,” he said. “There are a lot of business opportunities that are available to people. For them to come up with a line of clothing that’s popular, there’s always that chance that Wilson will say, ‘We like your line and we’d like to bring it into our company.’ Or maybe they’ll just run it as a small company and enjoy success that way.”

Ridge and Murphy, who are instructed by Melanie Wheatley at both the city courts and the Tennis Club, have plenty of customers within their pickleball circle of friends that meets to play games. The group runs about 20 women strong, and the women call themselves “the Sweet Pickles.”

PB&Jelly sells hats and visors for pickleball players.
PB&Jelly sells hats and visors for pickleball players.
(Don Leach / Staff Photographer)

Rosemary Cummings of Laguna Beach, a member of the Sweet Pickles, said she’s on her second PB&Jelly hat.

“They’re adorable,” Cummings said. “They keep the sun off, and they’re pretty. Great design, and it’s fun to have friends making some money, to support them. Not that any of us would say no to such cute stuff.”

Ridge said when the city courts were shut down, some people brought a net and played pickleball on a nearby basketball court.

“That’s how addicting it is,” she said.

Ridge started playing pickleball so much — about 25 hours a week — that she said she had to have surgery on her right elbow. She is looking forward to getting back on the court in November.

When she does, she knows that she will have a stylish visor to wear. She helped design it.

“We have so much fun,” she said. “We’ll go out to different tournaments in Tustin, the courts down in San Clemente. We meet all these new people, and we always sell stuff.”

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