Among California reopenings: Pickleball courts. So, what’s pickleball?

Two women play pickleball at a park in El Segundo
Melanie Archer and Sheila Payne play pickleball at El Segundo Park recently.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

As she settled in to host another talk show from her living room, Ellen Degeneres recently told viewers of her show that she was having trouble walking. No visible injury appeared to impair her. She sat relaxed in an armchair.

Nonetheless, her lower back was bothering her.

“Anybody who plays pickleball will understand,” Degeneres said. “And if they don’t, then I’m way out of shape.”

If you are anything like the producer standing in the background of the shot, you may have been perplexed.


“What?” said Andy Lassner, the show’s executive producer. “What is pickleball?”

It’s a racquet sport — which does not involve a pickle, by the way — and has existed since 1965. The sport has begun to grow rapidly in recent years. A spokesperson for the USA Pickleball Assn. said in a December interview that more than 3.1 million people played pickleball in 2018, up 12% over the previous year.

Access to pickleball courts was restricted in March to stem the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. In recent weeks, however, the sport has been allowed to flourish again as parks and recreation facilities around California have started to reopen.

“It’s fun,” Degeneres said, “and I’m obsessed with it.”

So what is it?

It’s like tennis but played with a racquet resembling a ping pong paddle and a perforated ball on a smaller court.

Two women play pickleball in El Segundo
Pickleball is similar to tennis, but the equipment is a little different and it’s played on a smaller court.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

Who can play?

Anyone. It’s a particularly good sport for people who struggle with mobility because the playing surface is much smaller than a tennis court. The rectangular courts measure 20 feet wide by 44 feet long for both singles and doubles play. Tennis courts are wider by a few feet and roughly twice as long.


What’s the objective of the game?

Get the ball past your opponent and get to 11 points first. But you have to win by two, and you can only score when serving.

How do I play?

Here are the basics:

  • Serve the ball diagonally across the court with an underhanded motion from behind the back line, making sure the paddle makes contact with the ball below the waist.
  • You can only attempt to serve once, unless the ball touches the net on the serve and lands in the proper court. Then you can try one more time before incurring a fault.
  • Hit the ball on the bounce the first time it arrives on your side. The return of the serve must also bounce once before being hit. After that, he ball can be hit in the air or on the bounce.
  • In general, do not enter the non-volley zone, also known as “the kitchen.” It extends 7 feet from the net on each side. You can enter the kitchen only to hit back a ball that bounces in the zone.
  • You or your team continue to serve, alternating service courts, until you lose a rally or commit a fault.

Find more detailed explanations in the official rulebook of the USA Pickleball Assn.

What’s the best way to win?

Heed these words from U.S. Open Pickleball gold medalist Glen Peterson: “Consistency is more important than aggressive play.”

How long does one game last?

Plan for 30 minutes to be on the safe side. Skill level will dictate the length of the match.

What’s the cheapest way to play?

Acquire some ping pong racquets and Whiffle balls and mark the lines of a pickleball court in your driveway with chalk. You don’t even need to put down a net. The dimensions are on the pickleball association website.

A woman plays pickleball
The perforated ball and ping-pong-style paddle are distinctive to pickleball.
(Gabriella Angotti-Jones / Los Angeles Times)

That won’t cut it. Where can I get real equipment?

The Pickleball website offers a handful of options. Nets range from $25 to $350. The least expensive option does not include a frame system, so you would need to tie it to makeshift supports of your own. Heavy outdoor furniture would probably do the trick.

Paddle and ball bundles are available for under $30.

A starter pickleball set — including a net, four paddles and four outdoor balls — is priced at $146.

If you’re looking for a fix quicker than the internet can supply, stores near you might have equipment. Big 5 and Dick’s Sporting Goods both carry pickleball gear. So do Target and Walmart.

Are there courts near me?

The Places 2 Play website allows you to search for pickleball courts in your ZIP Code.