Despite the quirky name, pickleball is a fast-growing competitive sport that has nothing to do with a brine-soaked cucumber.
The unique sport is a hybrid game of ping-pong, tennis and badminton, which has grown in popularity across Beaufort County in the past decade.
The name originated when one of the game's founders, former U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard of Washington state, noticed his dog Pickles chasing a ball.
However, Pritchard's wife, Joan, said she called the game pickleball because the combination of different sports reminded her of pickle-boat crews in which oarsmen are chosen from the leftovers of other boats.
Whatever its name's origin, there's no debate over its growth.
The southern Beaufort County pickleball community has risen to nearly 925 men and women, with 785 of them at Sun City Hilton Head.
"Over the last few years, we have about 50 to 75 new members each year, which is dependent upon the amount of homes that are sold in Sun City," said Rick Wright, Sun City Pickleball Club president.
The Hilton Head Pickleball Club has also experienced a spike in membership from 15 to 150 players in the last three years.
Mike Michner, known as the Lowcountry pickleball ambassador, said the Hilton Head club is expected to grow even more, now that it has more courts.
"There are times during the winter that we may have 60 players here, and a lot of them are having to sit and wait to play," Michner said.
The club recently added four courts at Hilton Head Park on Adrianna Lane, and combined with its six courts at the Island Recreation Center, wait times should be reduced.
EASIER ON THE BODY
The game is played on a smaller tennis court, and the equipment includes large ping-pong-like paddles and whiffle balls.
The paddles come in a variety of sizes, material and weight, depending upon the player's skill. The paddles also range in price, anywhere from $8 to more than $100.
Pickleball is a quick, aerobic game, and it has spiked in interest among older adults because it is easier on the body than tennis or other sports. Because there's less ground to cover on the court, players are less likely to run short of breath or twist their ankles.
Some local club members play as often five days a week.
Wright said that after he started playing pickleball seven years ago, he dropped softball and golf.
"It's easy to pick up, and it's an engaging game," he said. "Most people that start playing become addicted to the game."
Local players are also hoping to get younger players into the mix.
Bob Rozek, recreation director at the Island Recreation Center and a pickleball player, said the Hilton Head club wants to recruit more high school students and younger people.
"Most people look at pickleball as an older person's sport, but it is really meant for all ages," Rozek said.
SERIOUS BUT SOCIAL
Wright said the game is the perfect balance of exercise, competition and fun.
"Pickleball is such a great aerobic sport that is competitive and fun at the same time," Wright said. "It's just a great experience."
The Sun City pickleball players often meet with the Hilton Head club for some friendly competition.
Michner, of the Hilton Head club, said that although it is a competitive sport, players often go out for meals and enjoy each other's company after a morning of pickleball.
"The beauty of the game is that it is competitive, but it's also an incredibly social game," he said. "Once we walk off the court, we enjoy sitting together and talking about our kids, grandkids, Hilton Head, and life in general."
Rena Labin said that joining the Hilton Head club was one of the activities that made her fall in love with the island when she moved to town last April.
"These are truly the best group of people I have ever met," Labin said.
WANT TO PLAY?
The Hilton Head Island Pickleball Club will be hosting free clinics June 1, 3 and 5 from 9 to 10:30 a.m. and June 2 and 4 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the recreation center. Details: islandreccenter.org
The Sun City Pickleball Club hosts meet-and-play sessions for new and experienced pickleball players. For experienced players, meet at South Side Courts 1 and 3 every Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday from 3 to 5 p.m. For new players, meet at North Side Court 11 every Monday from 5 to 7 p.m.
MILESTONES IN PICKLEBALL HISTORY
1965: After playing golf one summer afternoon, U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell of Washington state found their families sitting around with nothing to do. So with an old badminton court, ping-pong paddles and a plastic ball, they began playing what would later be called pickleball.
1990: Pickleball is played in all 50 states.
2005: Darlene and John Prest introduce pickleball to Sun City Hilton Head. The game has grown to have nearly 1,000 players in Beaufort County.
SOURCE: USA Pickleball Association, Sun City Pickleball Club