On OBX, Pickleball goes from curiosity to craze

By on April 19, 2021

The Duck Woods Country Club's board of directors are expected to vote soon on a proposal to build new dedicated pickleball courts. (Photo credit: Bailey Wright)
Duck Woods Pickleball Association President Pat Baskette plays pickleball with friends at the country club. (Photo credit: Bailey Wright)
"Newbies" Maureen Kurz and Bill Mann play pickleball on the tennis courts at Duck Woods Country Club. (Photo credit: Bailey Wright)
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By Matt Zabierek | Outer Banks Voice

After showing up in the Outer Banks years back as a niche activity, the sport of pickleball has now grown to the degree that public and private organizations are starting to build specialty courts to keep up with the growing interest.  “It’s almost become an addiction for a lot of people,” said Stacy Joseph, the director of aging/senior services for Currituck County.

Currituck County, for example, began offering pickleball programs at its Barco senior center in 2014, she said. The program started with only a handful of players and has now grown to 57 participants. It became so popular among seniors that when the county held a series of public meetings to plan the new Shingle Landing Park in Moyock, many of those pickleball players requested that new courts be included. The county listened, and two dedicated pickleball courts, the first ones built by the county, are expected to be ready this summer, according to Currituck County Parks & Recreation Director Jason Weeks.

Up until now, the county has only placed pickleball lines on existing tennis courts. Given its burgeoning popularity, Weeks could see the county creating more courts down the road.

“I could certainly see it continue to be a facility that’s going to be requested in new parks as we build them given that it keeps growing,” he said.

Pickleball is a sport played with the style of tennis, the speed of ping pong, and the court dimensions of badminton (20 x 44 feet). Players use paddles about twice the size of ping pong paddles to hit a perforated plastic ball (like a Wiffle ball) over a 34-inch-high net (lower than a tennis net). The speed of a game can vary depending on the players’ experience levels, and like tennis, it can be played in singles or doubles.

The sport was first conceived back in 1965 by three dads trying to entertain their bored kids during the summer in Bainbridge Island, Washington. Over the past couple of decades, the sport has grown from having less than 40 known places to play in North America to more than 4 million players in the U.S. last year.

Pickleball courts — both dedicated courts and tennis courts with pickleball lining — have already emerged all along the Outer Banks from Corolla to Hatteras, particularly in communities with large tennis participation and older players looking for a lighter alternative.

“It opens up a scaled-down version of tennis for older folks,” said Jim Conners, a landscape architect who designed the new courts in Moyock. Conners, a member of the Southern Shores Town Council, is also working on two new courts that the Southern Shores Civic Association, is looking to build at the Hillcrest Beach Access. The SSCA effectively acts as the town’s parks and rec department. The project will soon go before the association’s board, and if it gets approved, former association president Rod McCaughey expects it will probably be completed by the end of this summer.

The association began exploring building new pickleball courts after 94% of the association’s 300-member tennis club supported the idea in a recent survey, McCaughey said. “It was kind of surprising, in this day and age where everything is split down the middle, we had a 94% positive response for building pickleball.”

At the Duck Woods Country Club in Southern Shores, the club’s board of directors is expected to vote, probably next month, on a proposal to build four dedicated pickleball courts next to the club’s tennis courts. Pickleball started at the country club about five years ago with a handful of players, and today, there are about 60 players that play during the week on the club’s tennis courts, according to Lynda Burek, vice president of the Ducks Woods Pickleball Association.

“The growth has been phenomenal,” added Jim Groff, chair of the Duck Woods board’s racquet sports committee.  “Even with COVID, our tennis program grew [over the last three years] about 16%, but pickleball grew over 600%.”

Many attribute the rapid growth of the sport to the fact that people of all ages can play it and it doesn’t take long to pick it up. For years, middle schools and high schools around the country have been incorporating the sport in their physical education classes, and it is particularly popular with older players because it takes less of a physical toll.

“Naturally, as our bodies get older, running, bending, stretching becomes more difficult,” Weeks said. “Well, with a smaller court surface, you don’t have to be as athletic to be pretty competitive and compete at a high level.”

There are communities for those 55 and older around the county that have built dozens, sometimes hundreds, of courts, most famously The Villages in Central Florida, which has about 200 courts. The sport also allows seniors to approach the game as competitively as they want and to socialize with other players.

When the COVID pandemic prevented Currituck senior center players from playing indoors, a group of them decided to get together and play in the mornings at Currituck High School, where they were also joined by a group of younger players, Weeks said.

In addition to enabling intergenerational experiences, the sport also helps seniors in the area socialize and connect with peers.

“Our seniors have started to befriend some of the Dare County seniors,” Weeks said. “And they’re all starting to travel back and forth to play on each other’s facilities. It’s kind of neat how it’s expanded.”

Where to play:

Tim White, Dare County’s public services director, said the county offers pickleball at different locations:

  • Family Recreation Park in Kill Devil Hills has six indoor and four outdoor courts, where people play every day from 8 am to about noon.
  • The Lions Club Center at Wescott Park in Manteo has three courts that are open on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9 a.m. to noon and Thursday nights beginning at 5:30 p.m.
  • The Fessenden Center in Buxton has two indoor and two outdoor courts and requires players to call ahead and schedule.

According to the pickleball website Places 2 Play, the Family YMCA in Nags Head also offers pickleball programs and there is a court at Dowdy Park in Nags Head.

In Corolla, the Corolla Light and Pine Island communities have pickleball courts the public can use, sometimes for a fee. The Ocean Sands community is also in the process of building new courts.


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See what people are saying:

  • Cam

    Many thanks for capturing the growth and enthusiasm for Pickleball here on the Outer Banks.
    What you report about seniors is true…but the real story of pickleball over the last couple of years is the growth among all ages including athletes in their prime playing pro pickleball and earning in the $500k range and high schools adding courts and lessons to their curriculam.
    A 14 year old boy and 12 year old girl have made it to the semi finals of the national ADULT championships this week. It’s and exciting sport for all these days!
    We will soon have between 4 and 8 more co-lined pickleball courts in KDH thanks to the help of Terry Gray and the KDH board in the Meekins Field renovations.
    Two things though are presently missing from OBX pickleball…VISITORS and dedicated pickleball courts where locals and visitors alike may play and socialize and spend time and money all year long. I believe it will take an effort of the county and the towns to recognize the demand and opportunity it presents for residents of all ages and visitors who insist that their vacation destination gives them an opportunity to play. Pickleball is the new WiFi… they won’t leave home without it!
    If you’re a local and want to learn to play come on out to one of the places listed in the article and you’ll find lots of folks ready and happy to help.

    Monday, Apr 19 @ 8:06 pm