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The City Journals

Pickle ball is All the Rage in South Salt Lake

Sep 08, 2016 03:19PM ● By Brian Shaw

A resident reaches down to send back a shot at a recent pickleball game. —Marcia Conner

By Brian Shaw 

Pickleball. What is it, exactly? Is it a sport where you actually strike pickles? That would be messy but rather interesting, right? Or, is it similar to that Whac-A-Mole game you played at carnivals as a youngster where you took out a mallet and lashed at some foreign object? 

Why are people even trying to play a sport revolving on violently striking dill pickles? What did the pickle do to you, to cause such mayhem and destruction? That doesn't make any sense. Are they trying to make a pickle out of the ball? Is that what it is? Not exactly, but pickleball appears to be soaring in popularity in South Salt Lake. 

Nobody seems to have a definitive answer as to why so many South Salt Lake residents jam the gym at the Central Park Community Center Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. playing the sport. 

Open only to adults, you would think the sport wouldn't be as popular being that it's happening in the middle of a work day. But that's where you'd be wrong. It's all the rage. Men and women, seniors, average Joe's and even city employees fill the Central Park gym three days a week to take a few whacks at this game. 

In America alone, over two million people play pickleball, which isn't actually a sport in which you're hitting pickled cucumbers. It began back in the summer of 1965 when, according to, three congressmen from Washington state “came home from a round of golf to find their kids bored and restless.” 

So, the three Washington congressmen sent their kids outside with ping pong paddles and a Wiffle ball. In a rather genius move, probably since they were dealing with kids, they lowered the badminton net to accommodate the childrens' lack of height and so, pickleball was born. 

Since that time, the sport has evolved. In its current incarnation, the rackets look more like over-sized ping pong paddles made out of any material you can think of, ranging from carbon composite to graphite to every kind of wood imaginable. 

The ball still appears to be something akin to a Wiffle ball—that confounded, holey contraption you might have tried and sometimes failed, to hit home runs with as an adolescent—but it's also slightly smaller than the first version. 

According to SSL recreation director Dustin Permann, despite its rather unique name and origin, the sport couldn't be more popular in South Salt Lake than it is right now—kosher or not. 

“It's kind of weird, because it kind of died here two years ago when we started it. But, about a year ago, when we started playing it one day a week, it grew,” said Permann. “We went from having six players, to 10. Now, we'll get about 12 to 15 on any given day.”  

The game is similar to ping pong in that the ball must bounce once on the opposite end of the court before your opponent can send it back over the net. Then, the madness begins—just like ping pong and tennis. The only difference, according to Permann, is that there's a volley zone seven feet from the net-- from which players can strike overhand beauties at their opponent if they wish. In other words, no overhand smashes from point-blank range like in tennis. 

“It's a little less taxing for seniors. A lot of it's underhand stuff. The ball is a little slower, and it's similar to a Wiffle ball,” said Permann. “I explain it as life size ping pong, a lot of volleying back and forth. Doubles gets really strategic.” 

Permann said that everyone plays on two courts in doubles formats and rotates after each game. He added that the city is considering building a new outdoor court at Central Park this summer due to its popularity. 

For more information on the sport, go to