Don’t let the name fool you, pickleball has nothing to do with cooking, condiments or the Heinz corporation — it’s a sport, and one that is exploding in popularity around Cowichan Lake.
On Saturday, more than 30 pickleball players participated in the South Shore Classic Spring Pickleball Tournament, which was hosted by Cowichan Lake Recreation at the curling rink, where the ice surface has been removed for the season and four pickleball courts established in its place.
The sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong, on courts similar in size to those used in badminton. Players hit a wiffle ball back and forth over a tennis net using paddles. The game is played to 11 points and lasts on average about 15 minutes. The smaller court size and duration of games is part of the reason the sport is particularly popular among people over 50. It also isn’t as physically demanding as racquet sports like tennis or squash.
Brent Harrison has been playing for about five years and described it as “addictive.” Although he was not participating in the tournament as a player due to a logging injury, he did come out to watch and to cheer on his uncle, Bob Harrison, who is 80 years old and an avid player.
“Many players have limited mobility but still enjoy it,” he said. “I’ve played with a lady in Arizona with a pacemaker, but you get in her wheel house and she’ll make you pay.”
Harrison said there are some variations on pickleball’s origin story, but it’s commonly understood the sport was created by a couple who lived in the San Juan Islands.
“They had a tennis court there and they invented it. They had a dog named Pickle, a Jack Russell, and they didn’t have fences around the court so when they had to retrieve the ball, they’d say, ‘Pickle, ball’ and Pickle would go get the ball.”
Harrison said despite the sport’s growing popularity, many people are still unfamiliar with it. But he said those who are aware and who play tend to be fanatics, always welcoming of new players.
“One thing I notice about pickleball is you can just show up at a game and you’re invited to join. With baseball and golf, you can’t just join in,” he said.
Dennis Peters has been playing since he moved to Lake Cowichan three years ago and said the social aspects of pickleball were a great way to meet people in the community.
“I can’t understate the social component. I mean, this group, we have birthday parties, we go for coffee after a game, that sort of thing,” he said.
Over the past three years, Peters has watched the group grow from around 10 players to approximately 50. During the winter pickleball is played at the community halls in Honeymoon Bay and Youbou, while gameplay migrates to Lake Cowichan and the curling rink during the summer. The sport can be played indoors and outdoors, and Peters said local players are hopeful the town and other partners will help make an outdoor court a reality by next summer.
“But who knows. There are a few hurdles we have to get over first,” he added.
A woman named Jean Cousins is considered the first person to bring pickleball to the Cowichan Lake district. Cousins died in 2013, and every fall the Jean Cousins Memorial Pickleball tournament is held in Youbou.
“She was so good. She loved a really good, hard game and she would laugh. She was lovely,” said Fearon.
In addition to locals, Saturday’s tournament featured players from Victoria, Shawnigan Lake, Mill Bay, Ladysmith and Salt Spring Island. Bob Fish of Youbou placed first in the men’s finals while Glenda Sharpe of Ladysmith captured first in the women’s.