The name might make you laugh but watching them play will make your jaw drop.
The game is called pickleball, which might not bring to mind images of athleticism and incredible pace, but watching a match at the B.C. Senior Games this week will quickly change that - the action is fast and the players are skilled.
Kamloops's Ken Purvis describes pickleball as "small court tennis," an apt description but maybe a little too simplified. The game is more like a combination of badminton, table tennis and tennis, taking different elements from each.
Pickleball often is played on tennis courts, a pickleball court being about one third the size of a tennis court, with the pickleball net set two inches lower. The ball is a small, polymer version of a wiffle ball.
The speed of the rallies will remind you of table tennis, the strategy of badminton.
"I started to play pickleball with kids at McArthur Park junior secondary . . . back in the '70s because they hated badminton," said Purvis, who at 69 took fourth in men's doubles at the 3.0 skill level at South Kamloops secondary on Wednesday. "So I went to the shop, cut out some paddles, got wiffle balls and I've been playing for a while."
Purvis's story is remarkably similar to origins of the first pickleball game. In 1966, an American politician named Joel Pritchard promised to invent a game for his children. He lowered the net on his backyard badminton court and went to his shed and fashioned paddles out of plywood. Finally, he borrowed a wiffle ball from a young neighbour and pickleball was born.
Pickleball's name came from Pritchard's wife Joan, who said it reminded her of the pickle boat in crew, the one made up of oarsmen chosen from the leftovers of the other boats. Many believe the name came from the Pritchard family dog, Pickles, who is said to have chased the ball every time it went out of bounds.
Joan later clarified in a column for the Parkersburg, W.Va., News and Sentinel that it was actually the other way around: Pickles was named for the game.
Pickleball isn't yet a sport that is known in every household - but let's be honest, the name really should be - but it's growing quickly and not just with seniors. The United States Pickleball Association estimates there are more than 100,000 players nationwide and in Canada, where the sport is still relatively new, there are more than 5,000 players in B.C., Alberta, Quebec and Ontario. Leagues have begun to crop up and provincial and national competitions are being held.
At the senior games, pickleball has experienced a 64 per cent growth since last year's games. In 2012 in Burnaby there were 94 participants; this year 154 pickleballers will pass through the gyms at South Kamloops secondary.
"It's not stressful on your joints, as much as badminton, hockey, tennis," Purvis said. "It's like a table tennis game on steroids."
Purvis's thoughts were echoed around the games yesterday and it seems to be one of the reasons the game is growing so quickly. Many of the athletes have history in other racquet sports and said pickleball is a high-pace game that is easier on the body.
Salmon Arm's Marg Heron, 63, has been playing pickleball for five years and, like many others, plays it as a winter alternative to tennis.
"With tennis, there's a lot of running and jarring and I find that really hard on the body," Heron said. "With pickleball you don't have to move as far; you have to move fast, just not as far."
Heron and her partner, 71-year-old Myrna Calver, won seven of their eight games en route to a silver medal in the 3.5 skill category. At the games, pickleball is being played indoors, which is how Heron usually plays it in the winters, but most of the time it's a summer game played outdoors.
The elements can make the trajectory of the ball even more difficult to judge and, though it moves slower than a tennis ball, the pace of the game is on par, if not quicker.
"I'd say it's about five times as fast as tennis," said Kamloops' Thor Fridriksson. "When you look at some of these guys, these are awesome players. They're fencing, it's like they're fencing it's so fast."
The 59-year-old had just wrapped up an exciting doubles match in which he and partner Ross Nybo, 62, just barely managed to squeak out a victory; one of their opponents was 77 and Fridriksson predicted that team would win the bronze medal in the 3.75 skill level of the men's doubles.
That is indicative of the skill level of the pickleballers at the games - they are ranked by skill, rather than by age - and how little age has to do with their ability to be competitive.
"You really change your attitude about seniors when you come to the seniors games," Fridriksson concluded.