Pickleball is poppin’. I open Snapchat and see friends playing—beer in hand—at bars that are built entirely around the sport. Others are playing with their grandparents while on vacation. Local country clubs are hopping aboard, too. When I realized that it was trending, I knew I had to try the sport. I had high hopes: pickles are pretty much my favorite food, grandmas can play the sport and, if I found the right venue, I could even get a little tipsy while exercising.
I called up my pal and former co-worker Dylan Whitaker, who had very aggressively picked up the sport as a hobby. I needed the scoop. Who plays pickleball? Where do people play? Who’s the best? I needed him to tell me everything, and he delivered. Dylan told me that RaNay Riffe was a pickleball star who would probably be tickled to show me the ropes. Quickly, I got in touch with her, and next thing I knew, I was scheduled to play pickleball with her for a few hours on a Friday morning.
Upon researching the sport, I was saddened to learn that pickleball incorporates zero pickles. But relief swept over me when I found that the oddly named sport might have been inspired by a cocker spaniel named Pickles. What a great name. I already loved the game.
According to the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA), the paddle sport combines elements of tennis, badminton and pingpong and can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court with a slightly modified tennis net. In the game, which is suitable for all ages and skill levels, a plastic ball with holes is volleyed back and forth between players.
Impressively, the number of places to play pickleball has doubled since 2010, according to USAPA. To find a spot near you, visit usapa.org. “You’re seeing cities that are converting tennis courts to pickleball courts or building their own pickleball courts,” says Mike Porter, Springfield’s USAPA ambassador. Most recently, Meador Park in Springfield converted six tennis courts into pickleball courts.
Riffe primarily plays in Republic. When she isn’t on the court, she’s a hair stylist in Springfield. “It’s horribly addicting,” Riffe says. “If you want to, there are places to play every day of the week.” She started out playing singles in 2015, got addicted, played a tournament in Branson and won. After trying out men’s and women’s doubles, she took up mixed doubles at the beginning of 2017. To develop her skills, she watched endless matches on YouTube, sat in the stands during high-level tournament matches and now plays about nine hours a week. After only two-and-a-half years of playing, she’s now a 5.0 according to USAPA—the highest ranking a player can get. According to Porter, there are only two five-star paddlers in 417-land besides Riffe.