Now, Pickleball Warehouse is Riffe’s full-time job, and running the business is a family affair. Her husband is a school teacher, but he fills his summers off by teaching pickleball classes and running tournaments alongside Riffe. Their 13-year-old son, who has almost reached pro-level, also loves assisting Riffe with classes and teaching private lessons, while their 11-year-old daughter helps run the on-site smoothie bar and designs fliers for the business.
Doubles, which involves two players on each side of the court, is the most common way to play the sport. Riffe got her start playing singles, which is a one-on-one match.
“Singles is a very different game,” she says. “It requires a different strategy, and it’s a whole other level of cardio. [Singles] was all I did for the first year. I played several tournaments, and I won every tournament I played in. So my skill level just kind of kept rising, and I was being approached everywhere. People wanted me to play doubles, and I was very resistant for a long time but finally went to doubles. Now I totally prefer doubles. I still love to play singles, but doubles is so much fun.”
While Riffe sees a variety of ages come to Pickleball Warehouse, one major demographic is retirees. David Gibbs first started playing pickleball in 2019, and he instantly became hooked. He was still working at the time, so he had limited time to spend on the court. But once he retired and the pandemic passed, he was able to start playing two times a week. “Pickleball is a game you can start playing at any age,” Gibbs says. “Everyone is welcoming and friendly, and the better players are always willing to help and include new players.”
Mary Kay Hostler is another player who first started when she was nearing retirement in 2017, and her only regret is that she didn’t start sooner. Now, she’s known by many locally as “The Queen of Pickleball.” Hostler loves helping beginners of all ages learn the sport, but especially her peers. One thing she likes to remind her students is that “no ball is worth the fall.” However, she notes that the physical and mental health benefits far outweigh the fall risk. “I have met so many people, and my social world has grown immensely because of pickleball,” she says. “I think everybody who routinely plays would tell you that part of the reason why they play is the circle of friends that they made and the relationships that have grown out of the sport.”
While retirees may be the demographic with the most time to play, they’re not the most common demographic of players. USA Pickleball reports that the average age of players is just under 35 years old. However, there are no defined age limits, and Pickleball Warehouse sees children as young as eight years old playing.
“There are so many young people that are up and coming and playing this now,” Prater says. “To see the young people get so involved and become so good at it blows my mind.”
While many people play recreationally, there is a growing professional scene. In fact, Drury University is adding a non-NCAA co-ed pickleball team to its sports offerings beginning in the fall 2024 semester. Drury’s pickleball team won’t simply be a club sport or student organization. Drury will be the first college to have an official pickleball team with a staff coach. Plus, students will be able to receive pickleball scholarships. The university is currently adding the final touches to Panther Pad, an outdoor recreation center complete with six pickleball courts plus a tennis and a basketball court.