Los Angeles, CA – Move over tennis and make way for pickleball – the fast-growing racket sport that has taken Hollywood by storm. An eclectic mix of celebrities from Ellen Degeneres to John Legend have been spotted swinging pickleball paddles at exclusive clubs and backyard courts. So what exactly is pickleball and why has it become so popular among the one percent?
Pickleball is a mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping pong played with a paddle and a plastic poly ball with holes. The sport can be played indoors or outdoors on a badminton-sized court with a tennis-style net. Players score points by volleying the ball back and forth over the net until one player fails to return it. The rules are simple and the game is fast-paced, making it appealing across all ages and skill levels.
The origins of pickleball trace back to the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Three fathers – Joel Pritchard, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum – whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities invented the game. Using leftover ping pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball, they set up a badminton court and lowered the net to 36 inches – and pickleball was born.
In the five decades since, pickleball’s popularity has exploded. There are now over 4.8 million pickleball players in the U.S. according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association – a growth of 39.3% over the last two years. Dubbed “America’s fastest growing sport,” pickleball courts and leagues are popping up from coast to coast.
So what about pickleball has captivated celebrities and their well-heeled friends? The social nature of the game is a major draw. Pickleball is best played in a group, providing a fun way to mingle and bond. The game has also taken off at exclusive clubs like Soho House, giving members a hip new activity. For superstar athletes like Michael Phelps and Andy Roddick, pickleball offers a low-impact way to get their competitive fix after retiring from swimming and tennis respectively.
But it’s more than just casual fun and games for some LA celebs. As fitness entrepreneur Isaac Boots, who trains the likes of Rebel Wilson and Kate Beckinsale, told Page Six: “It’s very strategic, it’s great for eye-hand coordination and agility.” Indeed, pickleball provides a full-body workout combining aerobic exercise with explosive movements – all while building camaraderie.
Miley Cyrus is one star who is using pickleball to boost her athletic skills. She told Jimmy Fallon on The Tonight Show, “I’ve been living on a pickleball court…If you don’t play pickleball, you’re out of my life!” Legendary songwriter Diane Warren has also caught the bug, gushing to Variety, “It’s the greatest exercise I’ve ever had in my life.”
For some celebrities, the benefits of the game extend beyond physical fitness. Grammy-winner Darius Rucker credits pickleball with improving his mental health, sharing with Tamron Hall: “It saved my life. The people I’ve met, the exercise I’m getting…It just saved me.” Meanwhile, comedian Kathy Griffin said pickleball helped her bounce back after her highly-publicized spat with Donald Trump. “I got super into pickleball…it helped me recover and recover my confidence,” she revealed on Jimmy Kimmel Live.
With tailor-made courts like those at LeBron James’ mansion and Soho House’s swanky LA outpost, A-listers are taking their love of the game to new heights. But the sport also thrives among ordinary community members at over 5,000 public pickleball locations in the U.S. In the high-stress world of Hollywood, pickleball has emerged as both an exclusive privilege of the elite as well as an inclusive pastime that crosses social barriers.
As pickleball garners more celebrity endorsements and media attention, its growth shows no signs of slowing down. The USAPA projects there will be over 40 million American pickleballers by 2030. For now, Hollywood cannot get enough of their newest obsession – the electrifying, energetic game bringing people together through shared smiles, sweat, and unabashed fun. This is one trend poised to last beyond its 15 minutes of fame.