ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — It's the fastest growing sport in St. Pete. A combination of badminton, tennis and ping pong. It's called pickleball.
"We saw the demand and saw the need, and we started taking a look at different areas and strategically placing them throughout the city," said Chris Wolfe, who is with the St. Pete Parks and Rec Department.
In the past year and a half, the city of St. Petersburg has gone from four pickleball courts to 22.
"I started about a year ago. It was just such a fun sport and easy to learn," said Mary Downing.
"And it has exploded, and now we get here and it's hard to find a court," said Jerry Downing.
The Downings play at Coquina Key Park, which just received six two courts. The couple is having such a smashing good time playing that they began offering lessons to beginners for free.
"We had one woman, never had been athletic at all, and it was like a light bulb went off in her head, she said 'I really can do this,'" said Jerry.
The court and the paddles are about a third of the size as you'd find in tennis.
"It's just an expanded, more durable type of whiffle ball. Paddles can vary in composition and quality, but the nice thing is they are relatively inexpensive. You can get them for as little as $30," said Downing.
The Downings said the sport has become a great way to socialize safely.
"A lot of people felt so isolated the last year because of Covid, and they finally had an opportunity to come out and meet people, get some fresh air and have some fun," said Mary.
"Our department, the Athletics Division, is looking at developing a pickleball league, and it will be for recreation and competitive levels of play," said Wolfe. "I really believe pickleball is going to be here for a long time. This sport has a lot of room for growth, and people really enjoy it."