We’re not sure when it happened. One day, pickleball was a game for retired people and the next, everyone in the entire country was obsessed. From young couples in the park to family tournaments, everyone is playing pickleball. It’s easy to see why; it takes what makes tennis fun and turns it into something user-friendly. The game is less expensive and the ball moves slower so striking it requires less finesse and formal instruction. It’s a game you can play with margaritas, queso and friends on a summer day, but if you get into it, there’s a high skill ceiling and plenty to learn.
You’ll work up a sweat as you sprint around the court, so we’d recommend outfitting yourself from Salt + Snow in breathable, moveable and always stylish attire before you even grab a paddle. There is a fashion element to pickle that ranges from kitschy to humorous to themed to clubby. Either way, pickle style is a thing...Now that you’ve got the proper gear, you’re probably wondering how to play. Read on for some basics!
WHAT IS PICKLEBALL?
Pickleball originated in the 1950’s, with a family improvising the game with a wiffleball and a couple of slabs of plywood paddles. One theory is that it was named after the family dog, Pickles, and we like this story too much to fact-check it. It perfectly fits in with the feeling of the game- fun and lighthearted, right from the beginning. But while it started with humble origins, today the U.S. Pickleball National Championship is a big deal. Of course, we still have some rules to learn before we get there.
HOW TO PLAY PICKLEBALL—THE BASICS:
Fundamentally, pickleball is like tennis, with a court, a net and games of 1 v. 1 or 2 v. 2. After a serve, teams volley back and forth, until one side commits a fault. However, there are a number of key differences:
- Pickleball is played on a smaller court with a small wiffle ball and flat firm paddles
- There’s less running around and more volleying
- The serve is much simpler
The ball is served with an underarm stroke from below the waist while standing behind the baseline. This is much more forgiving than tennis’ brutally difficult, critically important, game-deciding serve. A pickleball serve has to bounce on each side of the net, and the return must be allowed to bounce once on the opponent’s side. These restrictions mean that the serving team has much less of an advantage than in tennis, and it encourages volleying.
After this first exchange, both sides can volley the ball freely—it can bounce once, but it doesn’t have to. As the serving team, your goal is to make the other side commit a fault- this is how you get points. Similar to tennis, you get faults by hitting the ball out of bounds, or into the net, or by entering the “no volley zone,” known as “the kitchen.” The kitchen is a small rectangular area extending seven feet from the net on either side. You do not want to enter the kitchen without reason. Volleying is not allowed in the kitchen, or else it’s an instant fault. You can’t serve into the kitchen. This rule exists to stop the game from becoming a non-stop smash fest, but for beginners, it just means don’t get too close to the net.
As the serving team, you must make the other side commit a fault to gain a point. However, as the serving team, you’ll lose your serve if you commit a fault yourself. This is bad, because only the serving team can score points! It sounds confusing, but once you get going it starts to make sense.
BASIC TACTICS AND GEAR
As you can see, the rules are pretty simple. The basic goal of the game is to hit a legal ball that the other side can’t return. As a beginner, it’s a good tactic to play conservatively and wait for your opponent to make a mistake. You’re better off playing a simple return than going for the game-winning smash.
As for gear- beginners don’t need to spend more than $30 on paddles. Balls are cheap, too. Tennis or even running shoes will get you by in most situations. We've curated looks featuring premium pickleball brands like PQL Club, Hedge and Elizabeth Reid.
There are a lot of nuances to learn in pickleball... so stay tuned here on the blog for more tips. The most important one: Have fun out there!