Pickleball Popularity Rises in Central Oregon

In recent years, pickleball has become the fastest growing sport in America.

At Pine Nursery Park’s pickleball courts, the camaraderie and cheerfulness are palpable. The courts are usually bustling with activity, hosting recreational players or the Bend Pickleball Club for their practice sessions. Yet, this week, they will be busier than ever.

Over the next few days, the courts will be teeming with competitors, many of whom are not local to Bend, as they vie for the championship in the Bend Pickleball Club’s Pacific Northwest Classic, held from July 26-30. Pickleball, declared by NBC News as the fastest-growing sport in the United States, currently boasts almost 5 million players globally.

What draws people to pickleball—a sport that seems to be a hybrid of ping-pong, tennis, and badminton?

“It’s fun. It’s addictive. Anyone can play,” explained Lynette, a recreational player who was interviewed at Pine Nursery Pickleball Courts. “It’s a game for everyone and can be fun, competitive or recreational. [Pickleball] adds a lot of joy to my life. I’ve met many fantastic people while playing.” 

The same elements that have captured Lynette’s affection for the sport have resonated with millions worldwide. 

Christie Gestvang, Co-Director of the Pacific Northwest Classic pickleball tournament at Pine Nursery, first discovered pickleball as a PE teacher. After ending her career as an educator, she found herself drawn to the rapidly evolving sport. She noted the shift of pickleball from a family backyard pastime to a more competitive sport, with tennis courts being replaced by pickleball courts. 

Gestvang’s interest in pickleball deepened over time, and she became an active member of the Bend Pickleball Club. She helped raise funds to build the first eight courts at Pine Nursery in 2013, as well as another eight the following year, bringing the total to 16. The superior quality of these new courts attract hundreds of participants of all ages to the annual pickleball tournament that Gestvang co-organizes. Looking forward, she hopes to add an additional 16 courts to cater to the escalating interest in the sport.

She is not alone in her aspirations; many other facilities and groups plan to expand their pickleball courts, programs and opportunities. Sunriver, according to its resort website, intends to completely convert its tennis courts into pickleball courts. The interest in pickleball, initially popular mainly among older adults, has also extended to the youth. According to a report from USA Pickleball, the fastest growth in total participants from 2020 to 2021 was among players under 24 years of age, with a 21% increase.

Ryan Cruz, a PE teacher at Caldera High School and the Head Boys’ Tennis Coach, has made pickleball a key unit in his courses. 

“It’s a fantastic sport because most people can pick it up pretty quickly. It’s a good social sport so people can have fun with it. It’s a great lifestyle and lifelong activity. It can take just weeks to months to become somewhat competitive,” Cruz explains. His students seem to appreciate it; during the Wolfpack Expo in advisory – a time when students can explore different class options or participate in mental health activities, the pickleball sessions are always fully booked.

Whether you’re fiercely competing for gold in a pickleball tournament or just grabbing your friends for a casual match at your local courts, pickleball offers a fantastic way to enjoy the outdoors and have fun in Central Oregon this summer.