David Pike, the Huck Finn of Pickleball, on Traveling 6,000 Miles in a Dinghy

At 67-years-old, Dave Pike heard The Great Loop calling to him. The route winds along several waterways in the eastern U.S., meandering through Dave’s starting point on Lake Michigan to the Illinois River, Gulf Coast, Chesapeake Bay and beyond, until it reaches home again. His goal was to have the adventure of a lifetime while stopping in every state he crossed to play pickleball—because who could go a year without pickleball!?

Most travelers navigate the waters on yachts, trawlers or sailboats. Dave is traversing them in a 17′ dinghy.

But never fear—Dave is far from a beginner boater, and he even has his own Wilson along for the ride. We wanted to get all the details on this amazing trip, so we followed up with the navigator to learn about his reasons, inspirations and hopes for the future.

Dave with Wilson (created by his Arizona pickleball family) and a copy of Huck Finn

Dave with Wilson (created by his Arizona pickleball family) and a copy of Huck Finn

Our Trip Down the River

You don’t hear a story like Dave’s every day, and many people are curious as to why someone would tackle such a long trip on their own. To better understand Dave’s decision, it’s helpful to get a sense of what led up to The Loop.

As many good things do, it started with a friend.

When he was younger, Dave enjoyed canoeing and lived in a community that included a man named Verlen Kruger. Their relationship would stoke a lasting wanderlust and determination that Dave holds in his heart to this day.

“Because of Verlen, I did a lot of backcountry canoeing. He started canoeing in his early forties and holds many Guinness records, paddling over 100,000 miles before his death in 2004.

Deer River

(Image credit: Johndan Johnson-Eilola)

“Verlen used to give slideshows of his many trips. He was very soft spoken, and I admired someone that could do what he did (at some personal cost). I read all of his books and [was amazed by his] ability to start something so late in life and become one of the most respected paddlers to ever live.

“It was during one of his shows that I started asking for advice on canoes, and he invited me to his home to see where he built them. He lived very simply. He always offered me advice and encouragement. Before I started this trip, I stopped by his memorial to pay my respects and thanks.”

It would be some time before Dave embarked on his current adventure after his time with Verlen. During that interim period he would have another meaningful boating trip that would strengthen his abilities and hone his desire to make a longer journey.

Going On a Spirit Quest

“In 2000, still working and living in Michigan, [my wife] Ann and I (and four others from MI) chartered a 65 foot trawler and spent a week in the Juneau/Sitka area. It was the ultimate cruise for us and very personalized as there were only 6 passengers and 3 crew members. During that trip we said to ourselves, ‘We can do this!’

“Ann loves the ocean and I love the mountains. So when we retired in 2003 and sold our MI home, we purchased a trawler, named it SpiritQuest and moved to WA. We took power squadron classes and learned how to manage a big boat. Then 2007 came and we did it. We spent a summer in Alaska with just the two us that we will never, ever forget.”

Krogen Trawler

An example of a 42′ Krogen Trawler like Dave owned

In 2002 Dave got news that would throw a wrench in his happy lifestyle. During a routine checkup with his doctor, he was told he had colon cancer. His colon was resectioned at a local hospital, and due to an early retirement program that his employer offered, he was able to refocus his life at 55.

“After cancer, you realize that you are mortal and if you want to do something, you better do it. Don’t wait. So, with Ann’s blessing and support, I started to plan this big trip about two years ago. Last summer, I purchased the boat and that made it more than just a romantic idea. I was really going to try this.

“On a real personal note, I hope that my children and grandchildren will have a diary of sorts with a window into who I am/was when I am no longer around. That’s my secret; it’s about them, not me.”

Looper or Loopy?

“Fine!” You might think. “Go on your big adventure and live your dreams. But of all the boats in the world, why a dinghy?”

This, along with the revelation of his companion’s name, has been answered in Dave’s blog:

Journey is now officially the name of my boat and partner in crime. She represents the essence of this collaboration. After all, this will really be the ‘journey’ of a lifetime for me. There will be plenty of mistakes, surprises, and ‘would of, could of, should of’ comments along the way.

Journey

Meet Journey, outfitted with custom canvas!

“Having a big boat is not without stressors… I thought for this trip I would simplify things as much as possible. The smaller the better. The fewer things to go wrong! I wanted a boat that would allow me to spend the night on it (only when and if needed). I wanted something very economical to run at a reasonable speed…

“To me, the best fit was a Walker Bay RIB (Rigid Inflatable Boat). Ask me in a year if this was the right decision. I’m sure I will have a much better understanding of my choice and whether or not it was a good one.”

Picking Up Pickleball

With Dave’s travel plans solidified, when does pickleball come into the picture? The answer: as much as possible.

Dave and Ann sold their trawler after the Alaska trip and bought a motor coach to search for a winter home. While they loved the locale here in WA, the winters had started to get to them. With a far-reaching family, Ann’s son was in Colorado and her daughter in CA. While “shopping around” they looked at California, Utah and finally Arizona where they decided to stay at Palm Creek in Casa Grande.

“That was my first exposure to pickleball. Then we started playing in Port Ludlow and teaching others to play. It exploded there and they had 4 new dedicated courts by the time we left. We did decide AZ was the best fit for us, and we settled at Festival Ranch (home of the past nationals), and more importantly, home of Dee Davidson.

Dave Pike Pickleball Day Proclamation

Dave Pike Pickleball Day Proclamation!

“At the same time, we also moved back to MI to be close to my two children, one of whom has now moved to Florida. My favorite thing about the sport is the social side and lack of formality (compared to a very structured tennis program). I love to play skill levels both below and above me: Helping others learn basic strategies and then learning from those with far greater skill sets.

“(Note to realtors: Ann and I purchased two homes in as many years and one of the basic requirements was an active pickleball program nearby!)”

Dave has already enjoyed several stops for pickleball during his travels, one of the more recent being Cape Girardeau, MO where he was whisked away to a number of sports facilities while the mayor proclaimed it to be Dave Pike Pickleball Day!

It seems like there’s plenty more fun in store for him, so be sure to follow Dave’s travels on his blog: Six Thousand Miles Alone in a Dingy.

Home Is Where the Wind Blows

To close out our brief summary of Dave’s adventure, we wanted to ask one more question a little closer to home: What about Ann? She sounds like just as much of a wanderer as Dave, so why didn’t she join him on the trip? Was she planning any of her own solo journeys while he was away?

“Ann is a wonderful independent woman who does not need a man to be fulfilled. Last year, she went on a week-long archaeological dig in Crow Canyon, CO. This year, she’s going on a week-long expedition on the river going through the Grand Canyon. We stay in touch multiple times a day.

Journey near the Mississippi

Journey moored near the Mississippi

“Her first reaction [to the Loop] was, frankly—Great idea, let’s go! Then I told her that I wanted to do it in a very small boat. She said, ‘Have a good time!’

“We refer to my trip as a scouting trip for a future excursion together. (Just kidding!)”

As it happens, today is Ann and Dave’s 26th anniversary and they’re getting together at the Grand Rivers Lighthouse Landing to celebrate for several days. Ann’s birthday is coming up on the 29th as well.


What an exciting expedition and kind person. Thank you, Dave, for finding the time amid your travels to satisfy our curiosity! We wish you all the best and look forward to hearing about your journey on Journey.

For our readers looking to learn more about Dave and follow along as he updates us on his progress, please check out his blog Six Thousand Miles Alone in a Dingy and leave a comment wishing him well.

Tracy McKibben Rallies His Way to Health in 50-Lb Transformation

Can Pickleball Save Your Life?

You know those infomercials where you’re supposed to go “from flab to fab” in just 2 weeks using some mystical supplement from Peru and three payments of $99.99? I’ve gotta’ say, they’re a little dodgy.

But beyond that, why bother with magic pills when you can be like Tracy McKibben and lose an incredible 50 pounds in 18 months with the help of an app, long runs and pickleball?

Tracy McKibben Before and After

Is this the same person!? Tracy McKibben’s amazing before and after!

Tracy was recently featured on the American Heart Association‘s website for completely turning his lifestyle around. He went from 198 lbs to 145, has walked over 17 million steps and credits pickleball as part of his active lifestyle.

Already impressed, I knew we had to follow-up with Tracy when we heard the last bit, and he was kind enough to take the time to share more of his story with us.

From Bad News to Big Changes

Tracy was first shaken when a coworker suffered a stroke. Working in IT, Tracy had to sit at a desk for most of the day, which didn’t provide him with much opportunity to stay active. When he heard that his blood pressure was high at a health fair later in the week, he decided to visit his doctor who agreed there was a problem.

“Until my early 20s I had always been slim and fairly active. Shortly after I landed my first IT job, I started hearing jokes from my family about ‘getting a gut.’ That was in my mid-20s. From there I just kept eating, getting lazier and getting heavier. Roughly 20 years of bad habits led up to that fateful doctor’s visit that changed everything.”

Thankfully, Tracy didn’t throw up his hands and resign himself to a sad fate after getting the news. He created a game plan to get fit again.

Blood pressure cuff

Tracy didn’t give up when he found out his blood pressure was high (Image credit: Quinn Dombrowski)

“I am very methodical. The day I visited the doctor and received the warning about my blood pressure, I left there determined to fix the problem myself, without drugs. That was goal number 1, getting the blood pressure under control. I knew nothing about blood pressure at the time, what the numbers meant, what ‘normal’ was, or what my own ‘normal’ was.

“The first step was to start gathering data by closely tracking my blood pressure, every morning and every night. That showed me just how bad the problem was. I started reading everything I could find about high blood pressure, the causes, the treatments and the problems that can result. Ultimately, losing weight, cutting out bad foods, and becoming more active were the keys to solving the problem.

“I started tracking my food intake, literally every bit of food that I put in my mouth. I started weighing myself every morning at the same time of day, wearing the same pair of sweatpants. Lastly, I bought a Fitbit and started walking.”

Tracking the Results

Anyone can start doing research, buy equipment, psych themselves up for a change… and then fizzle out when the hard work actually starts. Tracy, however, showed incredible resolve and began managing every fitness-related aspect of his life, starting with his diet. He stayed strong by “turning [weight loss] into a game” and used an app called MyFitnessPal to track which foods he ate.

“That app gave me a target calorie count for losing 2 pounds per week. Every single day, I made sure I was under that target number. If I didn’t have enough calories left for ice cream, I didn’t eat ice cream. On the Fitbit side of things, my target every day was 10,000 steps. I made sure to hit that number, usually far exceeding it, every single day. I could earn extra calories in MyFitnessPal for Fitbit steps, so if I really wanted that ice cream, I’d go walk enough to earn the calories needed.

FitBit

A Fitbit helped Tracy keep track of his long walks and results

“I’m also a competitive person. The Fitbit app allows you to challenge other Fitbit users to step count challenges. I love doing those. Because of my treadmill desk I rarely lose one of those challenges. I’ll sometimes spend hours using my laptop while walking. I’ve racked up 55,000 steps in a single day on that treadmill.”

Pickleball Power

Pickleball became another tried-and-true part of Tracy’s health routine. He first saw the game at a local 4th of July festival and thought it looked fun. From there, he found a group that played at a local park and decided to take a trip one evening to watch the players.

“A woman there who would eventually become my mixed doubles partner and one of my best friends dragged me in to play. Her husband coached us and helped us become a competitive team, and after three years of trying, we finally won a medal this summer. I’ve never stopped playing since that first night, I simply love the game.”

I asked Tracy about his favorite part of pickleball, and he said it was hard to identify only one thing!

Tracy playing pickleball

Tracy playing pickleball

“I like the social aspect of the game; pickleball players seem to be a friendly bunch by nature. I love the pace, whether it’s a slow short game or fast-paced slamfest. As for goals, probably the same as everyone else who plays the game—to get better!”

Nowadays Tracy plays pickleball 3-5 nights a week, plus mornings on weekends. He also runs 2-3 days a week, usually 10-12 miles each time, and weight trains every day for about 30 minutes.

“And lots of walking. Lots and lots of walking. I average about 17,000 steps per day.”

Hard Work’s Reward

Clearly, although pickleball plays its role in Tracy’s schedule, he’s put in a ton of effort to develop a permanently healthy lifestyle. Tracy’s story is so inspiring and shows that if you put your mind to it, you can make the changes you want to see in your life.

“There’s no comparison between how I feel now and how I felt before. I have so much more energy now. I can’t stand to sit still for very long. If I’m inside and it’s nice out, I’m looking out the window trying to decide between going to play pickleball or going for a run. It took about 18 months to hit my goal weight of 145 pounds. I’ve gone as low as 140, but due to the weight training gained some of it back. I decided 145 is where I want to be, and I’ve stayed there.”

Lastly, I asked Tracy if he has any advice for people who want to get healthy like he has:

Tracy on the pickleball court

“Pay attention to what you’re eating. Don’t stop eating, just change what you’re eating. Find healthy alternatives to your favorite foods. GET MOVING. Get up and walk. Run. Play pickleball. Do something, just keep moving. Find a way to keep yourself accountable. Find a partner to help you. Post everything on Facebook for the world to see, that’s a pretty good motivator right there. Remember that you’re doing this for yourself and nobody else.”

Wise words from someone who’s gone the distance. Thank you Tracy for sharing with us, and congratulations on your incredible work and hard-won health!

Meet The Pros: Barb Wintroub

Barb Wintroub US OPEN 2016

Barb Wintroub with Gold Medal at the 2016 US OPEN

Barb Wintroub is an All Around Athlete. She has proven her ability and talent in tennis tournaments, triathalon competitions and pickleball tournaments. She is definitely a force to be reckoned with.  Enjoy!

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers?

2016 US Open – Gold in Women’s Singles and Women Doubles, Silver in Mixed Doubles
2015 USAPA Nationals 2015 Silver in Women’s Singles, 2 Bronze in Women’s and Mixed Doubles
2015 State Games of America – Gold in Women’s Singles, Silver in Women’s and Mixed Doubles
2015 National Senior Games Minnesota – Gold in Singles
2014 Huntsman Senior Games – Bronze Mixed Doubles

In the nine years I’ve played pickleball I’ve medaled in almost every tournament I entered. Now that the tournaments are all skill except the majors, I have to play 20 to 54 years down and I just cannot compete any longer. Mostly everyone my age is quitting the sport.

What paddle do you play with and why?

I currently play with a Brian Jensen XLT POP paddle. It’s light so I’m quicker at net, and it has power so I can play singles with it. I also have played with the Encore Composite by Engage Sports.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

I’ve been a competing tennis player for 60 years and a competing triathlete for 22 years. I began playing the National Senior Games in tennis when I read an article on pickleball in a now defunct magazine called GEEZERJOCK. There was no pickleball in LA so I bought a paddle and balls online, went to the backboard to hit every day before I entered my first tournament, the Palm Desert Senior Games. I read the rules on the way to play. I won a silver medal in singles and in mixed doubles my first time out thanks to a few years of paddle tennis at Venice Beach. That was 9 years ago. I was hooked on the game but I had nowhere to play. For the first few years, I just played from tournament to tournament. Then I started to drive to San Diego, which is a Southern California hub for Pickleball. I’ve been a member of the USAPA since day one and I met all the right players so I knew about all the major tournaments.

Barb Wintroub 2

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I play only outdoors.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I’m a much better singles player than doubles. I love all the action running around the singles court. Doubles for me is a work in progress. Finding the right compatible partner is a trick.

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

I love the competition of tournaments, love drilling and practicing and thinking I might improve as I age. The camaraderie and meeting new friends is very special.

What’s your day job?

I still work as a personal trainer and Pilates therapist. It is so important to maintain good posture and muscular strength as we age in order to stave off injuries. For the last 5 years I’ve written the pickleball fitness blog in the USAPA newsletter. I’m a USAPA Ambassador in Palm Desert, California, where I introduce pickleball to Country Clubs around the city. For four years I’ve run an intra-club event where clubs field a team and play other clubs. I also give pickleball lessons. I was a USPTA tennis teaching pro for many years so the transition to pickleball wasn’t difficult.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I play PB several days a week but now find I need more rest as I age. I also practice on the pickleball pitching machine often. I can spend an hour on just one shot.

What’s your secret sauce? Any tips for players?

My tip for players is stretch, stretch, stretch after you play and don’t hit the shots you don’t practice. Practice the shots you want to hit. You can have fun and just enjoy the game or you can enter tournaments to see how you fare with others.

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

My pickleball goal is to stay strong and healthy so I can continue to play into my 90’s.

Anything else you’d like to share about your experience being one of the best pickleball players in the world?

Is pickleball becoming a sport for only the younger players or the 3.0-3.5s? The younger players are being courted, sponsored, play money tournaments etc. The 3.0-3.5 players win all the skill tournaments while the better older players quit because they have to play down in age. 

When I was an Ironman triathlete, I covered the same course all the elite athletes covered, it just took me longer. I competed in my age group, not against the younger triathletes. Whatever happened, happened. The older athletes were revered because they were still able to compete. Now many of us older better pickleball players feel we are no longer wanted in tournament competitions.

Barb Wintroub 3

Sobering insight, Barb, into the “progress” of the game.  Thanks for sharing some of your story.  You are truly a Professional Athlete in every sense of the word.

Meet The Pros – Aspen Kern

Aspen Kern freely admits to being addicted to pickleball! He has competed with some of the best pickleball players of all time, and I hear Aspen makes a terrific doubles partner. Enjoy!

Aspen Kern

Aspen Kern playing in the finals at 2015 Nationals

Can you list for us your major wins so we can correctly introduce you to our readers? 

2015 USAPA Nationals VII, Men’s Open Doubles – Bronze with Brian Ashworth
2015 USAPA Nationals VII, Men’s Doubles 19+ – Silver with Matt Staub
2013 USAPA Nationals V, Men’s Doubles 19+ – Gold with Wesley Gabrielsen
2011 USAPA Nationals, Open Men’s Singles – Bronze
2015 Fall Brawl, 5.0 Men’s Doubles 19+ – Gold with Matt Staub
2015 LeMaster-Davison Classic, 5.0 Men’s Doubles – Gold with Enrique Ruiz
2015 Grand Canyon State Games, 5.0 Men’s Doubles – Silver with Steve Wong
2013 Grand Canyon State Games, Men’s 5.0 Doubles Silver with Dan Gabanek
2014-2015 Grand Canyon State Games, Men’s Doubles 19+ – Gold  2014/2015 with Steve Wong
2013 with Chris Miller

What paddle do you play with and why?

I play with the Paddletek Tempest Graphite. It is a well-balanced paddle and Paddletek is a great to work with as a company sponsor.

What’s your pickleball story? How were you introduced to pickleball?

Eight years ago I was introduced to Pickleball at the Santa Barbara RV Park. I was 15 and my family were full-time RVers. We were there for the famous Rancho Oso fires and I remember playing pickleball and using the ashes on the court to determine if a ball was in or out. After Santa Barbara we would only pick RV parks that had pickleball courts. That’s how fast I became addicted.

What’s your preference – playing indoor or outdoor?

I prefer outdoors, especially in the winter here in Phoenix. I don’t mind indoors as long as the surface is textured and not meant for another sport.

Do you like singles or doubles better? Why?

I prefer doubles. Singles is just small tennis to me and not what makes the sport so special. The strategy and speed are greater in doubles and the partnerships on both sides of the net are what I believe is the reason the sport is growing so fast.

Aspen's Club

Aspen’s Club in Scottsdale, Arizona

What’s your favorite place to play? Why?

I enjoy playing at La Camarilla in Scottsdale, AZ. It has a resort feel to it and the people are the most friendly I have found. Any tournament that offers cash prizes is my second favorite place to play.

Fall Brawl winners

Aspen and Matt Staub winning gold at Fall Brawl, 2nd place Brian Ashworth and Dave Weinbach, 3rd place Chris Miller and Morgan Evans.

What’s your “secret sauce”? Any tips for players?

Secret sauce is probably Alfredo, preferable on fettuccine with a nice salad and glass of house wine… Actually I think I am known for my spin on the ball. I use a variety to keep the opponent guessing and it makes it more fun having a wider variety of shots to use. A tip to players would be to use your footwork to keep the distance from your body to the ball as consistent as possible to have a repeatable motion when hitting.

What’s your day job?
My day job and my night job is pickleball! I told you I was addicted.

How many hours a week do you play? How do you make time to play?

I play about 15 hours a week in the summer and closer to 20 hours in the winter. Did I mention I was addicted?

Do you have any pickleball goals you’d like to share?

My goal has been the same for 8 years, I want to be the best pickleball player in the world, or at least in my neighborhood! Did I mention I am humble?

Nationals 19+ Men's Finals

Right before the 19+ men’s final at Nationals with Kyle Yates, Wes Gabrielsen and Matt Staub

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thanks, Aspen, for sharing some of your pickleball “addiction” story with us. Best of luck to you in your future competitions!

Evaluating the Numbers at the U.S. Open

Mixed Doubles at U.S. Open

Mixed Doubles at the U.S. Open

The American Sports Builders Assoc. has presented some numbers relating to the U.S. Open, and it’s exciting stuff! If you’ve ever wanted some hard facts to back up pickleball’s growing popularity, these details definitely show a positive trend for the sport’s growth.

Pickleball U.S. Open Stats

  • 808 total athletes registered
  • 7 countries represented
  • 39 states represented
  • 89: Age of the oldest participant
  • 12: Age of the youngest participant
  • 42/58: Percentage of male to female athletes
  • 10,000 – 12,000: Spectators who attended the five-day event
  • $2.5 million: Economic impact according to Collier County Visitor’s Bureau
  • Nationwide coverage: The event was broadcast on CBS Sports Network

As time goes on more pickleball players and courts to accommodate them are sprouting up. Soon we won’t be surprised to hear about pickleball being offered in just about every city throughout the U.S. And it’s not only growing here, as attested to by our international pickleball coverage.

There are estimated to be 2 million pickleball players right now, with an astonishing 8 million expected by 2018. An average of 76 places to play are created every month per the USAPA, and we’re excited that pickleball is finding new fans.

More and more we’re hearing that it’s not only players, but cities that are jumping on board the pickleball bandwagon. It’s no surprise. Not only is the game good for people’s health, but it’s good for local economies. Picklers are willing to invest in a sport that caters to them, rather than needing joints of steel or long hours of practice to play at a decent skill level.

Have you seen pickleball grow in your own community over time? What sort of facilities would you like to see as pickleball continues to gain popularity?

Pickleball in New Zealand – Beauty and the Ball

New Zealand is famous for its beautiful landscapes, Maori culture and Lord of the Rings. It’s a great place for thrill seekers, backpackers and anyone who appreciates gorgeous vistas. But until recently, there was one area where it fell short—pickleball!

Clearly this problem had to be remedied, which is why Sharon Fleet took it upon herself to help spread the word (and supplies).

New Zealand is something of a “baby” when it comes to pickleball, having only started the development of local stores and clubs in June 2015, but it’s spreading quickly thanks to the efforts of Sharon and her friends.

Players at Rotorua Pickleball Club

Players at Rotorua Pickleball Club

Sharon was kind enough to spend some time explaining how pickleball made the trip to New Zealand and how she got involved in its growth. Click the links to jump to specific sections or read in full below:

A Warm Welcome
Feeding a Healthy Addiction
Places to Play Pickleball in New Zealand
The Pickler Connection
More Fun and More Funds
New Zealand’s Treasures

A Warm Welcome

Claire Spackman and David McNamara were the first New Zealanders to take the initiative to set up a pickleball group after playing it in the U.S. The couple were local players at the Rotorua Badminton Club, so they turned to Sharon (as a chairperson) to see if they could start offering pickleball at the facility.

Sharon had wanted to start future-proofing the Badminton Hall, so she was open to ideas that could help generate more fun and income. The three had a meeting to discuss pickleball as a new opportunity, and she saw its potential right away.

The trio introduced pickleball to the rest of the committee and established a club which could operate out of the 6-court badminton hall to attract newcomers. It’s clearly seen success, as the Rotorua club just celebrated their 1st anniversary on July 25th this year and continues to go strong.

Lake Rotorua

Speaking of lakes… Lake Rotorua is stunning! (Credit: Dave Smith)

Sharon is also a Member of the Rotorua Lakes Council Sports and Recreation Committee, which allows her to pitch the sport to a wide variety of groups and get in touch with the 45+ age group.

Feeding a Healthy Addiction

In addition to her work with the Rotorua Rec Committee, Sharon runs a store called Pickleball Essentials that helps provide people with a local resource for pickleball equipment and assistance when setting up clubs.

“Recognizing this is a completely new sport to New Zealand, I started doing some research and quickly established that apart from eBay, no one was selling pickleball gear locally or nationally. You really need equipment to start a new sport, and since I already have an importing business set up in the automotive area, I was familiar with what was required.

“My goal with Pickleball Essentials is to supply quality pickleball products at reasonable prices, and help foster the creation of multiple pickleball-playing locations around the country. We’re seeing steady results!”

Places to Play Pickleball in New Zealand

Despite her entrepreneurial background making the process a bit more straightforward, Sharon explains that it still takes a lot of work to establish a fresh organization:

Pickleball Rotorua session

Several games of pickleball at the Rotorua facility

“Marketing is number one. How do you introduce a new sport with a crazy name!? At the same time as David, Claire and I started Pickleball Rotorua (our local club), we recognized the need to set up an association under which other locations could be unified. As such, Pickleball New Zealand was born.

“David secured the website, developed the logo and maintains it with current events and news. We also have a Facebook page under the same name: Pickleball New Zealand.”

You can find a full list of New Zealand locations to play pickleball on the site, but to sum up, you can find courts in:

  • Kumeu – NW Auckland
  • Nelson
  • North Shore
  • Rotorua
  • Snells Beach
  • Wellington – Hataitai
  • Wellington Hutt Valley
  • Whakatane
  • Warkworth
Little Pickler NZ

Is this New Zealand’s littlest pickler!?

The Pickler Connection

Many players become aware of pickleball after coming for badminton, then end up taking advantage of the courts for both sports. But it’s not simply a case of, “Build it and they will come!”

Sharon says that David and Claire have been instrumental in introducing pickleball to groups and badminton associations around New Zealand, as Claire plays competitively. Sharon also explains that:

“A number of locations have started up because people are familiar with pickleball and are keen to put local groups together. Currently we don’t have a great deal of interlinking with the other clubs, but we’ve started talking about inter-town challenges, etc.  As New Zealand’s pickleball scene grows, so will travel between the sports centers.

Pickleball in Wellington

Pickleball was introduced to Wellington back in January this year and has seen 2 clubs start up

“Introducing pickleball to badminton groups as an alternative income stream has been a slow process, but it’s helped along by people who have played the game overseas. It’s been wonderful to welcome visiting picklers from America and Canada—we treat them like royalty!”

More Fun and More Funds

Sharon’s main hope and passion is to continue seeing pickleball grow in Rotorua. They currently have two club sessions, one on Monday evening between 7pm to 9pm and one on Thursday morning from 10am to 12 noon. She says that Monday evenings attract 30 – 40 players while Thursdays are more low key.

“I’ve found pickleball to be a fun, social game. It seems to create a lot of noise and camaraderie among players. It’s also been a very welcome activity from my perspective as a committee member, due to the increase in activity and visitors.

“Regarding my own pickling schedule, due to a torn Achilles I haven’t been able to play since October last year, and this has considerably restricted my mobility. I just started back at badminton, and next Monday I will be playing pickleball again. YEAH!”

New Zealand’s Treasures

Beyond the flourishing pickleball scene, there are a ton of fun things to do in New Zealand, and in Rotorua specifically. According to Sharon, “Rotorua is a tourism mecca and an adventure playground with a plethora of activities to enjoy, along with some of nature’s most fascinating gems.”

Whakarewarewa at Rotorua

Whakarewarewa, “The Living Maori Village” at Rotorua (Credit: Mundus Gregorius)

We’re inclined to agree! Here are just some of Rotorua’s exciting offerings:

  • Tamaki and Whakarewarewa Maori Villages: To learn about Maori culture and get a firsthand look at some of their traditions, you can visit these living villages to hear songs, watch warrior displays like the haka, learn the poi (swinging tethered weights) and enjoy a delicious traditional hangi (slow cooked in a covered pit) meal.
  • Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Tour: The location of the Hobbiton set is in a nearby rural town called Matamata, and there are several tours that will take you there from Rotorua. You’ll travel through the scenic Kaimai Ranges until you reach the Shire and get to see charming hobbit holes, The Green Dragon Inn, the Party Tree and more LotR landmarks.
  • Geothermal Spas: Rotorua has a lot of geothermal activity like hot springs, geysers, mud pools and terraces. If you want to treat yourself and have a luxurious, healing moment while soaking in one of these natural wonders, check out a big list of your options at Rotoruanz.com.
  • Wingspan National Bird of Prey Center: Dedicated to the conservation of the Karearea New Zealand falcon, this center rehabilitates injured wild birds and releases captive-bred falcons to support local populations. You can get a close-up look at these incredible birds and even see them in action during the flying displays that take place daily.

Many thanks to Sharon for her hard work in the name of pickleball and for sharing a slice of New Zealand with us!