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Bay Area pickleball popularity prompts push for new courts, facilities

Bay Area pickleball craze shows no sign of waning
Bay Area pickleball craze shows no sign of waning 05:42

PALO ALTO -- There's no question about it, the popularity of pickleball has grown and continues to grow tremendously in the Bay Area. Some players say there just aren't enough pickleball courts for everyone who wants to play.

Justin Woo, a pickleball player who plays at the Palo Alto Pickleball Club, says on any given morning the courts could all be taken up at Mitchell Park.

"We get 10, 20 people just wanting to play the sport every day," said Woo. "And courts are not built that quickly, so the supply is not keeping up with the demand at all."

That appears to be changing. On July 11, the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department is set to open three indoor pickleball courts at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco. People can reserve them starting July 4.

But it's not just in San Francisco. Interest in the sport is growing throughout the Bay, including along the peninsula and in the South Bay.

Mike Fox is the general manager for an area in the South Bay set to open soon. It's called the Hub San Jose - an indoor facility with Pickleball courts.

Fox has played pickleball in Palo Alto and is all too familiar with the demand.

"The Bay Area has seen an explosion of pickleball and pickleball players, the community here is super excited," Fox said.

Hub San Jose is located in what used to be a Fry's Electronics warehouse. Fox said the owners have opened clubs in Southern California and saw an opportunity to do in the Bay Area as well.

The facility has event spaces for special occasions like birthdays and team gatherings. Courts are designed for different player levels.

"This was an old warehouse space, because there were loading docks behind that had metal ramps for the loads, those two courts didn't have enough room to do a standard, traditional size," Fox said. "We made two special courts that are 15 feet wide. We're calling these California singles, for older players like myself, it's really fun to play on these narrower courts."

"The sound of the ball, just hitting it, you can't think of anything else," said Woo.

Woo adds that rather than sitting in front of a computer, he gets to meet people from all walks of life. 

 "I'm part of 50 WhatsApp groups, and we all just meet up, we have fun, we go to tournaments together," he said.

One of the people he plays with is Amy Lauterbach, the president of the Palo Alto Pickleball Cub.

"We've got 22 languages, all levels of income, everybody is playing," Lauterbach said. "Yesterday, I played games with a 9-year-old, this morning I played games with an 88-year-old, so we got all ages."

In this sport, the player has to trust their partner.

 "It's almost like forming a relationship with someone for like 10 minutes," Woo said.

At the same time, they're going against two others.

"Four different people you just get to know through this amazing game," he said.

This reporter tried playing pickleball with others on the KPIX Morning Edition team, and it's a lot harder than it looks. But in the end, you can understand what Woo and Lauterbach were saying. It's a good way to get out of the house and you get that sense of community. 

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