The Fascinating History of Pickleball – Do You Know the Whole Story?

Believe it or not, the game of pickleball is over 50 years old!  That’s right, the game began way back in 1965!  It took a while to makes it’s way across the united states but it’s evolution was done properly.  The history of pickleball is a truly unique story.

The Complete History of Pickleball

Our story begins right here in the good ole US of A. Bainbridge, Washington, to be exact.  Picture this – a quaint island with picturesque mountain views and summer beach cottages.  

Families would come over from Washington State and spend their summer weekends here.  Four such families were the Pritchards, Browns, McCallums and Belles. These families spent a lot of time together, and quite of bit of time on Bainbridge Island.  

On one fateful day, when the weather wasn’t good for water activities and the kids were getting bored, their parents suggested they take a paddle and a ball and head to the old beaten up badminton court.  Using some random paddles, the torn badminton net and a wiffle ball, the adults made up a game to occupy the kids and keep them busy.

The kids had fun with it, but the adults had even more fun! They were excited about their new game, so things quickly evolved.  Rules got more concise, net height and paddle shape and size evolved, and scoring ideas were debated.

The Pickleball Channel interviewed Barney McCallum. One of our favorite quotes from the interview was this:

“It was strictly for our own pleasure.” – Barney McCallum

This quote, although short and seemingly inconsequential, is one of the biggest reasons why we love the history of pickleball and the game so much…It’s a love child!  

Nobody was sitting in an office trying to figure out how to make money, and how to sell stuff, it was created because these families wanted an exciting new game to enjoy with their friends.  Because they truly enjoyed it, they shared it with more friends and more neighbors.

And guess what?  

Their enthusiasm rubbed off, and others loved the game as well!

History of Pickleball – From Bainbridge Island and Beyond

Three fundamental events allowed the game of pickleball to “jump the rock” as the island was called.  The first was Joel Pritchard’s active nature in the community.  Using his political status as a means to spread the word of pickleball.  He even started some of his fundraisers and political events by playing a game of pickleball at the events!  

Joel’s local status was a great launchpad for the game.  The second event that gained the sport more popularity was Barney McCallum’s court back at his home in Seattle.  

Having a court set up in the middle of the neighborhood street gave his surrounding neighbors and beyond an up close look at the game! These two events allowed the game to move off of the island and into the greater Seattle metropolitan area.  The final event that played a big role in the game’s expansion was when a reporter from New York featured the game as part of a news story!  

That gained the sport national attention and allowed the game to travel all the way to the east coast of the united states!  Today, the expansion goes beyond just the continental united states and can even been seen around the world – in other countries like China!

For a complete timeline of the game and it’s growth, click over to the USAPA’s site here.

History of Pickleball – The Evolution of the Very First Pickleball Paddle

Contrary to popular belief, the first pickleball paddle was NOT a wooden paddle like the one pictured below.

UPDATE:  Want to know which type of paddle in today’s game leads to more miss hits?  I interviewed 4 paddle experts and the answer will shock you!  

history of pickleball

Before Barney McCallum made the first wooden paddle, the game was developed and tweaked while using a traditional ping pong paddle! 

Trouble was, they broke too often. Ping pong paddles for pickleball were not durable enough.

So, Barney McCallum made the first wooden pickleball paddle – uniquely named the McCallum 1 or “M1”!  The M1 was quickly replaced by the new and improved “M2”! The M2 gave birth to the traditional pickleball paddle look and style we still see today.

As friends shared the game with more friends, requests began pouring in for pickleball paddles. Barney McCallum was the original designer and manufacturer of the paddles. He couldn’t keep up with the requests, so this is technically why Pickleball went from a fun recreational family game to a business.

From here Arlen Paranto took the idea to the next level and effectively created the first modern day pickleball paddle using composite materials found in Boeing airplane floor panels!  This was the game’s first composite paddle.

Pretty soon, everyone was playing and winning tournaments using their own variation of composite pickleball paddles and a company was born – Ultra Light Paddle Co!  Today you’d know them as Pro-Lite!  The evolution of paddle tech was born!  Soon after the first composite paddle, we got the Pro-Lite Classic complete with an edge guard.

history of pickleball

After the Pro-Lite Classic, the Magnum was created.  Improving upon the hitting surface from the original composite paddle, the Magnum gave players a larger sweet spot and took inspiration from tennis racquets! 

The New Magnum model has evolved over the years!

Pickleball History – The First Pickleball Court…Badminton??

The first pickleball court actually came from an old badminton area at the Pritchard’s house. It was a beaten up badminton court with barely visible lines that looked more like a grass ridden drive way than a court.

The organic vegetation gives this original pickleball court a nostalgic look and feel. Just one look at the old badminton court and you can tell the game was meant to be created here!

The First Pickleball Net – Waist Deep in Controversy

Again, the game of pickleball borrows heavily from badminton and the pickleball net is no different. Because the Pritchard’s badminton net was old, ragged and sagged in the middle, the founders of the game modified the net to stay an even 36 inches high.  

Why 36 inches high?  

Well, this is where science and engineering was thrown to wayside.  36 inches was exactly the height from the ground to Joel Pritchard’s waist!  Everyone agreed, that was a proper net height!

However, the lower net height gave way to unfair smashing opportunities from taller players like Dick Brown so, the no-volley zone or “kitchen” was created.

This small change arguably gave the game its mass appeal because it evened the playing field for younger players to be able to play with older adults, novice players to be able to hang with experienced players, and more importantly fair coed play. 

The game of pickleball is a wonderfully versatile and inclusive game and the no-volley zone is a huge reason why.

We hope you enjoyed this post on the History of Pickleball!  It’s fun to highlightthe game’s growth, it’s mass appeal, and how the first pickleball paddle was born!  

It’s fun to learn where the net, court and rules came from and how the game has changed over time.  Despite the evolution, at it’s core, pickleball was created to bring ALL types of people together!  This makes the game so unique!

Now get out there and play!



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