Everything you need to know about pickleball, North America's fastest-growing sport

Pickleball, Anyone?

Everything you need to know about North America’s fastest-growing sport

By Sam White| Photography by Steph Martyniuk
| April 17, 2023

If tennis is your uncle in a pressed shirt with a wine subscription, pickleball is your other uncle who wears Crocs and listens to Weird Al. It’s easy to learn, highly social and seriously fun. Demand for courts surged last summer, and the pickleball gods complied. Between public parks, rec facilities and dedicated clubs, there are now dozens of places to play in and around Toronto. Here’s everything to know before hitting the courts this season—and how best to swat the competition.

Related: The pickleball craze hits Midtown with Fairgrounds, a new pop-up racquet sports club

Pickleball courts Toronto
Get Into Gear

Pickleball isn’t as expensive as tennis, but there is some bread-and-butter equipment all players should own

The shoes: Bring non-marking gum-sole shoes for hardwood indoor courts. For outdoors, opt for a hardcourt tennis shoe.

The paddle: Lightweight paddles are best for beginners, but heavier paddles increase power. You can add tungsten tape to the top of your paddle or invest in a new one when the time comes.

The ball: The wiffle balls used in pickleball’s infancy have given way to purpose-built plastic balls with 26 to 40 holes. Most pros favour either the Franklin X-40 or the Onix Dura Fast 40.

The clothes: Pickleball fashion is nascent but evolving. The look is more colourful and eclectic than tennis, and brands like J. Crew and Norma Kamali have launched pickleball capsule collections.

Where to play pickleball in Toronto
Rules of Engagement

Pickleball players are generally an easy-going bunch, but they do observe an unwritten code of conduct. Here, a few dos and don’ts of the sport

Do: Be social. Pickleball is about community. Bring the kids and the parents. It’s accessible for people of all ages and skill levels, and inter­generational play is both fun and fierce.

Don’t: Play it like tennis. The rules and equipment are different. For example, pickle­ball players get only one free fault when serving.

Do: Keep score, and call it out before every serve. First to 11 wins, but play continues until one side wins by two points.

Don’t: Leave immediately after the match. It’s customary—and sporting—to tap paddles with opponents at the net at game’s end and then head for drinks.

Pickleball courts Toronto
Pickleball Terminology

Here are a few must-know terms for newbs

The Kitchen: The seven-by-20-foot zone on either side of the net where players must not tread—unless the ball bounces there first.

Dink: A shot hit slow-and-low over the net and into the opponent’s kitchen.

Chicken Wing: A player’s vulnerable paddle-side shoulder or armpit.

Poach: An aggressive doubles shot where a player crosses into their partner’s side of the court, using the element of surprise to put away the point.

Pickled: Losing a game 11 to zero.

Toronto pickleball courts
Supreme Courts

Drop-in play is available across the city’s parks and community centres, but serious pickleball buffs head to these dedicated facilities

Vaughan: The Swing School has five dedicated indoor courts as well as private and group lessons.

Scarborough: Progress Pickleball, at Kennedy and the 401, has clinics and court rentals outside drop-in hours.

TBD: Fairgrounds, a pop-up racquet club, offers free play and doesn’t require a membership. The company will be announcing new locations this summer.

Toronto pickleball players
Brothers in Arms

Canadian National Pickleball League pros Daniel and Mark Gottfried have played at pickleball’s highest levels and are considered the city’s foremost ambassadors for the sport. When not laying waste to opponents, they run the Ontario Pickleball Academy and are planning a tournament series for amateurs

Daniel Gottfried
Toronto pickleball clubs

Nickname: “Brick Wall.” Proudest accomplishment: “This summer at the Legacy Open in Aurora, we made the gold-medal match, but the tournament went long, so we forfeited and conducted our community clinic instead. That’s more important to us.” Signature move: “Shake and Bake. When we get a nice return, Mark drives it at the player’s chicken wing, the ball gets popped up and I slam it home.” Rituals: “Bouncing the ball three times before a serve.” Favourite spot to play: “The Durham Sportsplex, in Oshawa.” Tip to improve your game: “Focus on having fun first. That’s the most important thing for beginners.” I knew pickleball was a smash when… “I was running a camp once, and a lady told me that it had been the best day of her life after her wedding day and the day her kids were born.”

Mark Gottfried
Toronto pickleball clubs

Nickname: “Mr. Fantastic.” Proudest accomplishment: “Winning silver in mixed doubles at the 2022 Canadian Nationals, in Kingston, with Christina Chin.” Signature move: “Forehand drive. If you put it in the wrong spot, you’re getting a hard one back.” Rituals: “For tournaments, a massive water jug and a big breakfast.” Favourite spots to play: “I’d say King’s College Park, at Bayview and Highway 7.” Tip to improve your game: “Drill, drill, drill. Half the battle is muscle memory.” I knew pickleball was a smash when… “I realized it was an outlet and an exercise. It can take your mind off difficult things if you’re in a bad space. Pickleball can also help you meet a community. There are so many physical and mental benefits.”

Network Effect

Mary Beth Denomy is a co-founder of the East Toronto Pickleball Association, which works with stakeholders across Toronto to identify and build new places to play. It’s an ambitious goal in a space-strapped city. But, with demand at an all-time high, ETPA has big dreams for pickleball’s future

Toronto pickleball clubs

When did your obsession with pickleball begin? I picked up a paddle during Covid. And, like many people, the first time I picked up a paddle, I was hooked. You can learn the game quickly, but it takes a lot of time to get good. We started the ETPA in 2021 to pull our community together, speak as one voice and create more opportunities to play.

Why do you think pickleball took off like it did? It’s a game that everyone can play. It’s so social and community oriented. You show up, you don’t need a partner, and there’s anywhere from eight to 12 to 24 people out, and you cycle on the court. Typically, people will go out for drinks afterward. The ETPA is not only a pickleball association—it’s a community social activity.

I hear there aren’t enough places to play in Toronto. Demand way exceeds places and opportunities to play. I think the city is doing the best it can to try to keep up, but in Toronto, space is expensive. We’ve had to get resourceful. The ETPA had lines painted on outdoor hockey rinks last summer—very Canadian. It is the wild west of pickleball right now, and the rush is on.

Is the future of pickleball big business? You’ll see more private pickleball facilities popping up along with public courts. We have professional basketball, baseball, soccer and tennis tournaments. Why not pickleball? Also, pickleball tourism is going to be huge. I’m going to Palm Springs to play. Naples, Florida, is the mecca of pickleball. We would love to make Toronto a pickleball destination. It’s not just for old people anymore. Don’t let the quirky name fool you—this is a serious sport.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated that Fairgrounds was open for play in Midtown. In fact, the Midtown location has closed, and the company will be announcing new locations this summer.


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