Pickleball is on the rise. The sport that I once played in high school gym class seems to be sweeping the nation—according to the USA Pickleball Association there’s been a 650% increase in membership since 2013 with more than 4.8 million participants (professional and casual) nationwide in 2021. And while it’s not exactly about actual pickles, I can’t help but be inspired to bite into a briny spear by the game, which is full of pickle-related terms and lends itself to include a pickled bite or two.
Pickleball is essentially a cross between ping-pong and tennis. Players hit a Wiffle-like ball with paddles that are twice the side of ping-pong paddles on a badminton-sized court over a 34-inch-tall net. From there the rules are not unlike ping-pong: simply try to keep the ball in play. If you hit it out of bounds, the other team scores, if you hit it in bounds and the other side doesn’t keep it in play, you score. The first team to 11 points, by a margin of at least 2 points, wins. (For those who want to take it really seriously, the full list of rules can be found here.)
The game was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, just outside of Seattle, Washington, by a trio of dads trying to keep their kids entertained one summer. There are a couple legends as to how the sport got its name, neither of which, unfortunately, has to do with edible pickles. One story goes that it was named after one of the family dogs, Pickles, who would chase the ball and run away with it. Another says that it was named in association with the “pickle” boat in crew, the one with all the reject rowers that typically comes in last. No matter the story, the name stuck and became part of the game’s lexicon.
Let’s be honest, part of the real fun of pickleball is just saying the word “pickleball.” And there are plenty of other food-related terms that are part of the game that are sure to bring even more joy:
- Dillball: a live ball that has bounced once in bounds
- Falafel: a short shot that doesn’t make it over the net
- Kitchen: the non-volley zone on the court
- Pickle!: what the person serving shouts to let everyone know the ball is about to be in play
- Pickled: what you are if your team loses with zero points, similar to getting skunked
- Pickledome: where the championship match in a pickleball tournament is played
- Pickler: someone whose entire life is about pickleball, a pickleball addict if you will
Even though the game doesn’t necessarily call for it, there are still plenty of ways to incorporate a love for real pickles into your pickleball play. Big Dill Pickleball Company offers all the equipment you need for a pickleball tournament, all covered with a cartoon pickle. Get creative with pickle juice—you can even use it to wipe down and clean your pickleball equipment.
And of course you should never forget about setting up some courtside snacks and drinks. Embrace your inner rich white lady playing tennis at the country club with a Pickle Tickler cocktail in one hand and your paddle in the other. Keep some quick pickled fruits and veggies on hand for sustenance between games. Now you’re really ready to go forth and pickle that ball.