Pickleball facility expands as interest in sport soars

· The Pulse

As interest in pickleball continues to grow in the region, a St. Albert-based facility is opening a second location in Edmonton.

The Pickleball Hub will expand to the Roper Industrial Park at 63 Street and Roper Road sometime between August and October, co-owner Michelle Cho told Taproot.

"It's near the Whitemud Freeway, it's near Sherwood Park, and it's easy access for all the southsiders," said Cho, who found the location while driving her son to soccer. "Pickleball is something that you plan ahead. You book a court, you arrange some time with your friends, you join a league, you join a lesson, and it's more of a destination-type activity."

Cho said she became interested after playing pickleball in St. Albert and connecting with the hub's owner, Vinh Ngo.

"We actually grew up playing ping pong together, and the two of us are still very close to our old ping pong coach," Cho told Taproot. "Once you're in the community... you see that the demand for pickleball has risen, and it's growing."

Ngo said he opened the St. Albert pickleball hub in 2018 when he couldn't find places to play during the times when he was free.

"Once I caught the pickleball bug, there was really no place to play, five years ago, in the evening," Ngo told Taproot. "For those prime-time hours, most of the rec centres are booked. Even to this day, it is always a challenge to get those courts."

The Edmonton Sport and Social Club added the sport in 2017 and has seen it skyrocket in popularity.

"I think that pickleball is pretty unique in how quickly it has grown," said marketing director Caitlin Richler. "We didn't really realize the growth potential, but it has been our fastest-growing sport."

Pickleball has grown so quickly that many municipalities are having a hard time keeping up with the demand for facilities. The Parkland Pickleheads have been lobbying hard to get more courts built to serve players in Spruce Grove, Stony Plain, and Parkland County. Last year, members of a pickleball group in Leduc told the Leduc Representative they were disappointed in the number of dedicated pickleball courts in the city.

Players face-off on an indoor pickleball court coloured blue, green, and brown. The court's net runs through the centre of the photo, with players holding paddles on either side.

The Pickleball Hub in St. Albert will open a second location in southeast Edmonton later this year. (Facebook)

The sport even made its way into Premier Danielle Smith's mandate letter to the minister of tourism and sport. She instructed Joseph Schow to establish a community recreation centre infrastructure fund that would invest at least $80 million over four years into various recreational facilities, including pickleball courts.

While public facilities scramble to keep up with demand, the private sector is seeing an opportunity. Modu Club, a centre for badminton, pickleball, and table tennis that opened in October 2022, calls itself the "largest racket sport center in Canada." In November 2020, EVPCenter opened to serve volleyball and pickleball players. It said in 2022 that it had served 757 "Intro to Pickleball" registrants, had 5,359 account sign-ups, and taught more than 500 students in its first two years.

Trusted members of The Pickleball Hub have 24/7 access to the facility. Players can book courts for casual play, join a league, or participate in round-robin tournaments and skill drills. The Sport and Social Club regularly plays there.

"It is a sport that usually sells out before many of our others, in part because of its popularity, and in part because we just don't have that much capacity, because there aren't a ton of facilities in Edmonton," Richler said. "You can play in a high school gym if it's got the proper lines, the proper equipment. But it's obviously nowhere near as nice as The Pickleball Hub."

A sport for all ages

Part of the reason behind the high demand for court space is that pickleball is easy to learn, and doesn't require an elite level of fitness to play.

"There's this conception that it's for older people, people that are retired. And it's funny, because it was my mom who got into pickleball during COVID," Cho said. "I joined her at Vinh's place in St. Albert, and I just fell in love with it."

Pickleball is also an option for young and old to play together. Richler says that though the Edmonton Sport and Social Club's primary demographic is 25 to 35, most pickleball players at the club are 40 and older. Ngo sees intergenerational play at The Pickleball Hub in St. Albert.

"I don't think there's a sport out there where you'll have grandpa and grandson on the same team, and competing with another team," he said.

Updates on the opening of The Pickleball Hub in Roper Industrial Park will be posted on the facility's website. Players interested in joining the Edmonton Sport and Social Club's leagues should keep an eye on registration dates.

"Space is tight. We've certainly had to play around with that," Richler said. "And we've just had to be really strict, honestly, on capacities."