Bob Jeffreys

Bob Jeffreys

Guide to Pickleball: America’s fastest-growing sport

By Tara September


If you’ve been asked, “Do you pickle?”, chances are, the inquiry wasn’t about canning cucumbers.

Pickleball is America’s fastest-growing sport. In 2020, 4.2 million people played pickleball in the United States, up from 3.46 million in 2019, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s 2021 Topline Participation Report. That’s a whopping 21.3 percent increase from 2019 to 2020, the highest of any U.S. sport.

Many Estero communities have built pickleball courts in recent years or are planning to add them. 


What is Pickleball?

Basically, Pickleball is a mix of tennis, ping pong and badminton. The court is smaller than a tennis court — so less running — but the sport still requires lots of movement to keep you active and fit.

Pickleball is said to have been invented in 1965 by three middle-aged fathers in Washington state, but its popularity didn’t truly surge until a few years ago. Like tennis, pickleball is played in singles or doubles on a court with a net. But that’s where similarities end. Pickleball uses plastic paddles and a whiffle ball designed for the smaller court. 


Pickleball Pro Federico Staksrud

Pickleball Pro Federico Staksrud

Why is Pickleball Becoming Popular?

The best thing about pickleball is that it is an easy sport to learn and can be played by almost anyone — minimal athleticism required!

The word is out. Pickleball is affordable, easy to learn, fun for all ages and can be played year-round in most places. Also, it’s one of the few recreational sports that’s almost equally enjoyed by male and female players.

It’s simple to pick up and can be very addictive, which is why pickleball enthusiasts — they call themselves “picklers” — can’t stop “pickling.” The more you play and improve, the less chance you’ll have of being “pickled” (losing a game).

Since many folks are just discovering pickleball, there are plenty of beginner-level players out there. Newbies shouldn’t feel intimidated to jump right in. Local courts are full of picklers at various levels, all having a great time.

Audrey Powers, 67, of Grandezza, never played tennis or other team sports, but she started playing pickleball last summer and now plays a minimum of twice a week, indoors and outdoors. 

“It’s such a great workout, and I have met lifetime friends. It’s also a wonderful sport for couples to do together and a lot less expensive than golf,” Powers said. “Now, when I travel to another state or even on a cruise, I bring my paddle to play! I am totally addicted.” 

Meanwhile, Certified Pickleball Instructor Bob Jeffreys, 74, a resident of Bella Terra, has been playing for seven years. He teaches beginners and those looking to take their skills to a higher level of play.

“Pickleball has a quick learning curve, and people can be taught to play in about one hour,” said Jeffreys. “I believe it’s so popular because it provides a very social atmosphere, and people can keep getting better while having fun.”

Those looking for an athletic challenge should consider participating in one of the many organized tournaments across Florida. Many host beginners’ divisions, so no matter what level of experience you have, there will be plenty of competition (and fun).


A Pickleball Pro Emerges from Estero

Former Argentina tennis pro and FGCU business school alum Federico Staksrud, 26, a resident of Longitude 81 apartments in Estero, has only been playing pickleball for a year but is already ranked No. 6 in the world for Men’s Pro Singles. This summer, he won gold in the Professional Pickleball Association (PPA) Atlanta Open, the Association of Pickleball Professionals (APP) Indianapolis Open and the APP SoCal Classic.  

“I made the switch from tennis to pickleball because it’s more fun to play and watch due to the fast pace, shorter sets and dynamic shots,” said Staksrud. “Also, there are more opportunities as a pro to teach and play. It’s going to be interesting to see how it will continue to grow, but I’m enjoying the risk.” 

His bet is paying off. In May, Starksrud quit his tech job to teach the sport and play in pickleball tournaments full-time. He also signed a sponsorship deal with JOOLA, a global sporting goods company based in Germany.  


Selkirk paddle at the Estero Rec Center indoor courts

Selkirk paddle at the Estero Rec Center indoor courts

Getting the Pickleball Essentials 

If you’re thinking about picking up pickleball, there are just a few things you’ll need. First, you need an official USAPA-approved pickleball paddle. Ace Sports Tennis & Pickleball in Estero (20451 S. Tamiami Trail, Unit 2) has a large collection available and can provide advice for selecting the right paddle for your skill level. 

When selecting a paddle, be sure to ask about the noise level, as there has been some controversy over the recreational noise associated with pickleball. The Estero Village Clerk has a recommended list of paddle brands for reduced noise, which can be found at

A 1977 Wimbledon Doubles Champion, Joanne Russell transitioned over to pickleball and captured a gold medal at the 2017 U.S. Open Pickleball Championships in her hometown of Naples, Fla. Russell recommends Selkirk’s Vanguard line of popular high-performance paddles. These are on Estero’s approved list for noise level, and are used by picklers from novices to the pros. They’re made in the U.S. out of carbon fiber, which is also used by leading spacecraft companies. The cost is $199, but you can find “starter” paddles as cheap as $30 on Amazon or at local retailers.

However, Starksrud warns that beginners should make the investment for a good paddle earlier rather than later. 

“It makes a huge difference when you buy a professional paddle,” she advises. “Also, when starting out, take a few lessons to start so you can learn the right way to hit the ball. Otherwise it will be more difficult to correct bad habits later.” 

And of course, you’ll need a pickleball. However, some courts require specific brands, so you’ll want to check with your community before purchasing. Lastly, for safety reasons, make sure you get the correct court sneakers for better support. 


Where to Play

The Estero Recreation Center hosts “first come, first served” play weekday mornings (days and times vary) and Sundays from 9 a.m. to noon. Call to confirm availability. Lifetime membership to the center costs $10 per individual or $25 per family. 

Additionally, these Estero communities now have pickleball courts:

  • Bella Lago
  • Bella Terra
  • Breckenridge
  • The Brooks
  • Corkscrew Shores
  • Corkscrew Woodlands 
  • Marsh Landing
  • Pelican Sound
  • The Place
  • Preserve at Corkscrew
  • Stoneybrook 
  • Tidewater
  • West Bay Club


The Future of Pickleball in Estero

During the April 6, 2022, Estero Village Council meeting, the council voted to purchase the Gulf Coast Driving Range property, located at 9000 Williams Road. The nearly 10-acre parcel is located south of Estero Community Park and west of Estero High School. Proposals for the recreational use of the property include developing pickleball courts. Surveys of Estero residents indicated a strong interest. So, stay tuned!


Well, what are you waiting for? Do you Pickle? 

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