Pickleball’s popularity surges in Shoal Lake

·4 min read

The grand opening of Shoal Lake’s new pickleball courts took place on Aug. 10.

The sport has taken the community, located 104 kilometres northwest of Brandon, by storm as a fun way to stay active and socialize.

David Simpson, president of the Shoal Lake Pickleball Committee, said he first became interested in the activity when he was introduced to it in Arizona, where he spends the winter months.

“Down there [in Arizona], they’re building facilities with 61 courts … they’re busy.”

Carol Shust, treasurer of the committee, said that a few winters ago she began playing pickleball with Simpson and some other people in the Shoal Lake School’s gymnasium. When the COVID-19 pandemic set in, they had to stop due to restrictions. In the fall of 2020, the group began fundraising to set up outdoor courts.

Simpson said the committee raised a little more than $180,000. Part of the funding came from a grant from the Manitoba government as part of its Building Sustainable Communities Fund.

“We started out [wanting] to build two courts and we applied for the funding that we required to build two, but our donations from the public were so good that we were able to expand our courts,” Simpson said.

The committee built three courts with the extra money raised.

“A surprising amount of money came from quite a distance away,” Simpson said. “Obviously those people had some kind of connection to the community in the past, or know somebody here, and … a lot of them didn’t have to be asked. They gave the money on their own, which was really rewarding.”

Simpson said that building the three courts used up almost all of the money that was raised.

“There’s been no administration costs, no charge for transportation or anything. Everything’s been spent on the actual materials and the contractors that we need to build it.”

A lot of recreation facilities prove to be very expensive for local communities, Simpson said, which is another reason why pickleball is coming to Shoal Lake at a good time.

“It’s really a struggle to find the money to keep [recreation facilities] operating. What I like about pickleball is that once you build it, you don’t need caretakers, you don’t need officials to run a game, you don’t need electricity … the cost to operate is minimal, and I see that as being a real fit for recreation in rural communities.”

A sign is being made with a list of all the donors, which will be installed at the pickleball courts. According to Shust, any money that is left over could be used to install windscreens and fix the parking lot.

Community reaction to the sport, and to the new courts, has been “amazing,” she said.

“It’s really generated a lot of interest … we’ve got young kids that are coming out here that have never played before and they’re really enjoying it.”

Pickleball, a racket and paddle sport, was invented in 1965 as a children’s backyard game in Bainbridge Island, Wash. Two to four players use solid paddles to hit a perforated hollow polymer ball over a net.

People of all ages are taking advantage of the new courts, Shust said. She said she has made friends through pickleball that she’d never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise.

“It’s not only exercise we get, but it’s socializing, because you play a game … you go off the court, and the next four players go on. You never really know who you’re going to be playing with, so it’s a good way to meet other people.”

Simpson agreed. He said he has gotten to know some of Shoal Lake’s immigrants through their mutual love of pickleball.

“Once you know how to play pickleball, if you travel, if you go somewhere else, just go find the pickleball courts and right away you’ll find a bunch of people.”

The best part, Simpson said, is that it’s free.

“There’s no charge for playing. The courses are open to anybody,” he said. “We think that’s one of the best things about it … this is affordable for anybody.”

Miranda Leybourne, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Brandon Sun