Carolyn Harvey – My SF Pickleball Story
Pickleball in SF
Details I Remember
The first time I heard about pickleball was in July of 2014 when my sister Shirley Cross in the small town of Arroyo Grande, CA., invited me to join a group of her girlfriends at the Pismo Beach Athletic Club. (When I play with them now, we call it “chickleball” ha!) I LOVED the game, and I was TERRIBLE at it. In an earlier life I had played a little tennis so I had the typical beginner tennis player’s misjudgment of how high the ball would bounce. My nice swing missed the ball by several inches. It was a bit embarrassing (this is before I learned the “pickleball way” …no “sorry’s”, no criticism, everyone welcomed regardless of athletic prowess and gentle competition at the level of your fellow players so everyone has fun.) Of course, as we advance, we enjoy a VERY competitive game but, again, always, always fun comes first.
When I got back to San Francisco I spent an hour every day for a week at the tennis wall at the old Golden Gate Park tennis complex getting used to the pickleball bounce. Then I went on the hunt for other players. I googled it; spoke with Rec & Park; spoke with John Murphy, the manager of the Golden Gate Park tennis complex, and with the manager of the senior center in Golden Gate Park. No one had heard of this funny sounding sport.
Still eager to play, I bought four wooden paddles and a portable net, and with the approval of SF Rec & Park, I taped temporary court lines on the basketball court and asked some neighbors to play at JP Murphy Park. Unfortunately, these folks were not taken with the sport, but in the process, I met Wellington Chen who had posted a note at JP Murphy Park asking anyone interested in playing picklebalI to call him. I called and we began playing in the foyer of the Palega Recreation Center several evenings a week, quickly gaining interested players.
Wanting to play closer to my home in the inner Sunset, I asked John Murphy, if I could try to get pickleball started in the tiny unused space at the far corner of the tennis complex. I brought my rake and broom and cleaned up five big garbage bags full of leaves and weeds and chalked the court. The area was about a foot too short for a standard pickleball court but shortening the court was not a big deal for novice play.
With that “yes” from John Murphy, I posted Saturday hours when I would offer free pickleball lessons. That brought in a few players but mostly it was the foot traffic in this area that finally got San Francisco pickleball going.
I would yell at people passing by and announce free pickleball lessons with equipment provided. I taught pickleball but, equally, important, I spread the pickleball “culture.” By the last quarter of 2015, we had an enthusiastic group of 86 players who had played on this little court. I remember so well that Lyndon Chow was one of the first enthusiasts and Bill Sullivan was finally coaxed to play after riding by several times on his bicycle and watching from that “distant” vantage point. He began to play and make his contribution as the “official” pickleball photographer.
Wanting to engage tennis players to play and support the growth of pickleball our group would “bark” at them as they passed our court encouraged them to “cool down” with us. We also scheduled a free tennis player pickleball clinic that October attended by 14 tennis players to learn about the sport and try their hand at it.
At the end of 2015 I purchased a life membership in the USAPA for a whopping $300 and was accepted as a pickleball ambassador with official sanction to promote pickleball at the Golden Gate Park Tennis Complex and surrounding neighborhood.
By 2016, when it was obvious, we had outgrown the little corner court, Rec & Park offered us the elevated tennis court #5 for play Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 9AM-1PM. Pickleball grew by leaps and bounds.
PaddleTek donated five paddles to our group; Martha Ehrenfeld generously donated a net and four paddles We also received a grant from the USAPA as a budding organization which allowed us to purchase a cart as well as another net. By now players were beginning to buy their own paddles, and after one of our members purchased a fourth net, we were to expand into four “new” courts.
We began to compare and track the number of pickleball players using tennis court #5with the number of tennis players on the remaining 21 courts. There were times when there were as many as 45 players on the pickleball courts (and waiting) and six to eight players on the other tennis courts. We always outnumbered the tennis players. It became obvious that this sport had taken off!
In January 2016, I held my first Rec & Park classes to introduce pickleball to a whole new group of folks, including Alycia Chu!!! I continued these classes until mid-2017 when I left San Francisco to live closer to family and settle in a single storied home….an impossibility in San Francisco.
I think my leaving gave permission for others to step up and take pickleball to new heights. I’m so proud of what you all have accomplished and know that you all enjoy the sport and the camaraderie that comes with it as much as I do. No play for me once COVID hit San Luis Obispo, but now I’m back playing with fully vaccinated girlfriends. I hope to rejoin our local Rec and Park group in Arroyo Grande once I am more confident that COVID has been controlled. I might even try some tournaments again.
The best of pickleball
- Once you have learned the basics of the sport, pickleball culture ensures that you welcome and eagerly teach any newbies who venture on the court making more friends in the process.
- Easy to learn basic skills and get a game going in a manner of minutes.
- Healthy exercise
- With experience, a “smart” player can out-play a stronger player with strategy. This can allow women to compete against men at the club play level.
- People of all ages can play together. I have played with a couple of 7-year-olds as well as with a 90-year-old and had a surprisingly good game.
- Higher level play is available as people in your area develop skills and as more traditionally athletic people join in, including tennis, badminton and racketball players.
- Competition via local as well as regional and national tournaments allow lower skilled players as well as advanced players to test their skills.
- Social engagement and camaraderie with wonderful new friends. Pickleball players are SO nice!
- Stress relief. I know several people who tell me that pickleball “saved” their lives. Worries evaporate during play.
- Pickleball culture inspires kindness to others on the court but also kindness toward yourself which, hopefully, pervades your life off the court.