‘Pickleball Has Taken Over’: Paddle Tennis Numbers Down


The "Paddle Hut" stands beside the platform tennis courts at Waveny. Credit: Michael Dinan

Though platform or “paddle” tennis, like other outdoor activities, saw a major uptick during the pandemic, the number of people seeking permits is down, parks officials say.

One reason appears to be that an increasing number of people are choosing a different outdoor racket sport, according to Parks and Recreation Director John Howe: pickleball.

“Unfortunately, this year and last year, our [paddle] permit sales are way down,” Howe told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission during their regular meeting, held Wednesday night at Lapham Community Center and via videoconference.

“We’re not seeing the same usage that we had in the past,” Howe said. “We think a lot of it is, while the [paddle] numbers are down, pickleball has taken over. And with us having basically nice weather, it seems that people are still playing pickleball more than they’re playing paddle.”

The comments came during an update to the Commission on the Parks & Rec budget request for fiscal year 2025. Howe said that the department is removing a $140,000 line item under capital for an additional paddle tennis court at Waveny.

“We want to evaluate it,” he said. “We want to make sure that we don’t put in something that we really don’t need.”

Howe added, “It’s hard for us to ask for something that doesn’t show the membership numbers that it’s needed … We’re just not having the members.”

‘Hammer Mike’ Chen on the pickleball court. Contributed photo

The town, in order to accommodate the rising popularity of pickleball, installed five new courts at Mead Park in the summer of 2021, then made additional improvements to the parking lot and surrounding areas. (Note: New Canaan is home to “Hammer” Mike Chen, a co-founder of the rapidly growing National Pickleball League, see photo.)

Howe said during the meeting that with the unseasonably warm winter, many people “are still playing pickleball more than they’re playing paddle.”

Commissioner Keith Richey said he would play paddle three times per week and that the only time there was surplus demand was about 8 to 11 a.m.

“After that, there’s always empty courts,” Ricey said.

Howe said that weekend afternoon use of the paddle tennis courts also has declined.

“They used to be very busy, and it’s just, there are people playing still—don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we’re taking out paddle courts by any means— but, to put another court in, right now it just doesn’t work,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to make sense.”

The popularity of pickleball appears to be a sustained trend, Howe said.

“It’s still taking off,” he said, adding. “It doesn’t seem like it’s going anywhere right now. It’s not a flash in the pan where it’s going to be over.”

Commissioner Lindsey Heron said that the pickleball courts generally are at least half-full, and she complimented Howe’s team on clearing them.

“There are no leaves, no debris,” she said.

Heron also asked whether the paddle tennis leagues are still as popular as they had been, “because that drives a lot of the use.”

Howe said, “I’d say they’ve gone down some just because the amount of permit holders is what we’re really looking at.”

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