Pickleball is everywhere. In fact, its leading proponents claim it is the fastest growing sport in North America, though verifying that is not easy to do. But I think it's probably true, especially with RVers!
There is no doubt that the sport, invented in 1965, is now hugely popular, particularly among retirees and in campgrounds, RV resorts, retirement communities, and the like across Florida and the Sunbelt. Further, many snowbirds return to their northern homes each spring and bring their love of the game back with them.
There are no numerous places to play in all 50 states and there are regular tournaments sponsored by its own official organization, the USA Pickleball Association.
Here's one of their promotional videos showing how the game is played:
Pickleball leagues are everywhere
On a RV trip to Florida and the Gulf Coast a couple of years ago, I was stunned to see it played – enthusiastically – at just about every place we visited. So when a blog reader suggested a story about the sport, I thought it would be good to get this story out there.
In case you have never heard of it, pickleball is a racket sport in which two to four players use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a polymer perforated ball over a net.
A pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court and measures 20×44 feet. In pickleball, the same court is used for both singles and doubles play. The net height is 36 inches at the sidelines and 34 inches in the middle. The court is striped similar to a tennis court with right and left service courts and a 7-foot non-volley zone in front of the net (referred to as the “kitchen”). Courts can be constructed specifically for pickleball or they can be converted using existing tennis or badminton courts.
It was invented on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, WA. U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard and two pals, Bill Bell, and Barney McCallum, are credited for creating the game after their kids at the time became bored with their usual summertime activities.
Their kids apparently grew tired of the game. But the adults loved it, taught it to their friends and, as everybody aged, it kept growing and growing.
There are two stories about how the sport got its name. The most popular story has it that the Pritchard's dog, named Pickles, was always chasing after the wiffle ball when someone hit it out of bounds and then hiding with it in the bushes. Thus, for the game to resume, someone had to retrieve “Pickle's ball.”
But Joel Pritchard's wife, Joan, told one interviewer that the game reminded her of the pickle boat (in crew), where oarsmen are picked from the leftovers of the other boats. The game was subsequently named pickleball. The Pritchard's dog was actually named after the game, she said.
Pickleball is a way of life for many
At an RV resort in Okeechobee, FL, where I took the above photo in this post, they had two courts that had people standing in line waiting to play from just after sunup till noon, and again just before sunup when the day's heat eased until it was too dark to play. The resort said pickleball was so popular that they were rushing to build more courts.
So there you go sports fans. Give it a try. I only had a chance to play a few minutes but from that brief experience, I can say it's pretty darn fun.
Mike and Jennifer's Favorite Places in Florida – all 3 ebooks!
We RVers may wander far and wide but it’s true for most of us that we end up with some favorite “Go-To” places – places that draw us back again and again.
Florida is one of those places for us. And we know it is for many RVers looking to get away and explore during the winter.
That's why we've created three guides, covering Florida's Atlantic Coast, the Gulf Coast, and the Keys.
Each of these guides is a seven-day guided exploration of one of the coasts. And each stop is a curated view of the best things that we’ve enjoyed on this trip and want you to experience.
Altogether these guides are over 300 pages of content!
FAQ's about Florida Gulf Coast beaches of interest to RVers
What is the weather like along Florida's Gulf Coast?
The weather along Florida's Gulf Coast can vary depending on the time of year and the specific location. In general, the area experiences hot, humid summers and mild, pleasant winters.
The Panhandle region can be quite cool in January. It is seldom below freezing, but daytime highs are typically in the 50s. It warms up about 10 degrees each month.
You can also generally add about 10 degrees for every 150 miles you travel south down the Florida peninsula.
By the time you hit Naples, daytime highs in January are in the comfortable 70s.
Are there any websites that can help me get a reservation for a Florida beach campground?
One of the best resources we can recommend is called Campnab. This service monitors parks for cancelations and sends you an alert when an opening matches your criteria. That said, it isn’t magic. The app doesn’t create availabilities.
The service works – but it is not free.
Campnab offers two ways to use the service. The first is individual pay-per-use scans. These watch for vacancies at a specific park for a specific date. These work well if you know exactly when and where you intend to camp. Pay-per-use scans cost $10 – $20, depending on how frequently you want them to check availability.
The second way to use the service is through a membership. These typically run monthly and are tailored to those who camp more frequently or are looking to maximize their chance of finding a site. Membership allows you to scan multiple parks and/or dates simultaneously. With memberships, you pay a monthly recurring fee ($10, $20, $30, or $50), depending on your needs.
Are there places in Florida where you can literally camp on the beach for free?
Not many. And they are very pricey. If you want to sleep directly on the sand in an RV, you'll have to stay at a developed commercial campground like Camp Gulf on the Emerald Coast or an RV resort like Big Pine Key Resort in the keys. Some state parks like the Gamble Rogers State Memorial Recreation Area in the Atlantic Coast or Bahia Honda State Park in the keys or Fort Desto State Park near St. Petersburg have beachside sites, too.
But are there free, unrestricted RV beach camping spots in Florida?
Sorry, none that I know of that would work for RVs.
There is unrestricted camping on wild beaches on a couple of islands, but you need a boat to get there, and it is for tent camping only. If you want to sleep directly on the sand, there is Anclote Key offshore Tarpon Springs, and Shell Key in Pinellas County. Another favorite is Keewaydin Island between Naples and Marco Island but that area remains pretty devasted from Hurricane Ian.
Did Hurricane Ian destroy many beach campgrounds on the Gulf Coast?
While it severely damaged almost two dozen RV parks and campgrounds, about 8-10 campgrounds in the Naples-Ft. Myers area were completely destroyed. Most of the damaged campgrounds have been repaired and reopened.
Check with the Florida Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds if you have questions or concerns.