Pickleball has become the fastest-growing sport in the United States, with a participation growth of 158.6% in the past three years. Out of all 50 states, Utah has shown the most interest in the sport, according to a new report.

Selkirk, a top pickleball paddle company, recently studied Google trends that show Utah residents — out of any other state — searched most for terms relating to the sport. The state is also home to more than 178 designated pickleball courts, ranking 25th-highest in the world, according to the company's research.

Arizona, Florida and Colorado follow the Beehive State in pickleball popularity, and Selkirk credits the sport for having an "easier learning curve and being more social," the report states.

Katy Luxem, founder and CEO of Big Dill Pickleball, in Sandy, noted that Utah's friendly atmosphere and age diversity may be calling more residents to play.

"I think that Utah is particularly well-suited to just being kind and welcoming and friendly to people, and willing to support people in the pickleball learning experience.

"Also, there's a lot of different ages here — people have a lot of kids. They'll take their kids out, but then there's multigenerational grandparents here. It's something you can do as a big group or a big family," Luxem said.

She said Utah's warm climate, especially during the summer months, may also welcome pickleball participants by allowing them to play at free outdoor courts.

Recent spikes, especially after 2022, show pickleball participation in Utah increased by 14.8% in 2021, and 85.7% in 2022.

People play pickleball at 11th Avenue Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 12, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

"A lot of people discovered it, or rediscovered it during the pandemic, and I think part of that is the social element," Luxem added. "Also because it is so fun and accessible and inclusive. You can play if you're LeBron James or you can play if you're a 78-year-old grandma. You can play with your kids, your spouse, across generations — so it makes it unique in that aspect."

Players 55 years or older have taken a particular interest, with the older demographic comprising the largest bracket of Utah's participants in 2021.

Cyd Armstrong is one such player, a 70-year-old who started playing the game after his son introduced him to it.

"It was instantly clear to me that I could play, as old as I was and as kind of broken down as I seemed to be," he said, referencing his knee replacement and back surgeries. "And, if I worked out of that, I thought I could be competitive with people about my same age."

Armstrong continued to play, not just because of the game's ease and enjoyment, but because of the community of friends he found — which has been especially helpful to him after his wife recently passed away.

"I think it saved my life. That seems a little dramatic, but it's kept me with an interest. I was kind of like, 'OK, I'm done.' And now I'm not," he said.

Rick Egan returns the ball during a game of pickleball at Fairmont Park in Salt Lake City on Friday, May 12, 2023. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News

Younger participants are also experiencing huge spikes in interest, with player growth happening the fastest among those 24 years or younger in 2021.

In fact, Leo Chun, an 11-year-old pickleball player, has "traveled across the country to play all types of tournaments," including winning gold at the national championships in the amateur single's men's division.

"When he first started competing, it was great to see him playing against adults and juniors, and just people from all over," Leo's father, Cedric Chun, said. "But then, I kind of got the itch just watching on the sidelines, so I started playing after Leo started and then we started playing some tournaments together."

Now, the father and son enjoy playing at Club Pickleball USA in American Fork.

"A big reason for the growth in Utah, especially Utah County, is just how the cities and the county have provided so many free outdoor courts for people to just come out and try it — and that's how we picked it up as well," Cedric Chun said.

While there are several courts across Utah, Brandon Mackie, an avid pickleball player, found that while some players may have access to courts, others may not always find places to go and people to play with.

That's when he decided to create Pickleheads, a company that helps players find courts in their area.

James Ostergar and Mark Mitchell play pickleball with coworkers during a staff picnic at Fairmont Park in Salt Lake City on Friday.
James Ostergar and Mark Mitchell play pickleball with coworkers during a staff picnic at Fairmont Park in Salt Lake City on Friday. | Laura Seitz, Deseret News
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"It's now a go-to resource for finding a game, finding a court, or even setting up your own groups and playtimes," Mackie said.

The company also plans on releasing a mobile app that will form a group chat feature, allowing players to communicate locations and times they'll meet.

Currently, Utah has another court available in Summit Hard Cider, which is set to open on June 1.

Tennis courts across the state are also being converted into pickleball courts — at Poplar Grove Park and others; Salt Lake City also plans on converting the tennis courts in Glendale Regional Park into pickleball playing areas.

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