Pickleball at Pepperdine

Players playing pickleball, the fastest-growing sport in the country. Photo by Tucker Fortson

What’s the fastest-growing game and sport in the country right now? It’s pickleball, and you’re now invited to play at Pepperdine University.

The sport that’s exploded in popularity in recent years can be played by nearly all ages. It’s a fast-paced game that’s like playing ping-pong on a larger court. The game combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong on a badminton-sized court using a modified tennis net. Paddles are used with a plastic ball with holes. Like tennis, it can be played by singles or doubles teams.

Tucker Fortson is the director of the pickleball program at Pepperdine. Fortson is the Community Engagement and Development officer at the university. He also directs tennis programming at the university’s Crest courts. 

While the Crest courts were closed during the height of the pandemic, pent-up demand for recreation may have sparked an interest in bringing the game to Malibu. 

“The demand for it has been around for the last couple of years,” Fortson said. “Where’s pickleball? We really want to try it,” Fortson said he heard from Crest Club members. When Fortson started his position at Pepperdine, he says pickleball was “definitely on my mind to get started.” “We have access to such an incredible facility here. If the demand for pickleball is there, I want to make sure it engages the community, and a different group of folks who may not be as able to play tennis or have fallen out of interest with tennis can also be engaged in another sport such as pickleball. It’s taking off. It’s the fastest growing sport in the U.S. It’s cool to start up.”

Right now, the pickleball courts are located on two lower Crest tennis courts. Four pickleball courts have been chalk lined on each tennis court for a total of eight smaller courts. In the short time pickleball has been available, Fortson said, “It’s awesome. We’ve been getting a good turnout. It’s fun.”

For those interested in learning pickleball and playing, “We’re very welcoming,” according to Fortson. He has an email blast that gives available times for two-hour open play and drop-ins. There’s a $10 general admission fee. Crest associates who pay a yearly membership fee receive a discount. General play times are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. till noon. Pickleball times are subject to change as standard time approaches.

Anyone wishing to play should show up in court attire. 

“Make sure you’re wearing court shoes and not running shoes,” Fortson advised. “There’s a distinct difference between the two.” He explained those not experienced in court sports should invest in the right shoes to avoid injury by having your shoes stick to the court surface and tripping. As far as supplies, at open play events, paddles and balls will be supplied. Sometimes there’ll be music playing. “You bring the energy. You bring the smiles. I’ll bring the rest,” Fortson stated. “It’s a pretty easy sport to pick up.” Fortson brings instruction for those who’ve never played before. “You can just show up eager to play. We’ll take care of the rest. It’s a great way to meet folks.” He said plenty of people and other coaches are on hand to give pointers. Eventually, Fortson hopes to have pickleball clinics with certified pickleball experts.

“I recommend pickleball for anybody who’s looking to pick up a new hobby, a new sport, who may be thinking that tennis might be a little too much ground to cover. Even if you’re still playing tennis, it’s a fun little variation of the sport. I still play competitive tennis, and playing pickleball is just as fun. It’s a different game and a different style, but still just as fun.”

Regular Crest tennis player Holly Culhane has been playing pickleball at Pepperdine and said she loves it. “I am super excited that Pepperdine is providing and promoting pickleball in our community. It is a fun, fast-paced game suitable for all age groups and fitness levels. I play tennis with my friends, and now I have a sport I can learn and play with my husband. I am really having a great time with pickleball.” 

Anyone interested in playing pickleball at Pepperdine can email Tucker Fortson for details at tucker.fortson@pepperdine.edu.