Pickleball officially becomes the state sport of Washington

A man getting ready to serve during a game of pickleball. 

A man getting ready to serve during a game of pickleball. 

LPETTET/Getty Images

Pickleball is now the official sport of Washington.

Gov. Jay Inslee signed Senate Bill 5615 into law Monday afternoon during a ceremony at the Bainbridge Island home-court where the sport was invented in 1965. He was joined by community members Stu Upson — the CEO of Pickleball USA — and state Sen. John Lovick, the bill’s sponsor.

Inslee began the ceremony by jokingly invoking the founding fathers, saying that all are created equal and endowed with certain inalienable rights. “Amongst those rights being the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of pickleball,” he said. “Hail this sport, and sing its praises from the birthplace of pickleball to the far reaches of the Earth.”

Pickleball is a composite of other racket sports like tennis, badminton and ping-pong. Players use a small racket or paddle to hit a perforated polymer ball — think whiffle ball — over a tennis-like net on a badminton-like court. But unlike other racket sports, players must let the ball bounce once before volleying, and each side of the court has a 7-foot zone extending from the net in which volleys are not allowed.

It was invented by the Seattle-born Joel Pritchard, who once served as Washington’s lieutenant governor and as a U.S. Representative for the state’s 1st Congressional District.

Hoping to entertain their bored families on a summer afternoon, Pritchard and a friend tried to start a game of badminton on an aging court at Pritchard’s summer cabin, but were unable to find enough equipment. They improvised by using a whiffle ball and pieces of plywood from a nearby shed.

It’s unclear how the sport first grew in the Pacific Northwest, but what is clear is that it began to spread throughout the U.S. in the 1980s and ’90s when the region’s “snowbirds” brought the game with them to warmer states during their annual trips to escape the area’s frigid winter temperatures.

Now, pickleball is one of America’s fastest-growing sports. The number of players in the U.S. jumped by 21% between 2019 and 2020, and Pickleball USA estimates that more than 4 million people play at 8,500 locations across the nation.

Many attribute the sport’s growing popularity to its accessibility. Inslee touched on this during his comments at Monday’s ceremony.

“This is a sport for the multitudes, it’s one that everybody can play,” he said. “And I mean everybody.”

As the official state sport, pickleball joins the willow goldfinch (state bird), the steelhead trout (state fish), the western hemlock (state tree), the apple (state fruit), the coast rhododendron (state flower) and the Walla Walla sweet onion (state vegetable) in the pantheon of state symbols.

Washington also joins several other states that have officially consecrated recreational activities, including Alaska (dog mushing), Colorado (pack burro racing), Maryland (jousting), Minnesota (ice hockey) North Carolina (stock car racing), and California and Hawaii (surfing). Texas, Wyoming and South Dakota have each made rodeo their state sport.