A 2022 Center Square report projects that in coming years, Port St. Lucie will be in the nation’s Top 10 fastest growing cities. It’s not surprising that the fastest growing sport in the country is one of the city’s favorite pastimes: pickleball.
How did pickleball start? During the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, three fathers, faced with bored children, came up with a new game. Using ping-pong paddles and a wiffleball, they lowered a badminton net and began experimenting.
There are two stories about the name’s origin — one with a dog, one involving boats — but there’s no argument that pickleball is one of the most popular sports in the U.S. and Canada, with interest growing internationally. Combining aspects of tennis, badminton and ping pong, pickleball can be played indoors or outdoors. The equipment is simple. Anyone can play.
Because the pickleball court is one-fourth the size of a tennis court, less running is required. It’s also relatively kind to the hips and knees, making it attractive to older players.
Like any sport, however, safety is a factor. One of the most important considerations for new players is proper footwear.
Port St. Lucie’s Jamie and Ann Chauss not only play pickleball, they are the commissioners for Treasure Coast Pickleball League. “You need a stable platform, shoes made for tennis or pickleball,” Ann Chauss says. “Other athletic shoes are too squishy. The chance of injuries is greater.”
Jamie Chauss encourages new athletes to listen to their bodies and start slowly, as they would with any sport. “Many people play every day, but it’s good to give yourself a day off.”
One of pickleball’s appeals is the ability to jump right in. Signing up with an instructor is a good place to start, learning the basics and how to keep score. Paddle costs range from less than $20 to more than $200, so it’s best to try the game before investing much money.
Ann Chauss played tennis for five years before discovering pickleball. “There’s a learning curve. I picked it up fast because of tennis but anyone can learn within a month.” She and her husband started playing on improvised courts at their community in Stuart. “I stood there reading the printed instructions. We did half of it wrong at first,” she says.
They began looking for communities with better courts. PGA Village Verano off Crosstown Parkway in Port St. Lucie was under construction at the time, promising 27 courts. “We moved before they were even done,” she says.
The 2022 Sports & Fitness Industry report shows that more than half of pickleball players who play eight or more times a year are in the 55-plus category; close to a third are older than 65. The average age, however, is under 40. The fun, challenge and social aspects of the sport draw a younger crowd.
In 2019, 31-year-old Blake Casino and a friend were looking for something to do. Checking out a Port St. Lucie events website, they discovered that the World Pickleball Open was being held that same day at Verano.
“I had no idea what pickleball was,” Casino remembers, “but I figured that any world championship was worthwhile.”
The men were so intrigued by what they saw at the tournament that they headed for a sporting goods store to buy equipment. Researching public pickleball courts, they went to Whispering Pines Park on Southwest Darwin Boulevard. “It was almost completely empty,” Casino says.
Casino started promoting pickleball to friends, recruiting players. Just as things started picking up, COVID-19 hit. Although court play slowed down, interest grew, with players honing their skills in driveways and backyards.
When parks opened back up, Casino says the sport “exploded. During season now, Monday through Friday, you’ll see every court filled.”
Of the 64 parks in Port St. Lucie, only Whispering Pines Park and Winterlakes Park include outdoor pickleball courts. Indoor courts are available at MidFlorida Credit Union Event Center, as well as at Minsky Gym, within Whispering Pines.
“The city needs to step up,” Ann Chauss says. “We play during the day, but if I worked, I’d want to play at night. [Port St. Lucie] needs more courts and more lighted courts.”
Several local planned communities have pickleball courts with instructors on hand and on-site clinics. “Walking trails are the still the most asked-for amenity,” Jamie Chauss says. “Golf used to be No. 2. Now, it’s pickleball.”
The Chausses work with Treasure Coast House Hunters, marketing homes specifically for pickleball enthusiasts. “As pickleball players ourselves,” their website states, “we are pickleball home experts ... familiar with communities and many of the players.”
PGA Village Verano Pickleball Center, with its 27 pickleball courts, is the largest private pickleball center in South Florida. Valencia Walk is a new 55-plus community within the 4,000-acre master-planned community of Riverland. Its Sports and Racquet Club includes 37 pickleball courts. Farther south, Lennar at Veranda Preserve has courts as well.
Sarasota-based The Pickleball Club plans to build at least 15 private indoor pickleball clubs throughout Florida, including Port St. Lucie. Players will be able to pay for court time and enjoy a variety of amenities.
In addition to playing singles and doubles, league play is available in the area. When the Chausses became commissioners for the league, it lasted only eight weeks. “We had 100 participants,” Jamie says. “We’re adding a fall league and possibly a summer one. Last year, we had over 300 players.”
Jamie Chauss is also a founding partner of US Team Pickleball, the national sanctioning body for Pickleball Team leagues, with Tampa’s Tony Roig [check out his In2Pickle videos on YouTube]. In March 2023, they will host the Florida Cup for team league players and hope to expand nationally.
For others, playing leads to a career. Self-taught at first, Casino took lessons as he progressed in the sport, eventually founding BigDill Pickleball, a company that offers tournament management, clinics, instruction and organized play. He also teaches at Riverland Tradition.
Still working full time as an IT director for XChange of America, a currency exchange service in Stuart, Casino is sponsored by Adidas. Currently recovering from surgery for an Achilles tendon injury, Casino hopes to become certified as a pickleball referee and go professional.
Skill ratings in pickleball range from beginners [1.0] to professionals [5.0]. Official status is obtained through tournament play, such as the tournament Casino and his friend attended.
Although pickleball is fun for individuals, Casino sees father-son teams and families playing in groups. His daughter, a competitive cheerleader, likes pickleball, too. “It’s the coolest thing,” he says. “You’ll see a 13-year-old playing a 78-year-old. There’s no age limit. There are mixed groups, men playing women. We’re very inclusive.
“It’s like a playground for adults,” he continues, “one of the only sports where you can just walk in and get right into the mix. We get people with tennis backgrounds, or squash and racquetball, but also people with mobility issues. I’ve looked across the net at an older guy in a knee brace, thinking it’ll be an easy win — and then he places the ball so perfectly that I lose.”
A good pickleball player, of course, handles a loss with grace. Good sportsmanship is one of pickleball’s founding elements. The USA Pickleball rule book encourages behavior that reflects this: courtesy, respect, fairness, inclusion. There is a sense of civility attached to the game.
Could pickleball help bring our polarized society closer together? In Port St. Lucie, it’s already started — and the trend is growing.
9221 Southeast Event Center Place, Port St. Lucie, 772.807.4488
750 SW Darwin Blvd., Port St. Lucie, 772.344.4142
750 SW Darwin Blvd., Port St. Lucie, 772.344.4142
5241 NW Jannebo St. Port St. Lucie, 772.878.2274
BigDill Pickleball: www.bigdillpickleball.com,
call or text 772.742.3465
Treasure Coast Pickleball’s Facebook page
In2Pickle YouTube channel
Fleet Feet: 11586 SW Village Parkway, Port St Lucie, 772.340.3440, www.fleetfeet.com
Tennis Frenzy Plus 2: 2591 East Ocean Blvd., Stuart, 772.224.7820, www.tennisfrenzyplus2.com
Jan. 10, 2023