Maggie Brown’s pickleball obsession began on a cruise ship about five years ago.
Brown, cofounder of pickleball startup Recess, stumbled upon a court aboard the ship, and she and her three siblings taught themselves to play. Fast-forward to pandemic-era lockdowns, and Brown was playing pickleball with her siblings every day in what they deemed, fittingly, recess.
“We ended up building a legit court: pouring cement, painting the lines, doing the whole thing,” Brown told Insider. “Then I went online to buy paddles and there was just nothing that really fit my aesthetic.”
Brown and her cofounder, Grace Moore, decided to launch their own company that offers stylish pickleball paddles, balls, and some apparel and accessories. About a year after launch, the Austin-based company’s gear is being stocked by Urban Outfitters, Anthropologie, Free People, and Nordstrom.
The success of Recess and other pickleball startups like it is the direct result of the sport’s soaring popularity in the US. Once considered a recreational pastime for tennis players trying to go easier on their joints, pickleball has become one of the nation’s fastest-growing sports, driven, in part, by the pandemic. And with the legions of new fans has come a demand for new gear — and the startups to supply it.
4.8 million pickleball players nationwide
Disco Country Club’s pickleball paddles have a retro vibe.
Disco Country Club
For those who haven’t yet been bitten by the pickleball bug, it’s best described as a cross between tennis and ping pong. Like tennis, pickleball can be played as a singles or doubles game on a court with a net, albeit with a much smaller footprint than a tennis court. Like ping pong, the game is played with hard paddles and a hollow ball, although the ball is perforated, much like a Wiffle ball.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 by a group of dads outside Seattle, and in the decades since, has become a pastime akin to badminton or bocce ball: easy to learn and low-impact. Those who want their own gear have typically turned to major sports-equipment brands like Franklin and Head, or companies that serve the pro space, like Selkirk.
But over the past five years, pickleball has had a double-digit growth rate annually, according to data from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association, a trade group that represents the sporting goods industry. All told, there were 4.8 million pickleball players in the US as of 2021, the bulk of them between the ages of 18 and 34. According to SFIA data, the average age of people playing pickleball continues to drop: it was 41 in 2020, and 38.1 in 2021.
“During shelter-in-place, we were all sort of living like the quasi-retired,” Alyssa Carroll, founder of Los Angeles-based pickleball brand Disco Country Club, told Insider. “People needed something that was outdoors. They wanted something social and active. So to me, I think that was a lot of the impetus for it catching on with younger people.”
Carroll, a longtime tennis player, started her company when, much like Brown from Recess, she couldn’t find many options for pickleball gear that fit her aesthetic. The company now sells retro-inspired paddles, balls, and carrying cases, with a set retailing for $115.
And as for the company’s name, it, too, was born from the depths of the pandemic doldrums: Carroll said she started thinking about where she’d rather be and landed on a country club, but chill and cool, like …….