New outdoor pickleball courts open in Anchorage

Anchorage pickleball players inaugurate 12 new courts near the Sullivan Arena on Thursday, June 17, 2021. (Matt Faubion/AKPM)

You may not have heard of it, but a tennis-like sport called pickleball is taking off in Anchorage. The Anchorage Pickleball Club recently partnered with the city to open the first outdoor courts in the city near downtown.

The Anchorage Pickleball Club, along with Mayor-elect Dave Bronson, cut a string of highlighter-yellow pickleballs at the gates of an outdoor hockey rink near the Sullivan Arena to inaugurate 12 new pickleball courts Thursday afternoon.

Anchorage residents play pickleball at new courts near the Sullivan Arena on June 17, 2021. (Matt Faubion/AKPM)

What’s pickleball, you ask? 

“It’s like a giant game of ping pong, kind of in the style of badminton. That’s probably the easiest way to describe it,” said Erin Kirkland, community engagement director with Parks & Recreation. 

“It’s a really cool sound when the ball hits the paddle. It’s really fun. It’s engaging, you’re really moving fast,” said Kirkland, who said she learned to play in college.

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Pickleball is played with a plastic wiffleball, and paddles that look like ping pong paddles. The court is the size of a badminton court, but the net is lower, about 3 feet tall.

The Economist reported in January that pickleball is the fastest growing sport in America. The Anchorage Pickleball Club boasts about 200 members so far, and it’s growing.

“Every day, we’re getting three to five new members,” said Robin Walthour, president of the club. She said the pickleball community plays at the O’Malley Sports Complex in the winter, but there wasn’t a designated spot to play outdoors in the summer. They formed an official club last September to petition the city for outdoor space.

Robin Walthour, president of the Anchorage Pickleball Club, stands at the edge of an outdoor hockey rink at the Chester Creek Sports Complex, converted into 12 pickleball courts for the summer. (Photo by Matt Faubion)

Kirkland said it took about six months to get the courts set up. They’re on city property at the Chester Creek Sports Complex, but the club will take care of maintenance.

“We’re just thrilled that we were able to get it so early in the summer when people have plenty of time to get out and play.”

There’s plenty of demand for the space, said Walthour, pointing at the dozens of players who came out for the ribbon-cutting.

“It’s awesome for us. We’re so excited to have this many courts. There’s no place in Alaska that has this many courts.”

Walthour said the new courts will be available to the public for a $5 fee, or people can become a club member for $25 a year, for unlimited access. Beginners are welcome.

“Everybody’s happy to help new players, because we all started out as a beginner.”

The club has nets, balls and paddles to use. A schedule of events is on their website.