Los Barriles Pickleball

The resort towns of Cabo San Lucas, San Jose del Cabo and Los Barriles have long drawn crowds for world-class golf, sport fishing, and beach escapes. But in recent years, this sunny corner of Baja California has seen an explosion of interest in a different sporting pursuit - the fun and fast-paced game of pickleball. From casual hotel court sessions to organized tournaments, pickleball in Los Cabos’s popularity has skyrocketed in lockstep with its meteoric rise internationally. 

With ideal year-round weather conditions and a growing number of dedicated facilities, this Mexican paradise is swiftly becoming a pickleball paradise as well, and Los Barriles, with 24 new pickleball courts under construction, is set to become the sport’s new Mecca. 

But for those of us just catching on to pickleball, there are a lot of questions: What is pickleball and how was it invented? Why is it called pickleball? Who can play pickleball? How popular is pickleball? What is the new Palmas Pickleball Resort? Where in Cabo San Lucas and San Jose can you play pickleball? To learn more about this exciting, up-and-coming sport and how it can become part of your Baja lifestyle, read on.

What is pickleball and how was it invented?

In the quiet, picturesque town of Bainbridge, Washington, a sport with an unusual name was born – a sport that would soon outgrow the Pacific Northwest and go on to capture the hearts of millions across the globe. Pickleball, a delightful mashup of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, has its roots firmly planted in this charming community, where it all began as a humble backyard game dreamed up by a couple of dads looking to entertain their kids.

Pickleball courts

It was the summer of 1965 when Joel Pritchard, a successful businessman and later congressman, along with neighbors Barney McCallum and Bill Bell, found themselves in Pritchard's backyard on isolated Bainbridge Island in Washington State, with their families. 

A ferry ride away from the big city that weekend, Pritchard and friends were faced with the challenge of keeping their restless children entertained long before the internet or cell phones. 

Pritchard’s then 13-year-old son, Frank, remembered the birth of the sport in a 2022 ESPN  interview. “I was standing on the stairs to our house and my father came around the car and I said, ‘I hate it here, there's nothing to do.’ And he said, ‘Well you know when we were kids and we were over here we used to make games up.’ And I said, ‘Oh really? Why don't you go make up a game then?”

Up to the challenge from his petulant son, Pritchard and his friends devised a simple yet ingenious game, cobbling together rules and equipment from various sports they were familiar with and had lying around the house. Using a perforated plastic wiffle ball, a badminton court, and ping pong paddles, the foundations of pickleball were laid. 

History of pickleball

From those humble beginnings, pickleball quickly gained traction among friends and neighbors in Bainbridge and beyond, with the first official. Word of this captivating new game spread like wildfire, and soon, the town's local badminton club embraced it wholeheartedly, further cementing its place in the community's recreational scene. The first, fully-dedicated pickleball court was built on Bainbridge Island in 1967.

So, what is it about pickleball that has made it such a beloved sport? For starters, the rules are refreshingly simple. Players, or “picklers” use solid paddles made of wood or composite materials to hit a perforated ball over a net on a badminton-size court. The game can be played as doubles or singles, and the scoring system is straightforward, making it accessible to players of all ages and skill levels.

But beyond its simplicity, pickleball offers a unique blend of excitement and social camaraderie. The compact court size and the lightweight ball's lower bounces create an energetic, fast-paced game that keeps players on their toes. Yet, the sport's inherent inclusivity fosters a warm and welcoming atmosphere, where friendly banter and laughter are as much a part of the experience as the rallies themselves.

Today, pickleball has spread far beyond the boundaries of Bainbridge, with courts popping up in parks, recreation centers, and even dedicated pickleball facilities across the United States and beyond. Tournaments and leagues have emerged, attracting players from all walks of life, united by their love for this quirky yet addictive game.

As you step onto a pickleball court, anywhere in the world but particularly here in San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, or Los Barriles, you can't help but feel a sense of wonder at how a simple backyard game has blossomed into a global phenomenon.


Why is it called pickleball?

One of the most enduring mysteries surrounding the game of pickleball is the peculiar story behind its memorable moniker. 

The most popularized theory traces the name back to one of the Pritchard family's furry companions - a boisterous little dog named Pickles. As the tale goes, during those inaugural backyard games, the rambunctious pup would frequently intervene by snatching up the perforated plastic ball and scampering away with it mid-volley. After one too many frustrating game stoppages caused by Pickles' antics, the name "pickleball" was coined, an indelible reminder of the canine's proclivity for being a pickle-sized nuisance.

Frank Pritchard flatly denies this version of how the sport was named, telling ESPN the family dog’s name was actually Salt.

Pickleball sign

According to a more probable but less whimsical version, the peculiar name was simply a sly reference to the game being a "pickle boat" mix of various sports - a bit of everything thrown together into one bizarre hybrid. The term "pickle boat" was historically used in rowing to describe a hodgepodge boat assembled with leftover crew members not chosen for the more prestigious crews. To the inventors, labeling their quirky backyard creation as the "pickle boat of sports" may have seemed an apt bit of tongue-in-cheek wordplay.

A third theory circles back around to the game's improvisational roots. In this explanation, Pritchard and his neighbors literally just fashioned the rules and equipment while they were in a parenting “pickle,” rashly throwing together whatever they could find lying around in a pinch. Thus, the term "pickleball" paid cheeky homage to the spur-of-the-moment, pickled concoction of a game they had invented one boredom-filled afternoon.

While the true origin of the pickleball name may never be conclusively verified, the ambiguity only adds to the game's charming, slightly askew mystique. From references to misbehaving dogs to pickled amalgamations of sports, the peculiar moniker perfectly captures pickleball's humble roots and the creative spirit of hasty inventiveness that sparked its birth so many years ago on Bainbridge Island.

There is no known translation of the sport’s name in Spanish, so down in Baja if you say “pickleball,” the locals will know exactly what you are talking about. More and more Mexicans are falling in love with the sport as well.


Who can play pickleball?

One of the most alluring aspects of pickleball is its incredible accessibility and inclusiveness. Unlike many traditional sports that cater to a specific age group or skill level, pickleball warmly welcomes players from all walks of life with open arms (and paddles!).

At its core, pickleball is a delightfully simple game that requires little in the way of expensive equipment or extensive training. Armed with just a solid paddle and a basic grasp of the straightforward rules, anyone can step onto a pickleball court and start playing right away. This lowered barrier to entry has helped fuel the sport's meteoric rise in popularity across demographics.

Pickleball court

Pickleball's inclusivity shines brightest when you see multi-generational families hitting the courts together. Grandparents in their 70s and 80s can rally side-by-side with their grandchildren, with the sport's compact court size and easy-to-learn basics allowing players young and old to compete on a level playing field. Many families have embraced pickleball as a fun way to stay active together while strengthening familial bonds.

The game has also cultivated a particularly strong following among older adults seeking lower-impact exercise that doesn't punish aging joints and muscles. The smaller court and wiffle ball's lower bounces are gentler on the body compared to sports like tennis. Yet pickleball still provides ample opportunities to build strength, improve mobility, and enjoy a good aerobic workout in a social setting.

At the other end of the spectrum, pickleball has steadily grown in popularity among youth players who are drawn to the sport's highly energetic brand of back-and-forth action. More schools and community programs are incorporating pickleball into physical education curriculums and after-school activities, nurturing skills and competitive spirit at an early age.

Tony Krause is a former racquetball and squash player, now an acclaimed pickleball instructor and Los Barriles resident who is building a brand new, world-class pickleball center in Los Barriles next to the Palmas de Cortez hotel.

Krause is more than excited about the breadth of the pickleball demographic, he says in an interview, describing a pickleball tournament he recently attended in Europe with players hailing from 17 different countries. 

Asociacion Mexicana de Pickleball

The sport transgresses cultural barriers, puts men and women on equal footing, and can be enjoyed by any demographic and skill level. “People have this image of pickleball as a geriatric sport,” he says, but it's really multigenerational and we are seeing that reflected in a growing, younger demographic of players,” he says. “It’s not gender-based, so men and women can play together. It really creates a lifestyle.”

Ultimately, whether you're an energetic 8-year-old or a spry 80-year-old looking to stay active, an elite athlete or a total novice, pickleball has a place for you. The true beauty and transcendent spirit of this humble game lies in its ability to bring people of all backgrounds and skill levels together on the court for some smile-inducing fun.


How popular is pickleball?

For the third straight year, the Sports & Fitness Industry Association named pickleball as America’s fastest-growing sport, with participation growing 51.8% between 2022 and 2023. In the United States alone, 36.5 million people have played the game at least once in 2023. Surprisingly, the sport now has evolved to the point where 28.8 percent of players are in the 18 to 24 age bracket. Before the pandemic, most players were over 55. 

Pickleball popularity

Australia, Spain, Canada, Mexico and the UK have seen an increase in pickleball interest and players, and there’s a concerted effort to debut it as an Olympic sport in the future. 

Holland America Cruise Line has pickleball courts on all their ships. There’s a disco-themed pickleball court in West Hollywood. There are pickleball leagues with celebrity owners, such as Tom Brady, Patrick Mahomes, LeBron James and Kevin Durant. 

Celebrity picklers include Selena Gomez, Ellen DeGeneres, Emma Watson, Michael Phelps, Will Farrell, Andre Agassi, George and Amal Clooney and Drew Barrymore, to name just a few. Tournaments are sponsored by mainstream brands such as Skechers and NatureMade, offer large cash prizes and are live-streamed. The sport is governed by the International Pickleball Federation.

With such a huge, and growing fanbase, pickleball tourism is a real thing, as The Wall Street Journal reported in a 2023 article entitled “Some Travelers Look for Museums or Beaches. Others Just Want a Pickleball Court.”

Pickleball tour companies offer excursions to Croatia, Costa Rica, Spain, Portugal, Antigua and Mexico, where a new batch of visitors is already signing up to add pickleball to their Los Cabos’ itineraries.


What is the new Palmas Pickleball Resort?

Los Barriles, halfway between Cabo San Lucas and La Paz, has long been renowned for pickleball. Residents move to the community for its love of the sport, or fall in love themselves once introduced. Palmas Pickleball Resort developer Tony Krause says that in the last 10 years, he’s seen the sport explode in Los Barriles “exponentially.” 

Pickleball rackets

The sleepy town of 2,500 in the summer and 5,000 in the winter, naturally draws adventuresome visitors, usually at or approaching retirement age. The area is known for deep sea fishing, ATV tours, hot springs, horseback riding, diving and snorkeling, all appealing to an older, active, and affluent crowd. 

Pickleball brings with it a lifestyle very compatible with the other activities Los Barriles has to offer. 

Private pickleball courts are now competing with pools for that coveted garden space, and once Krause’s Palmas Pickleball Resort is completed, Los Barriles proper will have well over 50 courts.

Krause’s new venture, already well-along in construction and set to open in November 2024, fully embraces that pickleball lifestyle.

Pickleball courts

He plans to add 24 state-of-the-art courts replete with automatic cameras that can record your match for later review, or share your game’s greatest shot to social media, with a press of the button. Recorded matches and training sessions can also be helpful for those seeking to progress in the sport. 

Krause is adding a bar with food service to the facilities, a running track for physical fitness, and has future plans for a wellness center. There will be a pro shop and expert instructors on-hand, plenty of parking, and excursion suggestions for other ways to enjoy Los Barriles will also be available.

The location, Palmas de Cortez Hotel, is legendary, and one of the first resorts on the Sea of Cortez. Originally built in 1959, Baja icons the Van Wormer family took over the idyllic beachside property in 1973. 

Historic and majestic, Palmas de Cortez offers gracious, seaside lodging within steps of the pickleball courts. Individuals and groups ranging from six to 100 can comfortably stay at the hotel and enjoy pickleball packages which include airport transportation, dining and a variety of other activities as well as daily pickleball matches, instruction, tournaments, cocktail parties and celebrations. 

Render for pickleball courts

Regional, national and international tournaments are in the works and fully supported by the Palmas Pickleball Resort’s 78,500 square-foot, state-of-the-art infrastructure which can easily accommodate 200 to 800 pro and amateur players and fans, Krause says. 

This will not only bring economic impact from visiting players but also raise Los Cabos' profile and reputation in the global pickleball community.

Annual memberships are now being sold at attractive introductory prices, and 154 members have already signed on, eagerly awaiting the development’s completion. 

Where can I play pickleball in Los Cabos?

Although if you’re at all serious about pickleball a trip to Los Barriles is a must, there are amazing pickleball courts in San Jose del Cabo and Cabo San Lucas available. Look for two spectacular new pickleball courts with ocean views at Tortuga Bay Phase II, or check out pickleball amenities at Querencia, Palmilla Dunes, Pedregal, Diamante, Chileno Bay and other developments where you can simply step out your door to get your pickleball fix. With Cabo’s unparalleled beauty, near-perfect weather and temperatures, it’s truly a pickler’s paradise.