A number of big-name athletes have also invested in professional pickleball teams, such as seven-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady, former tennis world No 1 Kim Clijsters, and NBA stars LeBron James and Draymond Green.
Pickleball was introduced to Singapore in 1990 but only grew in popularity mostly over the last few years. There are currently between 30 and 40 interest groups who play pickleball regularly in Singapore, said Mr Chong, with 1,500 to 2,000 active players.
Mr Chong said the Singapore Pickleball Association has programmes to introduce the sport to schools and encourages people to give it a try.
“Once they come in, they like the sport and they get hooked. It’s very easy to pick up, so everybody thinks that they are very good. (But) you will find that the next person is also quite good.”
The COVID-19 pandemic also sparked interest in the sport with the temporary closure of some indoor sports venues, Mr Chong added. People were limited to outdoor multi-purpose courts and some decided to pick up pickleball.
Association vice-president Lim Ee Kiong said the younger generation is more interested to try out alternative sports.
“We can see this in the introduction of new events in the most recent Olympics. The typical mainstream sports are no longer enough to satisfy the diverse interest of the people. In terms of racquet sport, there is pickleball, padel, racquetball, in addition to squash, badminton, table tennis, tennis,” he said.
But it was the characteristic sound of the paddle hitting the ball that piqued Mr Chong’s curiosity more than two decades ago.
“I heard the sound ‘tok, tok, tok’ as I was passing by a community centre where quite a few people were playing,” he recalled. “They were very friendly people … and introduced me to the game.”
One of the advantages pickleball has over other sports is that it is less likely to cause serious injuries, added Mr Chong.
“Tennis, you have tennis elbow. Badminton, it is usually your knee (that can get injured). This is more friendly for the body and hence we think it is a good sport for everybody,” explained Mr Chong, who has competed in pickleball abroad.
“Not everybody will become a national player … but this allows you to play for a very long time.”
NOT JUST FOR SENIORS
On a Saturday afternoon at Yangzheng Primary School, all four courts are being used for pickleball. Among the ranks are a host of teenagers, including 14-year-old Lin Hantao.
Introduced to the sport by a friend, Hantao now has hopes of representing Singapore in pickleball one day.
“I felt that it was pretty easy to get started because of my background in tennis … During the holidays I had more free time and I started playing it more often,” he explained.
“When I tell my friends about pickleball, they most likely have heard about it or maybe they have seen it. But their reaction is like: ‘Oh, isn’t it a sport for old people?’”