Can pickleball be less noisy? Equipment makers are working on it

Pickleball is wildly popular in D.C., as it is in other cities in the U.S. And it’s big business, from equipment sales to membership fees and court venues.

But hitting a hard, plastic ball with a solid paddle is noisy, which is becoming a growing concern for communities where outdoor courts are popping up.

Some neighbors may not like it, but players don’t seem to mind.

“I spoke with somebody early today, and they said they enjoyed the sound. It is almost cathartic or metronomic to them, and they feel they would miss it,” said Carl Schmits, managing director of equipment standards and facilities development at USA Pickleball.

Recognizing concerns about noise, USA Pickleball, the national governing body for the sport, has established a new “Quiet Category” for the sport, and it is working with manufacturers that are experimenting with different kinds of paddles and balls.

The new category will recognize “pickleball products that reduce acoustic output during play,” but “without negatively impacting play or performance,” according to USA Pickleball.

“You could go out and play with a foam ball, but it doesn’t play like pickleball. We don’t want to change the sport too much by addressing this,” Schmits said.

USA Pickleball is also expanding its facilities development program to support noise-reduction solutions at sound-sensitive pickleball venues. Already there are foam walls and fabric barriers that can absorb or reflect sound, with more practical solutions being tested.

“There is a transparent one coming out, so it would actually allow a municipality to put in place these mitigation barriers, but also to see inside the facility because there has been concern about security and safety with some of these barriers,” Schmits said.

USA Pickleball’s goal is to work with manufacturers in the industry to promote products that deliver essentially 50% less of the acoustic footprint. It’s developing specification relief to allow manufacturers to use new materials and configurations, while preserving the nature of the game. The “Quiet Category” includes a wide range of products, from paddles, to paddle covers, balls and noise-mitigation screens for courts.

Recreational pickleball participation in the U.S. has nearly doubled to an estimated 9 million players, according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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