Started in the mid-’60s as a lark on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by Bill Bell and Joel Pritchard, two badminton-playing dads, pickleball has turned into America’s fastest-growing sport, with nearly five million active players. Celebrity devotees like Leonardo DiCaprio, Larry David, George Clooney, and various Kardashians are scheduled to appear in Pickled, a TV special to air later this year on CBS and Paramount+, hosted by pickleball fanatic Stephen Colbert.
But it’s not all fun and games. Pushback is raging from townies driven to distraction by the relentless pop-crack! of pickleball’s plastic balls connecting with racquets on courts across Southern California. In a now infamous lawsuit, an Orange County resident claimed the noise from a neighboring pickleball court caused her “severe mental suffering, frustration, and anxiety” to the point that she perceived the din even when no one was playing. Anti-pickleball sentiment is especially fierce in high-end neighborhoods unaccustomed to down-market intrusions. “Homeowners are intervening before the courts are even built,” says a Brentwood resident. “It’s like War of the Roses.”
In tony Montecito, Angelo Mozilo, former CEO of Countrywide Financial, a key player in the 2008 subprime mortgage meltdown, had a meltdown of his own over the pickleball noise emanating from Beanie Babies billionaire Ty Warner’s Montecito Club, which is next door to Mozilo’s mansion. In a complaint, Mozilo, who paid $67.5 million in restitution to the Securities and Exchange Commission for his role in the mortgage crisis, said the noise was causing him anxiety and making it impossible to live peacefully in his house. (“Montecito life can be so hard” and “Somebody needs a wambulance!” were typical Facebook comments.) Ultimately, Warner added noise-damping equipment to the pickleball courts to appease Mozilo.
It’s like War of the Roses,” says a Brentwood resident.
Pickleball is indeed noisy—eight times the perceived loudness of typical neighborhood background noise, according to multiple research studies. Played on intimate courts, it requires far less exertion than tennis, encouraging players to loudly chat each other up, especially in doubles play, and exult like Braveheart when they score. Extremely long volleys are the norm.
According to Thomas Shields, founder of the popular pickleball website The Dink, “Nine times out of ten, people who complain about the noise have a predisposition to be anti-pickleball. Usually, it’s either tennis players who think pickleball isn’t a real sport or the type of person who’s prone to posting negative Yelp reviews.” Adds Hannah Johns, of the Pro Pickleball Association, which represents the sport’s burgeoning professional side, “While we’re aware that opinions may differ, the pickle-obsessed almost unanimously find the pop! of pickleball to be friendly and exciting.”
Sandy Chila, a South Pasadena pro, professes, “In my experience, pickleball noise is distinctive and definitely draws people in, in a good way.” Tell that to the Ridgewood, New Jersey, homeowner who finally sold her pickleball court–adjacent home after barricading herself in the only room where the noise, which she likened to an AK-47 firing, couldn’t penetrate.
Shields acknowledges that “this is one of pickleball’s greatest hurdles; it’s not a throwaway issue. The complaints are likely to increase as pickleball continues to spread like wildfire.”
This story is featured in the September 2022 issue of Los Angeles