Chuck Taylor had a long career as a development product engineer for The Sharper Image and General Electric. But in his so-called retirement, Taylor has a new career born from a hobby he discovered as an octogenarian.
For the past six years, Taylor has been honing the best pickleball paddle he can make. As the popularity of the badminton, ping pong and tennis hybrid continues to grow, the Punta Gorda entrepreneur wants to make everyone happy.
Pickleball, says Taylor, needs a quality, quieter paddle at a fair market price.
The need for noise reduction in the still-young activity is the one detriment to pickleball’s success. It’s so popular, particularly in Florida, owners of condominiums in complexes where courts flourish have complained about the noise.
“I’ve made noisy paddles and I’ve made a quieter paddle,” says Taylor, 86, owner of Your Pickleball Place. “But I’m in the process of making a quieter paddle; there’s no such thing as a quiet paddle. Well, let me put it this way; there’s no such thing as a quiet paddle that plays well.”
There’s no bigger stage for pickleball than Naples. The city has hosted the U.S. Open Pickleball Championships the past four years and will again in 2020. Combined with an increasing number of courts, the city has adopted the moniker “Pickleball Capital of the World.”
According to a recent report in the Naples Daily News, East Naples Community Park will soon receive $23.4 million in upgrades. The improvements will include more pickleball courts, a welcome center and a 3,500- seat championship stadium to complement the 54 courts already used daily.
Chris Evon, a co-founder of Spirit Promotions LLC, the company that operates the U.S. Open, told the newspaper: “The demand not only for the U.S. Open but for daily play is still increasing so we asked for more courts.”
National pickleball associations estimate about three million people in the United States participate in the sport. The standard court is 44 feet by 20 feet. Paddles are approximately twice the size of ping-pong paddles and are made from wood or composite materials. A pickleball ball is made from perforated plastic and is similar to a whiffle ball.
Like its other sports relatives, pickleball can be played in singles and doubles and indoors and outdoors. It can be enjoyed as a slow-paced recreation. Or it can be as intense as its more well-known counterparts. No-nonsense tournaments with deep fields, age-group brackets and prize money abound.
The sport was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, by friends and fathers Billy Bell, Barney McCallum and Joel Pritchard. The trio’s children were bored and the fathers devised the activity. The Pritchards had a cocker spaniel named Pickles who chased and ran off with the early iterations of the ball used in the sport. Pickleball stuck as the name.
“What I am working on is a paddle that’s a little bit heavier, a little bit thicker and will keep the noise down about 5-7 decibels than the normal paddle,” Taylor says. “It’s really an addictive sport. I’m not sure I know why. But I know when I started to play pickleball, they wanted $120 for a carbon fiber paddle. I said, ‘I can make those better.’“ So far, Taylor has made more than 1,200 paddles.
Pickleball’s popularity has exponentially grown in recent years. Equipment and court costs are reasonable. While the playing area is smaller than in tennis, pickleball still provides cardiovascular fitness. It improves reflexes and hand-eye coordination. Players use horizontal and vertical moves, promoting better balance.
Once considered an activity primarily for seniors, younger players seeking an alternative workout have embraced pickleball. It’s now a high school and collegiate intramural activity. Recreation leagues thrive. There’s a movement for pickleball’s consideration as an Olympic sport.
Pickleball’s basic rules are simple. A game is normally played to 11 and must be won by two points. The server must address the ball with an underhand serve. The receiving player can return a serve only after the ball bounces once. The “kitchen,” a court-wide box seven-feet away from each side of the net, is a non-volley area.
As a businessman and advocate, Taylor will continue to help alleviate the sport’s noise issue with more improved paddles. More importantly, he’ll also continue to play and he echoes what others also say: “I think it’s made me healthier than when I wasn’t playing.”