Adults aren’t supposed to be playing pickleball in B.C. right now, given provincial health orders, but Marion O’Byrne hopes for more places to play the game in North Surrey once COVID-19 eases its grip.
She knows those courts won’t be coming anytime soon, however, as city hall tries to meet demand for such facilities.
A retiree, O’Byrne is among a growing legion of pickleball players in Surrey, where the racquet game has exploded in popularity in recent years. Some outdoor tennis courts across the city are being converted to places for pickleball play, and indoor court time is tough to find in the winter months.
“I like the social aspect, and for seniors it’s much easier on the joints,” said O’Byrne, who discovered pickleball at Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre six years ago.
“The racquet for pickleball is like a giant table tennis paddle, so it’s lighter weight, and the ball is a wiffle ball, with holes in it, and it’s different for indoor and outdoors, because of the wind outdoors. It’s an easy game to play and it’s easy to learn. It’s fun.”
O’Byrne recently wrote Surrey’s mayor and council to complain about a lack of recreation facilities in Surrey’s north area, where she’s lived for more than 45 years, following approval of the 2021 five-year financial/capital plan.
“North Surrey has less and less recreational opportunities with the pool closure, rinks moved down the hill to Bridgeview and only has Chuck Bailey recreation centre, an excellent but very small centre with limited programs. Yoga is often held in the computer room for lack of space,” she wrote.
The Chuck Bailey facility is home to four indoor pickleball courts, while most other Surrey rec centres have eight, O’Byrne noted.
Outdoors, portable nets and court markings have allowed for games at Kwantlen, Robson and Bridgeview parks. “We were very happy with Kwantlen and Robson, with the added ability to walk or ride a bike to these locations. Then, for some unknown reason, they took Kwantlen away from us,” O’Byrne wrote.
“When we could play at Chuck Bailey,” she said, “there were times when you couldn’t get in. When they reopened during COVID they allowed fewer players, and people couldn’t get in. People know there’s limited court space there, so they go elsewhere.
“Residents of this area deserve better than this. We’re being forced to drive out of our own neighbourhood for recreation.”
The council-approved city budget promises new outdoor pickleball courts at Sunnyside Reservoir (South Surrey Athletic Park), as part of regional district plans to upgrade the reservoir and create of a large concrete pad, and also at a new City Centre Spray Park and Courts.
In response to O’Byrne’s letter, and perhaps to a petition calling for more outdoor pickleball courts in North Surrey, a Parks, Recreation & Culture department employee wrote back noting council’s Dec. 7 approval of $40 million for Phase 1 of City Centre Sports Complex, to include an expansion of Chuck Bailey Recreation Centre, “with project engagement and design to begin in 2021.” As for what amenities the facility will include, feedback will be sought from residents.
The new courts in City Centre are promised by 2023, the city’s letter to O’Byrne notes. “At this point in our planning, the final location for this new facility has not yet been identified. While we recognize that new pickleball courts in North Surrey remain a couple of years away per the City’s 2021-2025 Capital Plan, we look forward to 2023 and engaging with the community to design and deliver this new facility.”
In a letter to this newspaper, Tim Hoang said he wonders why the City of Surrey plans to build a second outdoor pickleball facility in South Surrey before building the first and only one for North Surrey. “With seniors the majority among pickleball players, some may not survive to see the outdoor pickleball facility in North Surrey in the future,” Hoang wrote.
O’Byrne would like to see permanent outdoor pickleball courts built at Kwantlen Park, ideally something like the “beautiful” facility at Chalmers Park in North Delta.
Meantime, Surrey’s lone permanent outdoor pickleball facility is located at Greenaway Park in Cloverdale. This and other pickleball courts in Surrey are shown on the city’s website, surrey.ca/tennis-pickleball.
Ken Nowlan, president of the 300-member Surrey Pickleball Club (surreypickleball.com), has played the game for about two years.
“I was a competitive squash player for years, and people told me about pickleball,” he said. “I took a lesson through our curling club, which offered summer pickleball, and I just fell in love with it right away, as is the case with most people.”
Members of the club, which became a non-profit society two years ago, play outdoors at South Surrey Athletic Park, in an area of Surrey Nowlan says is “a hotbed” for the sport. “We usually operate from April 1st to the end of September, depending on the weather,” he explained. “We had people playing two weeks ago, until the most recent clampdown on gatherings.”
The club is looking to rent private facilities for members to play during the winter months, as guaranteed court time, Nowlan said.
“Surrey’s rec program offers scheduled indoor pickleball, and those are grossly oversubscribed,” Nowlan said. “They’re considered drop-in, with registration 24 hours in advance, and if you’re not in the system registering 23 hours and 55 minutes in advance, you don’t get in – so there’s huge, huge demand for the indoor winter courts.”
Nowlan recently did a presentation to Surrey’s parks and rec committee about the state of pickleball in the city.
“I showed photos of a typical day at various places where pickleball and tennis players can play, and the pickleball courts were bursting at the seams, overflowing, and there was nobody on the tennis courts,” Nowlan said. “It’s hugely popular, and really oversubscribed, even with the conversions the city has done to convert tennis courts into pickleball courts.”
He expects club membership to jump by 100 or more in the coming year.
“This year was bad,” Nowlan admitted, “because the season was pretty much cancelled because of the COVID situation, so we lost some members. But I expect that number to jump again, based on response we’ve had on our website and Facebook page, to explode to around 400 this coming year.”
Provincially, Pickleball BC was founded in 2017. At pickleballbc.ca, look for pickleball court locations around the Lower Mainland.