‘Going up and up’: UK padel and pickleball boom drives

Padel and pickleball are the hot racket-sport mashups, combining elements of tennis, squash and badminton, but the kit is a whole new ballgame, with sales of specialist rackets, paddles and wiffle balls rocketing as Britons make for the nearest court.

The sports retailer Decathlon is reporting huge demand for padel rackets, balls and accessories, plus a parallel explosion of interest in the less established pickleball, spurring it to develop its own paddles. The rise of these “non-traditional” sports is one of the main themes in its inaugural UK sports trends report.

Decathlon sells equipment for more than 70 sports, and Ross Farrington, its commercial director, says padel “came from nowhere” in 2019, with sales ratcheting up since then by between 120% and 190% every year amid predictions it could become the next big UK participation sport.

A woman holds a padel racket and ballA padel racket and ball. Photograph: MaxRiesgo/Getty Images/iStockphoto

“In Spain, Sweden and Portugal they’ve got more people playing padel than tennis,” he says. “With tennis it takes quite a long time to get to a level where you can have a good game but with padel you can pick it up quite quickly … and the walls mean there is less running after the ball.”

Padel – a hybrid of squash and tennis – uses a perforated fibreglass or graphite racket, rather than one with strings. Decathlon alone sold 2,500 last year and offers a choice of 100 rackets to please a growing fanbase with different budgets. The cheapest is one of its own brand, Kuikma, at £30, but at the top end an Adidas racket costs up to £300.

For serious padellers (and pickleballers), there is a growing amount of dedicated clothing and trainers – and even designer options – that look not unlike standard gym or tennis kit.

“We estimate roughly 10,000 people are playing padel regularly, so it’s still quite a small amount,” says Farrington. However, given the growth trajectory in other countries, it could be destined to become as popular as tennis, which is played by 4 million people in the UK, Farrington says.

Pickleball – a cross between tennis, badminton and ping pong – is less established in the UK, but it is the fastest growing sport on the other side of the Atlantic, with nearly 5 million US players, including celebrities such as Friends star Matthew Perry and Leonardo DiCaprio.

A man on an outdoor court holds a pickleball racket and ball A pickleball paddle and ball. Photograph: eyecrave/Getty Images/iStockphoto

It is played with paddles that look like outsize table-tennis bats and a light plastic ball on a court of a similar size to badminton but with a slightly lower net. The sport has an estimated 7,000 players at the moment in the UK, but Pickleball England is aiming for 25,000 members by 2025.

Jane McGuire, owner of UK Pickleball Shop, says sales of paddles, pickleballs and nets are “going up and up”. The store has played a significant role in the sport’s development, she says, as it has given UK players access to the top quality equipment that is used in the US. On the site, a starter paddle costs £15, but it is also possible to spend £250.

“We also kept things going and growing during and after lockdown by importing outdoor pickleballs and nets for players to use while all the leisure centres were closed and there was no indoor play,” she adds.

‘Going up and up’: UK padel and pickleball boom drives

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