Pickleball has been the fastest growing sport in the country, seemingly, for the past several years. It’s popular. It’s fun to play for all ages. You don’t need to be the most athletic or mobile person to partake in the racket sport, and it’s a solid source of exercise. It’s also seen as an especially good sport for older folks looking to stay active and healthy.
In its latest report on the sport, the trade organization Sports & Fitness Industry Association found pickleball increasing by nearly 90 percent year over year, and by about 150 percent over three years, with nearly 9 million participants in 2022.
But at the same time, outdoor pickleball also seemingly has become one of the fastest growing complaints for residents across the country who live near where the sport is played.
The ball that pickleballers use is plastic, and the paddles are a hard surface, whether wood, graphite, fiberglass, or other material. When the paddle connects with the ball, it makes a loud “whack” or “pop.” When multiple games are going on on a court, that can lead to a cacophony of whacks and pops.
The New York Times recently reported on the increase in complaints over the sport, and found that decibel readings 100 feet from a court can reach 70 decibels, which is almost double the sound of a tennis match, and comparable to a vacuum cleaner.
But worse than the loudness, as has been reported, is the irregular, constant whacks and pops from the court. If the sound were more rhythmic, we might be opining on a different topic this week.
On the mainland in Falmouth, a case has made national news for its loudness. Neighbors to a pickleball court filed a lawsuit, and a judge has, so far, shut down pickleball play there over the past few years. Even though the residents who filed the lawsuit have sold their home and moved, a judge has actually ordered the courts locked, which has consequently halted basketball and tennis play in the same outdoor venue.
On the Vineyard, there haven’t been any lawsuits or court decisions we are aware of. Residents in Chilmark have taken a proactive approach. Several citizens have written to the town’s planning board asking that Chilmark stop the construction of new pickleball courts. As some wrote, Chilmark is known for its tranquility and bucolic nature, which is not pickleball.
The planning board has responded, and is considering a moratorium on construction of pickleball courts, and even an outright ban on new construction.
Some members are pointing to a community in Colorado called Centennial, where officials initiated a 60-day moratorium on court construction. The temporary ban was initiated to evaluate possible noise-mitigation technology. The moratorium has since been replaced with a prohibition of permanent outdoor courts being built within 250 feet of a residential property line, and other, similar guidelines aimed at reducing noise.
Still others in Chilmark are floating the outright ban.
In our opinion, a temporary moratorium makes sense. Noise mitigation should come before outright banning of the sport. Chilmark and pickleball fans can coexist, but there should be thought given to how best the two sides can coexist, so no one is forced to listen to the pickleball cacophony.
There are mitigation efforts that have had some effects on dampening the noise. There are sound-absorption panels that can be erected, which are designed specifically to lessen the noise at pickleball courts. There are also paddles that are more effective at reducing sound levels.
Perhaps most effective, though: Courts shouldn’t be built right next to someone’s home. The town of Chilmark should consider bylaws specific to pickleball that would require the construction — for either a private homeowner wanting to build a court, or an organization in a more public location — to be a certain distance from a residential property line. Perhaps 250 feet from a property line would be substantial enough, as has been initiated in Colorado. Maybe farther, to be sure. Town planners could easily figure the right distance with some field study.
Chilmark homeowners are right to be concerned about noise. We can imagine some in the community may want to build a court on their private property, and while we believe in freedom of choice, you shouldn’t be able to do whatever you please to the detriment of your neighbors — such as launching fireworks at midnight, or hosting loud parties.
Pickleball, from all accounts, is a great sport, and should be encouraged. We fear that a ban outright could prompt other towns on the Vineyard to consider a similar move, to a point where the sport won’t be allowed at all on the Island.
There is a common-sense solution here that both sides can get behind.