Sports are defined by the surface they’re played on. A baseball field, a soccer pitch, a gridiron, a hockey rink, or a tennis court, the dimensions and rules of the field of play define the basics of the game. Pickleball uses a small court like racquetball, with only slight differences between the two sports in terms of court dimensions. The original pickleball court was a repurposed badminton court, and pickleball games can be played on a badminton court, albeit with nonstandard dimensions.
The pickleball court is shaped the same as a badminton doubles court, with only some slight changes in dimensions of some of the internal parts of the court. Pickleball does not need separate singles sidelines, since both singles and doubles pickleball are played on the same court, and the kitchen line is six inches further from the net than the equivalent line (the no-service line) in badminton. Badminton is also mainly played indoors, which makes it different from pickleball, which is played both indoors and outdoors. Pickleball surfaces come in a wide variety, and the list of surfaces in this article may not be exhaustive.
A grass tennis court can be a good place to play pickleball. Even though the sport has a reputation for being a primarily indoor sport that is played outdoors mainly on hard surfaced courts, grass is a perfectly acceptable surface for a casual game. Backyard pickleball can be a clever way to liven up a party if your backyard is sufficiently level for the game.
If a grass court is used, it will need to be regularly leveled and packed. Loose dirt and the digging in of feet moving to return can cause odd bounces. The plastic ball is difficult to bounce on grass unless the ground under the grass is hard-packed. Since grass is not a sanctioned surface for playing pickleball, it’s perfectly OK to use a non-competition ball, such as a higher-bouncing rubber ball, to get a grass pickleball experience that is as exciting and fun as the same game on a harder surface.
An indoor game of pickleball, played on a gym floor or similar room, will often be played on a wooden floor. A wood pickleball court will be slower than most surfaces, but because wood is more resilient than any concrete-backed surface, bounces will be higher. A hardwood floor will also be slicker than the equivalent acrylic floor. Because wood is a natural product, wood floors are also prone to “dead zones,” where the ball might not bounce as high, or might change direction due to a different texture.
Drive play will be the key to victory on a wooden court because the surface – especially with varnish – will slow down balls while making them bounce higher. Indoor courts tend to have temporary nets as well, which also favors a drive-centric game, because their thinner posts will naturally want to sag toward the middle more than a stout, set metal post as in an outdoor game played on a permanent court. All of these variables change the indoor, wood-surface game compared to its outdoor counterpart.
3. Concrete and Asphalt
Normally, the substrate of another type of surface, such as a clay, sports tile, or acrylic. Concrete and asphalt can also be a surface in and of themselves. Sealed concrete, such as what one might find on a driveway or garage temporarily converted to play pickleball in, is an energetic, high-bouncing surface that has an extremely fast playing style.
A major weakness of untreated concrete is that it is very rough. If a player dives for a ball on concrete, they can come away with a case of road rash. “Road rash” is roller skating and skateboarding slang for an abrasion caused by the rough surface of untreated concrete rubbing against skin, causing irritation or bleeding. Road rash, while it’s normally not a significant injury, can take days to heal. For someone just wanting to get a few games in, risking road rash by playing on an unprepared concrete surface is not worth it.
Asphalt is not recommended at all for pickleball play. While it’s a valid surface and can be played if the alternative is not playing pickleball at all, asphalt wears from a smooth surface extremely quickly, and rapidly exposes the small aggregate and stones that make up the asphalt. In addition, the oil binding the asphalt can seep out into the ball, causing damage to both the ball and the paddle as it’s played. While concrete can add a fun dimension to the game, asphalt is an “only if there are no other options” surface for the game. Normally, both concrete and asphalt will be used as substrate for an acrylic court, not a court surface.
4. Tennis Courts
Technically not a distinct surface, as tennis courts are surfaced in the same materials as pickleball courts, some words of caution, but also encouragement, are needed. First, the tennis net is higher: it’s 42 inches high at the posts, 36 inches at the center of the net versus pickleball, which is 36 inches high at the posts and 34 inches high at the center. It may be tempting, given this, to let some slack into the tennis net.
This is not recommended and it’s one of the reasons pickleball players have gained a poor reputation among tennis court operators. Instead, there is a kit called Convertanet which allows players to temporarily use a set of straps to compress the net to the correct dimensions while playing and release it back when done.
Tennis court operators are often said to believe that pickleball will damage their surfaces. The surface of tennis courts is designed to withstand impacts at much higher velocities and energy than anything a pickleball can create. Just as in the 1990s and early 2000s, tennis court operators often accused inline skaters of damaging their surfaces, it’s more likely that court operators are unhappy with pickleball players making unauthorized changes to their courts.
Slackening a net and not returning it to its original tension, or just as badly, tensioning the net so that it rides higher than it should, are problems, and behaviors that often show themselves. Pickleball players who play on tennis courts should always remember that they are guests in someone else’s space.
If pickleball players are polite and clean up after they are done, they can be welcome participants in the world of tennis courts.
As in tennis, clay is a popular surface option for pickleball. In many cases, public pickleball courts are painted on top of an existing tennis surface, and just over 1/8 of tennis courts in the United States are clay. Compared to conventional acrylic, dink shots will tend to die on a clay court in pickleball, resulting in a play experience that may frustrate the beginning player but excite experts who have been playing pickleball on other surfaces for a long time. Clay does need to be rolled out regularly to maintain its resilience and may not be the right surface for someone wanting a trouble-free floor.
6. Sports Tile
Sports tile, sold under the brand name Sport Court™ among others, is a popular, durable, all-purpose composite tile surface made for a wide variety of sports. Tile is one of the most inexpensive and versatile surfaces available. Manufactured in many colors, sports tile can be purchased in the exact amount needed for any sport and put down over any kind of floor. A weakness of sports tile is that it’s impregnated with oils to keep the surface treated with a minimum of upkeep effort, but this can cause slippery spots on the tile.
Sports tile is commonly reviled in many sports as being a difficult surface, with some players referring to its tricky surface as the “road to hell.” Its plastic resilience can create challenging bounces for players.
Trade-named as Acrylotex or Plexiflor, acrylic floor coatings are among the best surfaces that can be used for the sport. Public courts are often surfaced in acrylic, which slightly cushions the surface and can be poured over additional cushioning layers. Acrylic coatings dry with a texture and adhere nicely to concrete and asphalt surfaces.
Acrylic is the surface covering most “hard” tennis courts in the world, and its standardization has spread to the world of pickleball as well. With most pickleball courts being in the hard tennis court style, the largest number of players already play on acrylic, and are used to its characteristics.
The wide world of pickleball surfaces creates an exciting variety of game styles anywhere the pickleball player chooses to go. With the high ping of a pickleball hitting a racket becoming one of the most common sounds in the sports world, the game will continue to be played on surfaces that Joel Pritchard never imagined when he invented the game in 1965.