Friday, November 3, 2023

Recreational noise puts residents in a pickle


As one of the fastest growing sports in Canada, pickleball is taking the country by storm - and the heartbeat of the game is making waves too. Invented in 1965 by an American congressman in Washington State, the upswing in pickleball contenders is reaching new heights, for more than one reason. With a striking resemblance to tennis, elements of ping-pong, and components of badminton, pickleball has captured the hearts and minds of 18-34 year olds, the fastest growing population in Canada for the sport. Traditionally a senior-dominated game, the rise of pickleball in popular culture is creating a wave of “firsts,” with more than one million people in Canada picking up rackets in 2022.

The spread of pickleball’s newfound contagion can be attributed to the game being inclusive for all skill levels, but allowing for players to choose their own adventure when it comes to the level of seriousness they wish to exude when hitting the courts. But while this 58 year old sport might be the greatest cheap thrill we’ve all been searching for - it isn’t being met with the same level of enthusiasm off the court. With an explosion of players, Canadian cities aren’t equipped with the courts required to meet demand. But this isn’t the main issue plaguing the picklers; the noise generated by the rackets is serving up some much bigger challenges.

Played with a racket or paddle sport, pickling the ball consists of two or four players hitting a perforated, hollow plastic ball over a 34-inch net, until one side is unable to return the ball or commits an infraction. Classified as an impulsive sound, the impact of a hard plastic ball on the paddles generates a jarring noise - comparable to the “grunts” you’d hear from renowned tennis champion Rafael Nadal while defending his reigning champ title at a Wimbledon tournament - just not as endearing. Near the most sensitive frequency range of human hearing, pickleball generates significant acoustic impacts on those living near the courts. Peak sound pressure levels from the courts at a distance of approximately 75 feet exceed 80 decibels. This is akin to heavy vehicle traffic or a noisy restaurant. 

According to acoustics experts, a pickleball paddle impacts easily penetrate the interior of a home or condominium and will prevent the quiet enjoyment of the residents' use of their living rooms, dining rooms, bedrooms, balconies, patios, and other spaces. Experts have also noted that constant exposure to high-decibel sound can seriously impact a person’s quality of life and mental state.

With no signs of slowing down, the rise of pickleball has created a divide between players and residents living in close proximity to the courts. As a result, complaints have materialised into court cases, fines and even bans. Most recently, a couple from Chilliwack, British Columbia have threatened to go on a hunger strike as a plea to the City to shut down the court located outside of their home. The husband likened the sound of the pickleball whap to Chinese water torture techniques used during high profile interogations.

Unlike the drop of a human tear, which makes no audible sound detectable by anything except for terriers and some brands of Pekingese dogs, pickleball will continue as a maddening hindrance to resident’s ear drums until court supply increases and proper sound barriers are implemented.

Until then, we hope avid picklers and residents can come to a place of compromise so that players can continue tickling their pickles, and neighbouring residents can live in peace, free of noise dill-emmas.

Edits by Chelsea Smyth

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