Looking for a way to escape the summer heat or the perpetual drone of cicadas while staying physically active? Give Pickleballerz a try.
Pickleballerz — opened Sept. 2020 in Chantilly — is an indoor, climate controlled, six-court pickleball complex with a café and player’s lounge that serves food, beer and wine. It also hosts men’s, women’s and mixed doubles leagues on Monday’s Tuesday’s and Wednesdays, respectively, along with clinics and academies run by some of the sport’s top-ranked players, including one by Ben and Colin Johns last October — the world’s first- and fourth-ranked players.
Pickleball is a sport that’s quickly gaining popularity across the country — it already has a foothold in a few regions, predominately in the South, where it can more easily be played year-round. For starters, the sport is similar to tennis, but it’s played with a ping pong-esque paddle instead of a racket and is played on a court half the size of a tennis court.
Pickleballerz Chief Operating Officer Beverly Raelson said they pride themselves on being a place where experienced and novice racket-ball players alike can have fun and find a niche playing pickleball. Along with running pickleball leagues, Raelson said Pickleballerz has been a hub for birthday parties and employer get-togethers as many haven’t seen each other in person during the pandemic.
Without Pickleballerz, however, these functions wouldn’t have been at an indoor pickleball facility, period. Greg Raelson, husband of Beverly and head of Pickleballerz’s marketing department, said the idea of Pickleballerz was conceived when his parents came up from Florida -- a pickleball hotbed -- to visit.
“It was in the wintertime, and [Greg’s father] said, ‘Let’s play some pickleball,’ Beverly said. “Greg and I were like, ‘OK, fine, let’s go find an indoor place to play.’ And it turned out there were no indoor places to play. So, that’s really how we got this idea of [having] a place to play all year round. … Nothing was 100 percent dedicated to pickleball.”
Popularity of pickleball in Fairfax County — in part because of the new ability to play the sport year-round thanks to Pickleballerz — has increased. In Centreville’s Virginia Run community, three tennis courts were converted into six pickleball courts in 2019.
With the increase in popularity and a place to play year-round, Northern Virginia pickleball is appealing to a wide generational audience. Beverly said she’s seen people on a pickleball court ranging upwards of 50 years apart. She also said opposite genders play together more in pickleball than most other sports — a testament to pickleball’s universal playability.
“It’s definitely a sport where you can play very recreationally or very competitively,” Greg said. “It’s something that’s very easy to learn, the rules are simple [and] children can pick up the sport very easily.”
The easy learning curve is something Beverly also attested to. A singles and doubles tennis player, she said pickleball is easier to pick up than tennis because to have fun in that racket-sport, she said it’s harder because it takes more work to learn how to get a rally going, among other skills.
Murri Serbu is a player who’s made the transition from tennis to pickleball. The 64-year-old said she’s been playing pickleball for three years ever since she saw a Facebook post from someone in the Virginia Run neighborhood asking if people wanted to try it out. She hasn’t looked back since.
“It was so much fun from the first time I played,” Serbu said. “It’s a much faster pace than tennis.”
Serbu — who nowadays plays three to four times a week, predominately at Pickleballerz — said she enjoys the faster pace of play; in pickleball, the ball must go over the net in one serve versus two in tennis. She said she also likes the way the scoring is in pickleball more so than in tennis. Beverly said many former tennis players transition to pickleball as they get older or if they’re coming off a knee injury, which she said a lot of tennis players get.
Murri’s son, Nick (25), also attests to the notion of a preference over pickleball than tennis. He said he wasn’t that good at first at pickleball, but now he said he’s almost a 4.0 player.
In pickleball, a ratings system is used to determine one’s skill level that ranges from a 2.0 to 5.0 and increases in .5 increments. Four point zero is considered the start of the “really competitive stage,” Nick said, while most beginner players are 2.0s.
The ratings are both unofficial and official, Nick said, as one can look at a player and say, “that guy’s a 4.5” based off how they grip the paddle or their consistency and accuracy. However, Nick said tournaments are played and divided up into regions by skill levels.
Nick said he has competed in pickleball tournaments in the past, most notably at the Pickleballerz Fall Fling last October. He said in pickleball, he prefers the “tactfulness” that’s required to win over raw athletic ability — size, speed and strength — that are emphasized in tennis to a greater extent.
“It’s more like a game of chess instead of weightlifting,” Nick said. “I think that’s why people like it from all walks of athleticism.”
This sentiment was paralleled by Beverly as a reason for pickleball’s wide appeal. She said she’s seen firsthand many who’ve tried pickleball for the first time and concluded, “Finally, I found something,” or, “Wow, I have something I can play.”
The inclusivity of pickleball is something that Nick said gives it more of a “community atmosphere” than tennis. At Pickleballerz, the community allows for fair and competitive pickleball within its leagues.
Greg said Pickleballerz’s leagues are started with a draft night, where team captains volunteer to select their teams. To ensure equal play, the assistant program director, Lance Martin, is responsible for making sure the teams are even. Also, in the mixed doubles league, Martin helps ensure everyone has a partner, even if one wants to play and doesn’t.
From all walks of life and skill levels, pickleball has you covered. Come beat the heat and see firsthand at Pickleballerz why pickleball is experiencing tremendous growth in Fairfax County and beyond.