Is Pickleball China’s Trendiest New Sport?

Breakaway hit sport pickleball is landing in China full-force, checking boxes of fitness, friendship, and fashion

2 0
2:21 AM HKT, Tue June 27, 2023 1 mins read

In China, millennials and Gen-Z are rediscovering the outdoors. When people began to emerge from soul-sucking rounds of lockdowns, a collective hunger for the world beyond one’s bedroom hit like a freight train — camping, frisbee, and paddle boat rides all had their moments in the limelight.

But now, another pandemic-era trend is landing in China, and it just may be the biggest of all: pickleball.

The game, like several others before it (think badminton, squash, and ping pong) uses tennis as a jumping-off point. The sport has been around since 1965 when it was originally invented as a children’s backyard game, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that it began to take off, as people worldwide searched for ways to stay active while remaining socially distant.

Sports brands like Li Ning, Anna Sui, and Skechers are all getting in on the pickleball action

Sports brands like Li Ning (above), Anna Sui, and Skechers are all getting in on the pickleball action

There was a sort of time-delay between the pandemic’s impact overseas versus in China — while the US struggled to contain recurring waves of Covid cases, there was a period of time where China’s strict initial lockdowns seemed to have worked. US restaurants and businesses were shuttered, while young people in major cities like Shanghai and Beijing enjoyed clubbing and going to the gym as usual.

The script flipped, though, when China issued new waves of lockdowns that shut people inside for months. Some pandemic-era trends, like dopamine dressing, are only now achieving peak popularity.

Judging by an uptick in social media and brand activity, pickleball looks like it could be a sleeper hit.

Instagram-like app Xiaohongshu launched a “Pickleball Together” campaign that encouraged users to try out the sport. Elsewhere, fashion brands and influencers are capitalizing on the sporty clothing that’s associated with it.

“You can also play pickleball with hot girls,” writes one Weibo influencer, drawing connections between the trendy new sport and rising Chinese interest in "Asian Baby Girl" aesthetics.

One reason for pickleball’s newfound popularity is its accessibility — unlike tennis, pickleball’s small courts and plastic ball make it relatively easy to grasp.

“It’s a racket sport that combines badminton, tennis, and table tennis,” reads the introduction text for the pickleball topic on Weibo. “The difficulty is low, and the sound and feel of hitting the ball is a great stress-buster!”

“Nothing to do with age, gender, skin color, orientation, or occupation,” it adds. "Our world is always inclusive and diverse.”

All images via Weibo

Join the Conversation
Write comment

We assure you, this page will eventually load