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Pickleball enthusiasts will take over the Coliseum

Mark Parker

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A group of people play pickleball at the Coquina Key courts. A recently launched local organization is hosting the first expo dedicated to the sport Thursday. Photo: Facebook.

Studies have shown that St. Petersburg is a national hotbed for America’s fastest-growing sport, and a recently launched organization plans to continue fostering the local excitement surrounding pickleball.

Dawny Smith founded Suncoast Pickleball in September 2023. The organization promotes positivity, connections and community through a sport lauded for its intergenerational accessibility.

Smith is now embarking on her first major event. The inaugural Suncoast Pickleball Expo swings into the Coliseum at 535 4th Ave. N. in downtown St. Petersburg from 3-7 p.m. Thursday.

“We realized the need to get the entire pickleball community together under one roof,” Smith said. “And have some fun with vendors through an expo.”

Pickleball combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong. People can play the fast-paced sport in dedicated facilities or on half of a converted tennis court.

St. Petersburg’s first pickleball-only courts opened in 2015, and recreation officials have continued adding to the local stock as demand has soared in recent years. A Trust for Public Land study released in May 2023 showed the city offers 19.6 courts per 100,000 residents – second-most in the nation.

Seattle led the U.S. in pickleball courts per capita, at 20.5 per 100,000 people. However, the game was invented nearby on Bainbridge Island, Washington.

St. Petersburg boasts 64 courts, eight more than Tampa, despite having about 130,000 fewer residents. “It’s extremely popular,” Smith said.

“People are trying it and getting addicted to it,” she added. “And getting competitive. There is a demand for pickleball.”

She noted that the children, adults and seniors enjoy the sport equally and often share a court. However, there is a lack of local stores devoted to pickleball.

Smith said at least 30 vendors will provide the latest pickleball equipment and gear at the upcoming expo. That includes paddles, shoes, balls, attire and “all the important things you need to play,” regardless of someone’s skill level.

The free event will feature pickleball-related games and photo booths. Attendees can also meet with local tournament organizers and clinic instructors.

The U.S. Open Pickleball Championships conclude April 20 in Naples. The finale, televised live on CBS Sports Networks, is not the only event featuring athletes who earn a living playing the sport.

“We’re going to have a court set up with professionals,” Smith said. “But there’s no playing – only dinking.”

According to Suncoast Pickleball’s website, the organization strives to “embody the spirit of being golden” and “radiating love” both on and off the court. Smith said expo vendors will also reflect its health and wellness focus.

She credited St. Petersburg’s “beautiful” parks, nature and weather for bolstering pickleball’s local popularity. According to its website, Suncoast Pickleball’s mission is to “embrace the joy of sunny days, the vast ocean and the happiness found within our pickleball community.”

Smith believes an annual expo, which she hopes to continue in 2025, can further foster that camaraderie. “It is a way for pickleball players and vendors to meet and network,” she added. “It’s going to be a really great atmosphere.”

For more information, visit the website here.

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