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Dink.pro Pickleball Apparel Founders Embraced The Perfect Pastime

John and Karen Whitaker, co-founders of Dink.pro pickleball apparel, offer several explanations for pickleball’s explosive growth.

As global communities navigated the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic, many people took up new hobbies and outdoor activities to regain a sense of normalcy. The challenge to remain active amid excessive restrictions led to a rise in the popularity of indoor/outdoor activities, primarily pickleball.

Pickleball, a paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong, can be traced back to 1965. However, the sport was largely played by adults 55 years and older, the largest demographic of participants in 2021 – until now. Since the onset of the pandemic, the average age of pickleball participants has decreased by almost five years, and the fastest-growing demographic is 24 years old and younger.

In 2020, 4.2 million people played pickleball in the U.S., up from 3.46 million in 2019, according to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) 2021 Topline Participation Report, released in February 2021. That’s a massive 21.3% increase from 2019 to 2020, the highest of any U.S. sport.


Pandemic picklers discuss the rapid rise of pickleball

The fun, social and friendly sport can stand on its own merits, but there’s more to how this niche sport became mainstream. Self-proclaimed “pandemic picklers” John and Karen Whitaker, co-founders of Dink.pro pickleball apparel, offer several explanations for pickleball’s explosive growth.


Prolonged pro sports hiatus

While not exclusive to pickleball, many people found hours upon hours of free time previously occupied by spectator sports. “In the time it takes to watch a single baseball game, I could play 12 pickleball games,” John Whitaker said. Now that time was available, activity-starved people flocked outside and became participants instead of observers.


Excessive local restrictions

At the height of the COVID hysteria, fewer options were available for people seeking to exercise. Gyms were closed, parks were closed, basketball hoops were removed, and chains prevented access to tennis courts, football fields, and other recreational venues. While ideally played on a dedicated court, pickleball can be easily set up in the street, a parking lot, or even a neighbor’s driveway. “Our first game was in an empty parking lot,” Karen Whitaker recalls. “It wasn’t long before a few families in the area had chalked out courts in the street and it was game on!”


Rising interest in family-friendly fun for all ages

“It wasn’t just for me and Karen, we could include the entire family. We would have several families get together and play all day; it was like a carnival,” John adds. When people discuss pandemic silver linings, they usually reminisce about the renewed focus on family. Pickleball not only offered immediate accessibility, but it also allowed families to “live, love, and play” together.


The emerging need for budget-friendly activities

Many people suffered temporary or permanent income losses during the pandemic. For less than $100 you can buy a full set of paddles for the family and visit any public court, many of which are converted tennis courts that were re-purposed to meet the demand for pickleball playing surfaces.


The Whitakers became so involved in the sport amid the pandemic that they founded dink.pro, a pickleball apparel company that serves up fashionable and functional apparel with the game in mind. The couple quickly found that options for pickleball apparel were gimmicky, low-quality, cartoonish, and not anything they wanted to wear. “Our goal was to give the pickleball community its own identity.” Given that more than 50% of all pickleball players in 2023 were non-participants in 2019, newcomers may desire to build a more fashion-forward pickleball wardrobe.

Visit dink.pro to find shirts, tanks, hoodies, and pullovers and join their picklin’ tribe.


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