Pickleball Takes Local Communities by Storm

by | Apr 2024

Fuyei Xaykaothao in action at the 2023 CT Pickleball Minnesota Summer Send Off tournament.

Fuyei Xaykaothao in action at the 2023 CT Pickleball Minnesota Summer Send Off tournament. Photo: PikNinja Sports

With more outdoor courts and support from local entrepreneurs, pickleball is growing.

Pickleball has been gaining traction at senior centers and with active older adult groups for at least a decade, but in the past couple of years, the sport has officially leaped into the mainstream, and local cities have responded with new pickleball courts in parks, tournaments, clubs and more.

“It’s kind of exploded in the last couple of years,” says John Hennen, Lakeville’s Parks and Recreation director. Lakeville currently has 16 pickleball courts in four locations, and once the new Avonlea Community Park is completed in 2025, there will be 10 more courts available for pickleball players. The Lakeville Parks and Recreation Department offers lessons, adult leagues, a new adult/child league and a youth camp, and the city offers three pickleball tournaments in the spring, fall and at Pan-O-Prog in the summer.

In March, the Life Time Fitness in Lakeville hosted the Carvana Professional Pickleball Association Indoor National Championships for the third time in three years on its 16 indoor courts. The fitness club offers year-round pickleball lessons, clinics, tournaments, open play and court rentals to its members. Life Time in Eagan also has indoor pickleball courts for its members.

The City of Apple Valley offers year-round pickleball play on the six courts in its community center, and the parks and recreation department also offers lessons, leagues and tournaments.

A pickleball game at a local park.

A pickleball game at a local park. Photo: Grayson Wolfe

Prior Lake added eight pickleball courts to Spring Lake Park in 2021, and the Prior Lake Pickleball Club (plpclub.org) meets there Saturday mornings from May through September for ladder play (an ongoing tournament). “Our club has a reputation for being really friendly and welcoming to new players,” says Vic Noer, club president.

Eagan is also abuzz with the sport. In addition to PikNinja Sports, a company that specializes in pickleball paddles and accessories and the much anticipated spring opening of Chip’s Pickleball Club, the city of Eagan has 21 designated pickleball courts in its parks and offers lessons, camps and leagues through its parks and recreation departments.

Lakeville resident LaRae Templeton picked up the sport as a way to meet people and make friends, and now she teaches classes and coordinates tournaments and leagues throughout the area. She’s watched the sport’s huge growth in the past few years and has noticed that the sport, which has a reputation as an activity for older adults, is attracting younger players now, too. “It’s such a good family activity,” she says. “It’s got a really easy learning curve.” —LP

Find a list of outdoor pickleball courts in Apple Valley, Eagan, Lakeville and Prior Lake, as well as some upcoming tournaments organized by LaRae Templeton, check out our local pickleball guide.

The “Cool Dad”

An Eagan pickleball business that ships products worldwide began when the owner’s daughter was in search of a kid-friendly paddle.

PikNinja Sports, founded by Fuyei Xaykaothao (Si-kow-ta), is a pickleball accessory and apparel company that began in the early days of the pickleball craze. “When we first started playing pickleball, it wasn’t popular yet,” Xaykaothao says. “There were very few paddle options out there, and my kids wanted something cool.”

Time was something Xaykaothao had a lot of when the idea came to be. It was during the early months of COVID-19. Having to stay home and stay safe, the Xaykaothao family was in search of something to do. “My daughter pointed out I had nothing else to do, so I should make her a paddle,” Xaykaothao says with a laugh.

The businessman is no stranger to racket sports. As a teenager, his father introduced him to tennis, something the Hmong American says helped him find his voice. “My life became everything tennis,” Xaykaothao says. “I loved it.”

When the pandemic hit, Xaykaothao suggested his children try tennis. Much to his dismay, the kids didn’t take to it. “It kind of broke my heart,” he says.

Still, Xaykaothao admits he couldn’t blame them. With a difficult scoring system and a challenging technique to learn, he understood why it didn’t catch on. So, the family set up Xaykaothao’s portable tennis net in their cul-de-sac and began playing pickleball. It became an instant hit. “My kids loved it,” Xaykaothao says. “Pretty soon, others started joining in, too. I was the cool dad all of a sudden.”

A team from PikNinja Sports helped raise money and awareness for Myasthenia gravis, a condition that causes muscle weakness and fatigue, at Pickling for a Prayer in 2023. PikNinja created a limited edition paddle for the event, and donated $10 from each paddle sale.

A team from PikNinja Sports helped raise money and awareness for Myasthenia gravis, a condition that causes muscle weakness and fatigue, at Pickling for a Prayer in 2023. PikNinja created a limited edition paddle for the event, and donated $10 from each paddle sale.

Xaykaothao admits he didn’t anticipate pickleball gaining the popularity it has, but knowing the variety of benefits associated with the sport, it doesn’t surprise him. He credits its popularity to the ease of learning this game, the joy players get on and off the court and the health benefits.

Wanting to share his love of the sport with the world, PikNinja Sports became a hobby turned profession with the launch of the website in April 2021. “I’m not reinventing the wheel,” Xaykaothao says. “I’m just taking things I was attracted to and pushing it over to pickleball. Our initial goal was to hit the younger generation, but then all ages started buying our stuff.”

Xaykaothao learned people felt young again using PikNinja gear. Now, he says there’s no set demographic for PikNinja paddles. They’re for everyone. “We make sure everyone feels included and part of our team,” he says. “I want my kids to experience pickleball like what I experienced as a kid with tennis. I want them to be empowered to have a voice and just really be themselves.” —EG

Exploring New Courts

Chip is a pickleball player. He’s social. He’s positive. He cares about his health.

He’s also a fictional character.

Chip’s Pickleball Club, branded under the friendly persona by owner Jack Eickhof, is set to open this spring in Eagan. The indoor pickleball complex, featuring 12 tournament-sized courts, is housed in a repurposed warehouse space. In addition to the courts, the facility features cold plunging pools, a sauna, a wellness center and a food/drink space that flips between café and bar depending on the time of the day.

Eickhof was first exposed to pickleball at a friend’s birthday party. To say he was smitten is an understatement. “It was incredible,” he says. “I wanted to create that same experience and make it even better.”

And he did, finding an ideal location in Eagan. “Eagan is where pickleball landed when it first came to Minnesota,” Eickhof says. “The area has a huge player base and as many outdoor courts as anywhere in the Metro.”

But indoor pickleball—is there really a demand?

“Outdoor courts are being built, but there’s been a lag in indoor-court development,” Eickhof says.

As a testament to said demand, Eickhof says he’s received more than 2,800 emails requesting information and updates on the club and its opening. Plans call for construction to finish the first week of May, and the club to open sometime in mid-May.

Rendering of Chip’s Pickleball Club, scheduled to open in May in Eagan.

Rendering of Chip’s Pickleball Club, scheduled to open in May in Eagan.

Chip’s Pickleball Club will feature both member and public play. Member-only pickleball will be played daily from 6 to 10 a.m. Public play is slated from 10 a.m. until 10 p.m.

Private court reservations are expected to be in the $40 per hour range. Open play, penciled into the middle part of the day, is expected to fall between $10 and $20 per session. “Players drop in and cycle through,” Eickhof says.

League play at all ability levels is expected to be the biggest draw. “Leagues are seven weeks long, and you’re playing two hours per week,” Eickhof says. “Most leagues will be doubles, but that can change.”

After a competitive game, pickleball members can use the on-site, co-ed cold plunge pools and saunas as recovery tools. In addition to reducing inflammation, cold plunging is said to delay the onset of muscle soreness. At Chip’s, a cold plunge into 42-degree water could last three minutes.

While a sauna is the polar opposite of a cold plunge, its benefits are similar. It aids in recovery and can reduce stress and improve heart health.

Wellness-only memberships, which include unlimited cold plunge and sauna access, are priced at $50 per month.

“We’re offering more than just court space,” Eickhof says. “We’re going to be a community. We’re going to be active. We’re going to be healthy, and we’re going to be social.” —DH

Facebook: PikNinja Sports
Instagram: @pikninja

Chip’s Pickleball Club
980 Discovery Road, Eagan
Facebook: Chip’s Pickleball Club
Instagram: @chipspickleball


Recent Stories

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This