By Linh Bui

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — If you have not heard about pickleball, you will soon. It is the fastest growing sport in the country.

In a nutshell, pickleball is a mixture of tennis, table tennis and badminton that fans describe as addicting.

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“It doesn’t really matter how old you are,” says professional pickleball player Ben Johns. “Anybody can play it and have a lot of fun. And it’s very fun the first day.”

The Gaithersburg-native was winning pickleball tournaments while majoring in material science and engineering at the University of Maryland.

He just graduated in May.

“It was a lot of time management and you get really good at cramming,” he says of juggling his studies with professional sports.

Practicing three hours a day, six days a week paid off. Because Ben is currently the No. 1 ranked pickleball player in the world.

He now lives and trains in Austin, Texas.

“We have our three divisions, right? We have our mixed doubles, our men’s doubles, and our singles,” Ben explains. “If you win all three divisions in the same tournament, that’s called a Triple Crown.”  

And Ben has won the Triple Crown in 14 professional tournaments.

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The young entrepreneur also has two pickleball businesses. “Pickleball Getaways” lets you learn and play while on a vacation. “Pickleball 360” provides online instructional content.

“I love my degree, but I won’t be using it,” he says. “I will be playing pickleball full-time.”

Ben has watched the sport explode in popularity, especially during the pandemic. According to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, there were 4.8 million pickleball players in the U.S. last year, up 14.8 % from the year before.

Pickleball was founded on Bainbridge Island Washington back in 1965.

“I think the story goes they were trying to play badminton, and they didn’t have the birdie to play with,” Ben says. “And they were like, ‘Let’s use a wiffle ball and wooden paddles instead, and lower the net.’”

He says the sport is named after a pickle boat. “Which is basically the people who don’t make a swimming team. The leftovers make what they call a pickle boat. So it’s the leftovers of a sport. So it’s pickleball.”

Ben says try it for yourself; grab a paddle and have a ball.

”I’ve seen people get hooked the very first time they play.”

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Linh Bui