Mike Shinzaki and Stefan Boyland are on a mission to make it happen. The business duo has formed Pickleball SD and begun an intensive local search to find places to expand the sport. And they think they’ve found just the right spot: an underutilized tennis club at Robb Field in Ocean Beach.
“Our vision is to turn the underutilized tennis club at Robb Field into a premium pickleball facility,” said Boyland. “The basic proposal: We would charge half the price as the current tennis club charges, renovate the clubhouse and add tables, benches, and umbrellas. We would add more and better bathrooms, shower facilities, and other amenities to revitalize Robb Field.”
Added Boyland: “Residents and visiting tourists alike could experience a world-class facility. The project would require zero government funds or labor. We will provide all funding and manpower. The facility will be able to host national-level tournaments generating millions of dollars of revenue for the City and the surrounding local businesses. Pickleball is also social and inclusive, in line with the ethos of OB.”
One of the fastest-growing sports in the United States, pickleball is a mix between tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. It is far easier to learn than tennis. Within 10 minutes of learning pickleball, one can play social games that are both fun and exciting. More than four million people currently play pickleball nationwide. The majority have taken up the sport in just the last five years.
Shinzaki said they met with City Parks and Recreation Department in 2021 to discuss accessing Robb Field to expand pickleball there. He noted the City acknowledged that pickleball is rapidly growing and that San Diego “is about five years behind” most other large cities in providing places to play it.
City spokesperson Tim Graham confirmed that the Parks Department met with Shinzaki and Boyland on April 29, 2021, to discuss pickleball expansion.
“The City is aware of the proposed pickleball facility at the tennis courts at Robb Field in Ocean Beach,” said Graham. “Currently, the tennis facility is operated by the Peninsula Tennis Association via a special-use permit and this nonprofit organization has properly managed the facility for more than 50 years. The City has no plans to add a pickleball element to the Robb Field tennis courts and expects PTA to continue to operate the facility for the foreseeable future.”
Added Graham: “While there are no current plans to convert the Robb Field tennis courts, there has been an increase in requests for pickleball facilities, and the City has taken steps to expand pickleball opportunities in locations where there are both demands for the sport and availability. The City is also in the process of evaluating other existing facilities that could integrate pickleball courts as well as ensuring that pickleball courts are proposed as a potential option for community input in the development of new park facilities. The City is also working with San Diego Unified School District to see if there are ways to incorporate pickleball courts at joint-use facilities.”
Both Shinzaki and Boyland have been playing, organizing, and teaching pickleball at Barnes Tennis Center at 4490 W. Point Loma Blvd. where they work. Shinzaki started a program for the relatively new sport at Barnes in September 2020, converting basketball courts to pickleball courts, which are one-quarter the size.
But Shinzaki lamented that “there are not enough places to play pickleball,” both at Barnes and regionwide. “We’ve got hundreds of people who come through every week,” he said. “But there’s only three courts. Both sports need their space. But right now there are many tennis clubs in the city – and there are zero pickleball-dedicated facilities.”
Shinzaki asked Barnes’ management if they’d be receptive to building pickleball courts in the front of their facility where there’s a dirt lot if he and Boyland would fund the courts themselves, as well as guarantee the tennis facility a percentage of the profits while running the program.
“Unfortunately, I cannot comment at this time,” said Ryan Redondo, CEO, and general manager of Youth Tennis San Diego/Barnes Tennis Center, concerning Pickleball SD’s request for space to build new dedicated pickleball courts there.
Shinzaki and Boyland are meeting soon with Mission Bay Parks and the Robb Field Park committees, as well as District 2 Councilmember Jennifer Campbell’s office. The pair will be seeking to make headway with their proposal to turn Robb Field into a new pickleball incubator.
“Usually, only two of 12 tennis courts there are being used,” Boyland said. He predicted the City will choose “the least path of resistance” when it comes to expanding pickleball.
So it seems Boyland and Shinzaki will have to push harder to make their case for more space.
“We have more than 4,000 people on a mailing list who want this,” Boyland said. “The local government must serve the needs of residents. The City needs to do the right thing: Permit us to construct and operate a pickleball facility that San Diego can be proud of. The time is now.”
PICKLEBALL COURTS IN SAN DIEGO
Ellen Browning Scripps Joint-Use Park, 11454 Blue Cypress Drive – two outdoor pickleball-lined courts on a basketball court.
La Jolla Recreation Center, 615 Prospect St. – outdoor pickleball-lined court on one basketball court.
Ocean Beach Recreation Center, 4726 Santa Monica Ave. – three indoor pickleball courts.
Pacific Beach Recreation Center, 1405 Diamond St. – three indoor pickleball courts.
Barnes Tennis Center, 4490 W Point Loma Blvd. – three dedicated pickleball courts.
Cabrillo Tennis Courts, 3051 Cañon St. – two outdoor courts.
Pacific Beach Tennis Club, 2639 Grand Ave. – eight pickleball courts with painted lines on 2 tennis courts.
Nobel Recreation Center, 8810 Judicial Drive – three indoor pickleball courts.
North Clairemont Recreation Center, 4421 Bannock Ave. – two indoor pickleball courts.
Carmel Valley Recreation Center, 3777 Townsgate Drive – six indoor pickleball courts.
Municipal Gym, 2111 Pan American Plaza – nine indoor pickleball courts.
Balboa Park Activity Center, 2145 Park Blvd. – five indoor pickleball courts.