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Fixing pickleball's noise problem


If you've been out and about recently, you may have stumbled across a pickleball game or two.



The game takes place on a small court with a paddle and a plastic ball. It's kind of somewhere in between tennis and pingpong.

KELLY: And the popularity of the sport has grown and grown. There's just one problem - the noise.

MARK DENT: Pickleball is, like, the worst of both worlds. You know, it's loud, and it's high-pitched.

CHANG: That's Mark Dent. He's a journalist who reported on pickleball's noise problem for the Hustle newsletter. He started looking into this when he saw lawsuits in local publications.

DENT: Over the last several months, I just kept seeing them kind of pop up. And all these lawsuits, of course, were largely over pickleball being too noisy. So I'm like, how can, like, pickleball be less noisy? Like, is anybody working on it?

KELLY: Enter Bob Unetich. Before he was a pickleball lover, he was an engineer, and when it comes to the noise problem, he gets it.

BOB UNETICH: You can't take pop, pop, pop for 12 hours a day every day and remain sane.

CHANG: No, you can't. And so he began to dig into it.

UNETICH: Pickleball sound exists right in that most sensitive range. An interesting thing I learned along the way is that garbage truck backup beepers are right in the same pitch of pickleball. Why did they pick that sound for beepers? Because it's the most annoying frequency.

KELLY: Unetich and a couple other engineers started measuring the sounds from a pickleball game and thinking of solutions.

UNETICH: We built a tall chamber. We found dropping a ball - if there was no wind, no air - enabled you to get a very predictable speed. And so a ball hitting one paddle will give you a different sound than a ball hitting a different paddle.

CHANG: So the material of the equipment helps and sound barriers. But that's expensive. The best way to mitigate noise is to fix it before the problem starts and build courts that are far enough away from people. Here's Mark Dent again.

DENT: It's kind of like having to invest more money on the front end and planning to avoid this potential major disruption and lawsuits conceivably, at least, on the back end.

KELLY: Unetich worries the noise problem will slow the growth of his favorite sport. He's hoping the solutions will help so he can keep playing.

UNETICH: I was just playing with some older friends, and two young high school girls, I guess, were playing. We decided to go over and ask them to play because we think it's so fun to have two young people who think they're going to beat us find that they can't beat us.

CHANG: That was Bob Unetich and Mark Dent.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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