Daniel Mcauly doesn’t find himself in a pickle often. When he does, it’s usually on the court. He’s a pro pickleball player.
The ever-evolving sport, played with a paddle and a plastic ball with holes, combines elements of tennis, pingpong and badminton. It was invented in 1965 and, over the past decade, has begun to explode in popularity because it’s accessible, inexpensive and easy to learn. It’s a sport anybody can play—and it’s even begun to gain traction in the professional arena.
One of pickleball’s best local players lives in Camarillo’s backyard.
Mcauley, a 23-year-old Santa Rosa Valley resident, can hit dinks—a soft shot that drops over the net and falls into the opposing non-volley zone—with skill and finesse. He started playing for fun about three years ago and in October made his pro debut at the Professional Pickleball Association Championships in Las Vegas.
“I was super nervous,” Mcauley said. “There were more people than I’ve ever seen all sitting to watch pickleball. Oh man, it was scary.”
The professional rules of pickleball are still being ironed out, Mcauley said. The sport has always been casual in nature, so most pickleball associations have only been formed over the past 10 years.
The sport’s biggest variable is its ranking system because some scoring systems vary by company. It’s fair to say, though, that Mcauley is well-rated regardless of which system is used. On the sport’s newest ranking system, Mcauley measures a 5.5 on a scale from 2.0 to 8.0. The lower numbers are typically beginners while the higher numbers are given to the pros.
“I came into (the tournament) with no expectations,” the pickleball player said.
After Mcauley and his playing partner won their first-round men’s doubles match, they advanced to play the top-ranked team, made up of brothers Collin and Ben Johns.
Ben Johns, regarded by many as the best pickleball player in the world, is ranked No. 1 in the world for doubles, mixed doubles and singles by the Pro Pickleball Association, World Pickleball Rankings and Global Pickleball Rankings.
“There were so many people watching. People were streaming it on YouTube, and it was broadcasted on the Tennis Channel for a bit,” Mcauley said. “But it was fun. I got into the game and I forgot about everything. We didn’t do too bad. We weren’t close to winning, but we also didn’t get blown out of the water.”
Having progressed from the beginning ranks to sharing a court with some of the best players in the world in a matter of three years, Mcauley said, he’s excited to continue playing tournaments.
“In my free time, the only thing I was watching was pickleball. I wasn’t watching Netflix or TV shows anymore. I was like, ‘Oh, I really am getting better at this,’” he said.
He first picked up a paddle while he was attending UC Irvine, which Mcauley said has a prominent pickleball culture. Many cities, in fact, have official pickleball ambassadors to represent the sport.
Todd Howard, Moorpark’s USA Pickleball Ambassador, echoed Mcauley’s belief that pickleball is for anyone—and that’s the real beauty of it.
“There’s so much laughter and so much chatter of people just having a good time. It’s astounding to me because when I first started playing, that was the appeal. Suddenly you’re all friends with all these people on the court,” Howard said.
While Mcauley usually plays on courts in Moorpark, there are places to play in Camarillo: Springville, Pitts Ranch and Bob Kildee Community parks. Visit pvrpd.org/pickleball for schedules and rules for use.
Mcauley and Howard said the pickleballers are self-organized and efficient when getting on and off the courts, despite the occasional annoyances they receive from neighboring tennis players.
“Sometimes there’s a slow stew. At parks and rec meetings, there’s always a tennis player who speaks out against adding more pickleball courts—and there we are, wanting more pickleball courts,” Howard said.
Mcauley had pingpong experience before finding pickleball, and Howard and his wife, Calu, had attempted tennis many times. Having those skills helped them adapt to pickleball play.
“(Tennis) is a high-skill sport. It takes a lot of skill to keep the ball in play,” Howard said. “You transition over to the pickleball courts, and you see people who aren’t all that athletic because the courts are smaller. Rallies can last for 10, 15, 20 hits.”
After Mcauley developed a knack for the game, he started to see the sport from a new perspective. He realized the potential of pickleball and how it was a specialized sport like any other.
“It’s a super new sport (and) there are always new things to learn,” Mcauley said. “Nobody really cares how good you are, they just care if you’re able to play. Everyone is always welcoming, no matter how new you are or what you want to get out of the sport.”