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September 16, 2022

Will Vancouver’s Next Lululemon Come Out of Jericho Beach?

By Chris Koentges

Vancouver pickleball represents an intersection between Canada, Cascadia, and the Pacific Rim. Clockwise: Quentin Fong mixes Niko Sherpa joggers with a classic Canada Goose wool toque; Colleen Mallett plays with the sweet spot where Nike meets Versace, and Ginger becomes Mary Ann; Karen Quan stitches together functional layers from colorful fabrics straight off the clearance table; Lisa Yang creates the persona of an assassin through flowers and bling and vivid pink. Photo by Tallulah

At the edge of a rainforest near Jericho Beach, Vancouver, there’s an old gymnasium where a mysterious session has been hosted almost every Friday since last autumn, titled, “Can Pickleball Save the World?”


It begins with this premise: Pickleball is a young game still in search of an identity. Watching the pro tour each week, we’re reminded that the game’s ultimate expression remains to be discovered.


Likewise, pickleball culture remains a blank slate. Deep down, we’re drawn to pickleball because we believe it can still become anything. In the meantime, we bring our baggage from other sports. Pickleball style is derivative of golf and tennis—with vague notes of 1970s school gym strip. It’s cobbled together from leftovers.


In Vancouver, which birthed Arc’teryx, Herschel Supply and Lululemon, there is a belief that a similarly distinct global pickleball aesthetic will eventually emerge.


Chip Wilson, who started Lululemon and built a pickleball court at his home in Vancouver, suggests it might be too soon: “Pickleball strikes me as a game where—similar to gyms in the late ‘90s—people wore all kinds of stuff. And it’s mostly older players who haven’t changed their athletic clothing in five or six years. It just isn’t enough of a scene—yet.”


Thus, the style remains open for interpretation. Karen Quan, who plays pickleball throughout Vancouver, consciously rejected the gherkin motifs and dinking puns.


“Literal interpretation is never a good thing,” she said. She also rejected the idea that pickleball should look like other sports. “Tennis dresses are too short for most women in the pickleball demographic. Golf skirts—too long. The pickleball dress falls in between.”


Quan’s notion of a pickleball dress is really an infinite combination of meticulously coordinated layers: “I made long sleeve, floral print, mesh knit overdresses for some sun protection, and they work as an extra layer of warmth too for cooler months.” She added gloves, scarves, toques, and fur leggings for cooler temperatures.


Pickleball was born in the Pacific NW. It’s practiced in rain and snow, in headlamps, Cowichan sweaters, and trail runners with Vibram soles on slushy December surfaces. Mixed doubles can resemble a gathering of fur trappers, Everest guides and assassins straight out of “Kill Bill.”


While tennis buried Serena’s vision of an aesthetic, the seeds of that style have blossomed in Vancouver.


Colleen Mallett will layer Sacai, Versace, and the vintage 1970s burnt orange of an enigmatic local pickleball school, deliberately challenging dichotomy between casual and formal. Her JOOLA paddle cover is bedazzled with local rec legend Lisa Yang’s trademark combination of rhinestones, sourced from remote corners of Alibaba. “I think of myself as a mixture of Ginger and Mary Ann,” said Mallett.


Somehow she exists in perfect harmony beside Quentin Fong, who feels like a grizzly bear on the left side. Which is all to say, Vancouver pickleball is at once atavistic and blissfully oblivious. It represents the nexus of Canada, Cascadia and the Pacific Rim.


The style being conceived here today bears little resemblance to what the game currently looks like across America’s Sun Belt, but rather how pickleball will look a decade from now as a global phenomenon.  •

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