Pickleball’s Popularity Puts a New Spin on Retail

Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop Opens on Milpas

Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop founders (L-R) Mark Cardona, Carlos Ruiz, and Erik Villagomez. | Credit: Gareth Kelly

Pickleball seems to be everywhere. A kind of tennis meets badminton meets ping-pong hybrid, it’s been described as the “fastest-growing sport in the United States.”

Relatively easy to play with a paddle, a lightweight perforated ball, and a 36-inch-high net, the sport has been around since the mid-1960s, but over the past few years and particularly during the pandemic, there has been an explosion of interest all across the nation.

Hoping to tap into this zeitgeist are Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop founders Carlos Ruiz, Mark Cardona, and Erik Villagomez.

There’s even a pickleball court on the floor at Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop. | Credit: Gareth Kelly

“I got introduced to pickleball about two years ago by my friend and now partner in this business Mark Cardona,” said Ruiz. “Mark was an early adopter of pickleball, and he just went all in. I started going down the same path, playing three, four, five times a week, gradually getting better, and I knew during the summer of 2022 that I wanted to be involved in this space.”

Ruiz reached out to his cousin Erik Villagomez, who was the CEO of Aggressive Soccer Shop on Milpas Street, and after discussing the idea with Cardona, the trio founded the Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop.

Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop has a wide variety of equipment. | Credit: Gareth Kelly

The shop carries all major pickleball brands such as Selkirk, JOOLA, and Onix, as well as court shoes, balls, men’s and women’s clothing, and everything needed to start your pickleball journey. The floor of the store is like that of a pickleball court, and there’s even an area for you to try out different paddles and balls before buying.

“We carry something for everybody. If you’re a beginner, we have starter packs that include two paddles and balls so that you can take a friend and go learn with them. That starts at around $50, and we have everything in between up to the professional performance paddles that range from about $250-plus,” Ruiz said.

As pickleball is typically a sport played by a more senior crowd, the shop owners see that trend changing and are eying an opportunity to attract a younger audience.

“The game definitely skewed older and has been moving younger. There’s a really big gap in our view of kids playing. We’ve reached out to schools and linked up with some of the elementary schools in getting them paddles and balls so that they can start their own programs, and our idea is to get more kids playing and developing the sport here locally,” Cardona said.  

The inventory at Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop includes a wide variety of clothing for men and women. | Photo: Gareth Kelly

As a game for almost everyone from young children to folks in their nineties that can be played indoors or out and that can be learned quickly with a relatively low-cost entry point, pickleball may well be the perfect community sport.

With 12 dedicated municipal courts not far from the pickleball shop and with other courts in Goleta and scattered across parks all over the county, there’s never been a better time to give the sport a try. It may even have positive effects on your life you never expected.

“It’s changed my relationship with my wife in such a positive way,” Ruiz said. “She’s not super athletic, but it’s a game we can go out together as a family and play and enjoy and laugh for an hour. For a game, for a point, you’re so involved that nothing else matters. I’m super grateful for pickleball, and I know there are a lot of cool stories about how pickleball changes people’s lives. It’s not just a sport; it’s an experience.”

The Santa Barbara Pickleball shop is located at 835 N. Milpas Street. For more information, visit sbpickleballshop.com.

Some of the merchandise at Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop | Photo: Gareth Kelly


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