Carson, California — It’s the fastest growing sport in the U.S., but this week the game of pickleball reached an even greater height — 1,500 feet that is — on the iconic Goodyear Blimp.
A match was played inside the blimp Wednesday between professionals Anna Leigh Waters, Catherine Parenteau and Jay Devilliers as it flew over Carson, California.
And as a mark of a new peak for the aircraft itself, the blimp is providing aerial coverage over Sunday’s Professional Pickleball Association Tour Finals in San Clemente, California, the first time the sport has received the Goodyear Blimp treatment.
“We basically invented aerial broadcasting of sports,” said Taylor Deen, who has been a Goodyear Blimp pilot for 12 years.
Over the years, the Goodyear Blimp has been part of the U.S. Navy’s defense team in World War II, and christened by aviation icons like Amelia Earhart and Sally Ride. And it has even broadcast emergency signals above natural disasters, like Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
But it was 1955 that marked a new era for the fleet. With the rise of television, Goodyear became the first aerial platform to live broadcast an event for TV when it flew over the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California.
And when the first Superbowl kicked off in 1967 on CBS, the blimp was there.
“We fly over all the largest events,” Deen said. “…Super Bowls, NASCAR, World Cups, Stanley Cup, NBA Finals. So if we’re there, it’s usually a pretty big event.”
Now a new game has been added to the roster.
“I’ve driven by the blimp. I’ve seen it at sporting events,” said 16-year-old Anna Leigh Waters, the No. 1 pickleball player in the world. “…I’ve always been like, all right, your sport’s kind of made it if the Goodyear Blimp comes to it. So I guess pickleball’s made it now.”
The sport has become a smash hit since the pandemic, with 8.9 million people playing it across the U.S. in 2022, according to a report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association.
“It just kind of exploded,” Waters said. “So I was really glad to be a part of it, because when I started playing, I was 10. And now I’m 16. So I’ve kind of grown with the sport.”
Pioneers from the court and the sky are elevating the game to “blimp-worthy” status.
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