A Pickleball Life and Much More

By Matthew Schwartz

July 2, 2024

(Pickleball Hall of Famer Steve Paranto and his students)

Okay class, raise your hand if you know anyone who:

  • Has played pickleball since 1974.
  • Created the drop serve.
  • Is in the Pickleball Hall of Fame along with his father.
  • Has bowled seven (seven!) 300 games.

I didn’t know anyone who’s accomplished one of those things until last week, when I interviewed Steve Paranto. Besides his fascinating life on and off the pickleball court, we discussed hot pickleball topics, including dangerously powerful paddles, rating systems and rally scoring.

The 68-year-old Seattle native has been a renowned pickleball figure in the Pacific Northwest for decades. He was born not far from Bainbridge Island, Washington, where the sport was invented. He started playing pickleball 50 years ago as a freshman at Green River Community College near Seattle. Pickleball was a popular intramural sport at the school even back then.

“I played in all the tournaments,” Steve said. “I still have a first place trophy from 1974. I’ve yet to see a pickleball trophy that goes back that far.”

Steve has been teaching pickleball since 1980 and was one of the first certified pickleball instructors with an IPTPA certification. He is a multi-National Champion at the 5.0 level.

Steve helped his father, Arlen, who worked for Boeing, invent and design the first composite pickleball paddles.

  “I knew that if I complained to my dad about these stupid wooden paddles that he would figure out a better material for a pickleball paddle,” Steve said. “I taught my dad how to play and he was just beginning to learn the sport. Two weeks after I mentioned to my dad that lighter paddles would be much better, he had two prototype paddles made for my partner Richard Skevington and I to use in the next tournament. It was obvious from the very beginning that we had more control, more power, and a larger sweet spot with these lighter paddles! We easily won that first tournament using these composite paddles. The team we beat in the finals was a team that beat us in the previous finals when we were using wood paddles. This honeycomb, fiberglass material that dad used to make these paddles were floor paneling from Boeing aircraft. I still have these two original paddles. Hopefully they will be in a pickleball museum some day.”

 Arlen Paranto worked for Boeing for 38 years and was inducted into PBHOF in 2017 as part of its inaugural class, along with the sport’s founders. Arlen passed away in 2019 at the age of 89. Steve was inducted into the HOF that same year. Steve says, “It meant a lot for me to be inducted to the Pickleball Hall of Fame in 2019. My dad was in hospice care four hours away when I was notified of this news and I drove directly to tell him in person. I’m so grateful that I was able to let him know before he passed a couple of weeks later.”

(Steve Paranto’s last photo with his father, Arlen, holding one of the first composite paddles he invented)

Steve sent me the photo of his dad and him from that hospice visit, and said, “I have not shown this picture to many people. This was the day I told dad I was going to be in the hall of fame with him. I still hear his voice say, ‘That’s great!’ I put his hall of fame jacket over him with one of his original paddles that he personally made.”

Steve has a Masters in Education from Pacific University. “I soon realized while majoring in physical education that I had a passion for teaching kids a variety of sports that would contribute to lifetime fitness and health.” He would go on to teach physical education at the elementary school level for 30 years.

Steve has always been physically active and besides playing pickleball and bowling, he’s been a runner, golfer and fisherman. Less than two years shy of 70, he maintains a runner’s physique. At 5 feet, 11 inches tall, he weighs 145 pounds.  

Although his life has revolved around pickleball, he’s somewhat of a renaissance man. His hobbies include brewing his own beer, playing the guitar and being a ventriloquist. He started his ventriloquist act while in fifth grade.

“My dad noticed I was entertaining the neighbor kids with a ventriloquist figure from the Sears catalog. Soon my dad researched how to make a quality ventriloquist puppet and he made my first professional quality dummy. Soon I was the entertainment at friends birthday parties, Cub Scout pack meetings and even winning local talent shows. My dad wrote my routines and totally supported my interest. In junior high I tried out for a talent group to entertain at Fort Lewis before these young men went off to fight in Vietnam. I was the only kid in these performances. I did this monthly for a period while I was in junior high. Later as a teacher my ventriloquism came in handy. I would always entertain the entire school during special assemblies. I also used ventriloquism to make extra income during the summers. I still have fun entertaining at parties [at my home] but now my material is suited for adults.”

Steve is thrilled about the explosion in pickleball’s popularity. “Back in the 80’s all of us players knew how great the game was but we had a hard time convincing others because there were no courts to play on. I especially love the fact that high level tennis players and athletes from other sports are being attracted to the sport. This explosion is still in the early stages and just wait until the explosion happens in China and other countries.”

He doesn’t like the dangerously powerful paddles that have recently become popular and, in several cases, not approved for USA Pickleball sanctioned events

 “I believe that recently the paddles have become too powerful. I don’t want the sport to become a one-dimensional power game. I feel all the paddles that have a trampoline effect should be banned. Hopefully the paddle approval process will only involve exit speed testing and revolution testing. The current space even at nice pickleball clubs is no longer large enough. With generation 1 paddles like my dad made a space 30 by 60 was recommended. Now with the gen 2 paddles it is suggested to have 35 by 65. With the trampoline style power paddles even more space is needed to play the game safely. This doesn’t allow for many people to put these larger courts in their yard and many current clubs would no longer be a safe space to play.”

Regarding player ratings, Steve says, “I feel strongly that all of today’s rating systems have a lot to be desired. Everyone knows if you want a high rating you better get a great partner. Your rating probably won’t be much higher than the weakest player on the court. Today’s rating systems discourage players to enter tournaments with their lower rated friends and relatives. I’m probably the only player in their late 60’s that entered tournaments with both their mom and dad. If I did that today as a 20-year-old and my parents were weaker players, I probably would not play with my parents.”

Concerning the debate over traditional scoring vs rally scoring: “A lot of people think that since I am an old-timer in pickleball that I would not like rally scoring. I actually think rally scoring is best for the sport. As far as I am concerned, the plus side of rally scoring far outweighs the negatives. Most people that are against rally scoring either have not tried it or have not given it a chance.” He says rally scoring is easier to learn and teach, that spectators can understand it more easily, that the length of matches will be easier to predict and that matches will be closer.

Steve recently finished building his dream “Pickleball Playhouse” with two indoor courts. “We bought a farmhouse out in the countryside in a small Oregon town called Beavercreek. This town is close to Oregon City. I bought this property just so I could build my indoor courts. We love it here! Most days I am teaching and playing pickleball at either RECS Pickleball Club or at my house. My girlfriend Lala is also an avid player and organizes quite a few ladies days at my playhouse. I regularly schedule guys days with ages ranging from teens to 70 years-old, plus national champions. I am constantly meeting the most interesting and wonderful people as an instructor and player.”

Steve has a 39-year-old daughter who recently got married. “My daughter did grow up with a pickleball court in our backyards,” he said, “but she just liked hitting the ball around with her friends and never got serious about the game. My daughter and I bond on entertainment and music. I made sure she was into the Beatles.”

Steve Paranto’s life has been and continues to be a “Long and Winding Road,” surrounded by pickleball, but so much more.


 My thoughts of the week, not all pickleball

-Rest in peace, Orlando Cepeda. The Baseball Hall of Famer died on Friday at 86. The “Baby Bull” was a great hitter who in his first several seasons was somewhat overshadowed by Giants teammates Willie Mays (who passed 10 days earlier) and Willie McCovey. But he was an 11-time All-Star and one of the National League’s most consistent power hitters through the 1960’s. Cepeda loved jazz and salsa and had a stylish swagger about him that I always thought was cool.

-I’ve hit my leg while serving but never hit my chin on a backswing, until yesterday. Guess I used too much backswing, and now have a boo-boo on my chin.

-A young paddle reviewer (and future doctor) named Dustin Fowkes has been killing it with his videos. He hosts the Pickleball Medicine YouTube channel and yesterday released an interesting review of Kevlar paddles. 

-Asheville, NC, update, no nets, day 40. The city of Asheville, NC, has no dedicated public pickleball courts and without warning on May 24th, its parks and recreation department removed its nets from all of its courts (which are also lined for tennis). The department said some pickleball players failed to roll the heavy duty nets off to the side, and the wheels left divots in a couple of recently resurfaced courts. The department has not provided replacement nets and pickleball players need to bring portable nets to the courts or rent one from the city. The city recently released a master plan that included building eight pickleball courts by…2035. That’s not a typo folks. 2035.

So I have something to look forward to when I’m 81.


Even if you don’t live anywhere near Asheville, if you visit or just love pickleball you can write to the city and voice your opinion during the feedback period by July 7th at parks@ashevillenc.gov. Or call parks & rec at 828-259-5800.

The situation is an embarrassment for a city of 95,000 that’s consistently ranked among the “best places to retire.”

As I’ve previously written, the researchers who call Asheville a great place to retire must not be pickleball players.

-Whenever I hear the incomparable Louis Armstrong’s rendition of What a Wonderful World, no matter my mood, I smile and feel good.


Hudef is giving away a new paddle to the first person who emails the correct answer to one question at the end of my first blog of every month. This month’s winner will receive the new Kevlar/carbon fiber Hudef Viva Pro Gen3 paddle, valued at $169.99. The question: “What is the first and last name of the paddle reviewer who in his video review of the Viva Pro Gen3 said these exact words, “This paddle hits like a truck”?


Email your answer to sales2@hudefsport.com. The winner will be contacted by email.