Words By Carmen Macri
For reasons beyond me, pickleball has become the next big thing. Everyone I encounter seems to play the game or knows someone who does. As the popularity of the sport has surged in Jacksonville (especially during the pandemic), the limited number of courts have become crowded with players sometimes waiting for hours for their turn to play. Given Florida’s unpredictable weather, constructing an indoor court appeared to be a logical solution. That’s why Ryan Roach, owner of The Rowdy Pickle, did just that.
The Rowdy Pickle is the newest addition to Jacksonville’s sports scene as an indoor pickleball court that promises to bring a new level of excitement to the sport. They offer a unique and energetic atmosphere for players of all levels to come together and enjoy the game. Seasoned players as well as beginners just starting out will find The Rowdy Pickle is the perfect place to pick up a paddle and join in on the fun.
“In the middle of the summer, it feels like it’s 120 degrees, and it rains every afternoon,” Roach said. “And at the Beaches, we have a lot of wind, so it [Rowdy Pickle] is just more of a climate control type of place where people could rent it out and have their own space to get away from the crowd.”
Roach first caught wind of pickleball a couple of years and decided to give it a try. He found some open courts in the Jacksonville area and purchased a $20 paddle from Amazon without hesitation. Since none of his friends was into it, Roach went solo and ended up playing a few matches with some “old ladies” who knew how to navigate the court. After a few months of getting his “ass whooped,” he noticed the sport began picking up traction around Jacksonville.
“Courts [were] getting really packed and having to wait an hour and a half between each game, just to have these old ladies kick my ass …” Roach explained. “I mean they really just dominated me.”
After each match, Roach discovered that he enjoyed the sport even more, but he despised the extended waits and the capricious weather. Some of his friends were driving up to 45 minutes to another court to avoid the wait. The lack of courts and long waits to play, which were only getting worse, not to mention Florida’s fickle weather (especially in the summer) gave him an idea: Why not build an indoor pickleball court?
In September, construction commenced in Atlantic Beach on what would become The Rowdy Pickle. As a first-time business owner with limited funds, Roach made it a DIY project. He also wanted to get the facility up and running by summer and spent most of his days (and nights) working at The Pickle. Juggling that with his other full-time job, he had his hands full.
“I was getting quotes with prices, trying to find contractors and paint, ’cause I was gonna do it myself,” Roach explained. “It was the most hectic thing ever. And I’ll never paint again. The stuff that I was using just kept breaking. It was just a pain in the ass.”
That’s when Roach called for backup. Luckily for him, he knows two incredibly talented artists, Jonny Middlebrook and Martin Torres, who were able to lend a helping hand to finish up the final touches with beautiful floor-to-ceiling murals surrounding the inside of the building. Once the interior was finished, Roach was ready for the public to get their game on. The grand opening was held this March and the turnout was something he never expected.
“I have 61 members already, and it’s only been two months,” Roach said.
As the only private climate-controlled court in Jacksonville, The Rowdy Pickle offers a range of membership options to suit different needs. (Drop-ins are also available, but with so many players clamoring to get on the court, membership is the way to go.)
The Rowdy Pickle is just the beginning of Roach’s journey. Because of its location, The Rowdy Pickle cannot expand, but that doesn’t mean it stops there. Roach is already looking into opening another indoor pickleball court somewhere farther inland or even in another city.
“I want to open up a new facility and hopefully have many more courts,” Roach explained. “It would be a different business model. I would offer a lot more open play and less membership restrictions. Then hopefully turn this into more of an exclusive club where there are really high-end games.”
Roach expressed his desire to have a greater variety of games, including golf simulators and cornhole, to increase the level of entertainment. He wants to offer a mix of indoor and outdoor activities, taking advantage of the (sometimes) pleasant weather in Florida. He also wishes to have six to eight additional game areas but finds it challenging to do so in Jacksonville with the limited real estate.
“With Rowdy, I want people to have a good time,” Roach explained. “I want people to be able to bring their own coolers, drink and get rowdy without having to sit in 120-degree weather.”
Roach is determined to live up to his “Rowdy” reputation and make the most of it. After all, the name was born out of his wild ways, so why not put it to good use, have some fun and make some money?