Ever heard of pickleball? Me neither - until recently. And would you believe that a sport created through boredom - with two bits of plywood pulled from a garden shed at a house in Washington, USA, in the mid-1960s - is now thriving in the leafy village of Wetheral near Carlisle? Well, it is - and no pickles are involved.

Pickleball is said to be the fastest growing sport in America with over 2.5 million participants and more than 15,000 courts. A section of the court is called the kitchen. So what is it?

Take a paddle (a bit like what you use when on the beach on your summer holiday), a plastic ball with holes in it (a wiffle) and then lower a badminton net and you’re just about there. According to American websites, it combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping pong.

The game, with some claiming it was named after a dog called Pickles, came about in the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Washington, at the home of former State Representative Joel Pritchard who later went on to become Lieutenant Governor of Washington.

He and two pals returned home from a round of golf one Saturday afternoon to find their families feeling rather bored.

They tried to set up a game of badminton but nobody could find a shuttlecock so they improvised with a wiffle ball, lowered the badminton net, and made two paddles of plywood from a nearby shed. Pickleball was born.

There are two theories about the name, another being that it came from the term ‘pickle boat’, referring to the last boat to return with its catch.

According to Pritchard’s wife Joan, the name came "after I said it reminded me of the pickle boat crew where oarsmen were chosen from the leftovers of other boats”.

She adds: “Somehow the idea the name came from our dog Pickles was attached to the naming of the game, but Pickles wasn't on the scene for two more years. The dog was named from the game."

So how did pickleball find its way across the Pond from America to Wetheral? The answer is Greg Smith.

Greg, a 69-year-old retired primary school headteacher, takes up the story.

“It was purely through a chance happening when I was on holiday with my sister and her husband, who are keen tennis players, a few years ago.

“We were in Florida staying on an over-55s golfing complex and noticed two unusual small courts and discovered they were for a game called pickleball.

“Later, some people were playing and they invited us to join them. We quickly got hooked on it.

“The people playing were of a senior age and for them it’s an easy game to play but it can be played at any kind of level. You get people plodding along but it can be really fast and furious.”

When Greg returned home he ‘googled’ the game and discovered there was a club in Lockerbie so paid them a visit.

“We chatted, we played and discovered they met up three times a week.

“I decided to organise a couple of impromptu games at the village hall and then we got a few people together and now we’ve got a regular number coming along every Monday night.”

His brother-in-law has also set up a club in Lincoln and Greg knows of another in Glasgow and believes there’s around 30 pickleball groups in the country now.

“It’s a phenomenon in America - the fastest growing sport there - and it’s gaining popularity here now.”

So what about the rules of the game?

“Where do I start? It’s played on a court the same size as a doubles badminton court, with a net at a height of 3ft,” says Greg.

“You use a paddle which is a bit similar to a beach paddle but a bit bigger with a plastic ball. We used to use them in PE at school, a plastic ball with holes in it. We used to call them aeroflights.

“The rules are quite simple. We tend to play doubles matches.

“The service is always underarm, which makes it a lot easier for people with shoulder problems after years of playing tennis.

“The court is a straightforward area apart from either side of the net, the Americans call it the kitchen for some strange reason - you know what they’re like. It is a no volley zone because one of the aims of the game is to get rallies going so that balls that come over the net are not allowed to be vollied inside the ‘kitchen’. It basically encourages rallying.

“Normal scoring is first to 11, winning by two clear points like badminton used to be, you only score when you’re serving, badminton has changed but not pickleball.

“It’s a strange mixture but a great game, we love it.”

Greg, whose daughter Catherine also plays, has since been back to America and returned with better pickleball equipment but they’re still hoping to buy a proper net at some point, rather than lowering the badminton one at the village hall when they meet between 7.30pm and 9.30pm every Monday.

“We have a dozen regular players - our youngest member is 17 - but only one court so we can’t really add numbers to our club,” says Greg. “But we would be keen to spread our knowledge so other people can set up their own.

“If you want any information, or want to come and see a game being played, we’d be happy to put on a show.”

If you would like any more advice on pickleball, email Greg on greg.smith3@btinternet.com.