Seventh Annual American Riviera Classic Pickleball Tournament: A Community Triumph

By Zach Rosen   |   May 28, 2024
The Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop were there to sell some goods and compete (photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop)

Santa Barbara recently hosted the 7th annual American Riviera Classic Pickleball tournament, an event that has grown from a small gathering to a prominent community affair. Coordinated by USAPA Pickleball Ambassadors Richard Salzberg and Barb Kloos, the tournament had 275 participants this year, reflecting the sport’s exponential growth in the region.

The 7th annual American Riviera Classic Pickleball Tournament had 275 participants from across the country and globe (photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop)

Pickleball – a sport combining elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong – has taken the nation by storm, and Santa Barbara is no exception. Salzberg, who has been instrumental in promoting and expanding the sport locally, shared his journey into pickleball. “I was a racquetball player, and back in 2014, one of my racquetball friends invited me to try pickleball,” he recalled. “I immediately enjoyed it and saw how easy it was to learn and how quickly one could become competent. Since then, the sport has grown tremendously here.”

This growth can be seen in the transformation of local facilities. Salzberg explained, “When I started, there were maybe 80 players in town. Now, there are over 1,800 just at one location, the Municipal Tennis and Pickleball Courts. The city and county have been very supportive, with new courts being built in various locations, including a beautiful new set at Kellogg.”

The Santa Barbara Pickleball Ambassadors, led by Salzberg and Kloos, have also been active in fundraising and community support. The tournament’s fundraising mission includes transforming underutilized tennis courts into pickleball courts and promoting youth and senior programs at the YMCA, Boys & Girls Club, and local schools. Salzberg noted, “Our 2023 tournament raised substantial funds, which we donated to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, Shriners Hospital, and the Make-A-Wish America Foundation.” This year’s tournament is set to net around $15,000.

The tournament itself has evolved significantly since its inception in 2016. “The first tournament was about attracting attention to the sport,” said Salzberg. “We had around 150 participants then, and now we’ve grown to 275, with some years reaching as many as 360.” This year’s event attracted players from 11 states across the country and the world, including participants from Australia, Canada, and Mexico.

USAPA Pickleball Ambassadors Barb Kloos and Richard Salzberg (photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop)

One of the highlights of this year’s tournament was a 13-year-old girl from Mexico, Aline Morales, who won gold in her division. “It was amazing to see such young talent,” remarked Salzberg. This year’s event also featured a well-staged area with various vendors, including the Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop, which set up a storefront, and other local businesses selling apparel and performance insoles.

The tournament’s structure, managed by Mike Hoxie – a professional tournament director from Pickleball Is Great – includes divisions based on age and skill levels. Participants compete in a round-robin style, ensuring that everyone gets ample playtime. Winners are awarded gold, silver, and bronze medals in their respective categories.

The impact of pickleball on the local community extends beyond the tournament. Salzberg’s monthly newsletter keeps the community informed about tournaments, fundraisers, and new places to play. “I have an open rate of 85%,” he shared, indicating the high level of engagement and interest in the sport.

Looking ahead, Salzberg is already planning for the future. “Next year, we’re talking about partnering with the Unity Shop and Kenny Loggins [who competed in last year’s tournament]for a pro-am celebrity tournament,” he revealed. This new format aims to attract even more attention and support for the sport.

Salzberg also highlighted the financial benefits of converting tennis courts into pickleball courts. “One tennis court can provide four pickleball courts, accommodating 16 players instead of just four. This not only makes better use of the space but also generates more revenue for the city through annual permit fees and daily visitor fees.”

Aline Morales, a 13-year-old girl from Mexico, won gold in her division (photo courtesy of Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop)

With growing momentum, efforts are ongoing to establish permanent courts in more locations. “We’re working with the Santa Barbara City College and the Parks and Recreation Department to establish permanent courts at Pershing Park,” said Salzberg.

The American Riviera Classic Pickleball tournament is more than just a sporting event; it is a celebration of community, fitness, and philanthropy. With the support of sponsors like Fidelity Financial and the Santa Barbara Pickleball Shop, the tournament has become a significant fixture in Santa Barbara’s sporting calendar.

As Salzberg aptly put it, “This sport has taken on a life of its own. We’re seeing more young people getting involved, and the community support has been incredible. It’s a fun, social, and accessible sport that brings people together, and that’s what makes it so special.”

Salzberg mentions, “I’m getting about 20 to 30 people a month asking: How do they get into the sport? Where can they take beginner lessons and who are the instructors? And to me that indicates that the sport is in a growth pattern.” For those looking to take a swing at pickleball, Dynamite Pickleball has scrambles, lessons, and clinics for all levels of players.

With plans for future tournaments and continued community engagement, both pickleball and the American Riviera Classic Pickleball tournament promises to keep growing, bringing more excitement, and support to the Santa Barbara community.  


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