Four-Wall Paddleball was invented in 1930 by Earl Riskey, a physical education instructor and later Director of Intramural Sports at the University of Michigan.[1] The Paddleball trophy, awarded annually to the person who has done the most for the game, bears Riskey’s name.

Originally, the university’s Intramural Sports Building was constructed with a large number of squash and handball courts, and the school’s tennis players often practiced on them during bad weather. Sometimes they used wooden paddles from paddle tennis instead of tennis rackets for their workouts. Riskey thought that a game played with paddles on a handball court might be a good addition to the intramural program.

In the beginning, finding a reliable paddle ball proved very difficult. Riskey found that if he removed the fuzzy surface from a tennis ball by soaking it in gasoline, the resulting ball had a suitable bounce for the game. Dime-store rubber balls were also used. Currently, the official paddleball is made by Gearbox. It is an unpressurized black ball with a small hole, slightly larger and heavier than a racquetball.

Early in the sport’s history, many of the better players modified their paddles and guarded their designs. Other players—most notably Bud Muehleisen—started with commercial paddles and adapted them to meet their personal preferences. Old tennis rackets could be cut down into paddles, and these “paddle rackets” (as they were called) gave a player such an advantage over a standard wooden paddle that a new game evolved from it.

The technology has advanced far beyond the early wooden paddles. Today, modern paddles combine sophisticated graphite structures with top notch manufacturing techniques, and the end result is a lighter, stronger, better hitting paddle. This has created a resurgence in the sport, as the game is more accessible to larger demographic of players.

Paddleball can be played with two players (singles), three players (“cut throat”), or four players (doubles). The rules of paddleball are similar to indoor racquetball, and both sports are played on the same 40-by-20-foot (12.2 by 6.1 m) court. The most-significant differences between paddleball and racquetball are:

  • Paddleball is played with a solid paddle, rather than a strung racket.
  • A paddleball is slower (and slightly larger) than a racquetball.
  • Paddleball games are played to 21 points, instead of 15 or 11 (as in racquetball).

There are other minor differences, but racquetball players tend to pick up the sport quickly and many players are proficient at both sports.  For instance, Marty HoganCharlie Brumfield and Bud Muehleisen each held National Open titles in both sports; Brumfield and Hogan held both National Open titles during the same year.

The differences in the paddle and the ball make for longer rallies than in racquetball, and use more of the court. As a consequence, paddleball tends to be more physical than racquetball. Playing the sport at the highest level requires an advanced degree of fitness and endurance, similar to that required by squash.

The official governing organization for Four-Wall Paddleball is the National Paddleball Association (NPA), whose website is the official source for current rules and tournament schedules.

Source Materials from: Jaime Lawson and The Complete Book of Racquetball, by Steve Keeley.