The former College of Charleston tennis player will be the pickleball pro at Pickle Bar in Nexton, expected to open next spring
Jake Kusmider dedicated his childhood to tennis. His mother homeschooled him and his siblings, allowing them hours of practice every day. That paid off with a spot on College of Charleston’s 2016-2017 tennis team. And through that experience, Kusmider discovered his true calling—pickleball.
This summer, the West Ashley resident reached a ranking of number 16 in the world in men’s singles, and he’s on a mission to crack the top 10. At this year’s Association of Pickleball Professionals New York City Open, one of the sport’s four Grand Slam tournaments, Kusmider made a run to the semifinals and finished fifth, competing on the same hallowed ground where the US Open tennis tournament is held.
In between traveling to tournaments across the country, he’ll soon take on the role of in-house pro at Pickle Bar, a dedicated nine-court complex in Summerville’s Nexton development that will include an outdoor stage for live music and a restaurant spearheaded by chef BJ Dennis. Set to open in spring 2023, the facility will expand capacity for the sport that’s few dedicated courts in Charleston are already crowded.
Part of the appeal of pickleball [played on a small court with a hollow ball served underhanded with a paddle] is that it’s accessible for people of all physical levels. “Some of the best players in the world are twice my age,” says Kusmider. “It’s frustrating not to win, but it keeps me grounded when I lose to a guy who just got a hip replacement.”
CM: How did you go from tennis to pickleball?
JK: I was in the weight room one morning. I looked into the gym and saw people setting up pickleball nets. They said, ‘You guys are tennis players, right? You should play this. You’ll be unbelievable at it.’ I was 18. We left joking that when we were done with tennis, we’d become professional pickleball players and travel the world. It’s surreal to think that I actually made that come true.
CM: What advice do you have for novice pickleball players?
JK: A lot of players in Charleston want to see the sport grow. You can just show up at the courts and wing it, because everybody is so welcoming. Then play as much as possible and don’t get frustrated. Once you get the hang of it, pickleball becomes an addiction. It’s so much fun.
CM: What’s a secret to winning in the sport?
JK: Singles and doubles are entirely different beasts, but most of the time on public courts, we’re playing doubles. If you get all four players up to the “kitchen line,” then you can get into a dink rally. For 75 percent of most doubles rallies, the ball is moving so slow—you’re just dinking it back and forth—so it becomes easier to isolate the weaker player. Then it’s a battle of nerves to see who is going to screw up first.
CM: Do you have a stance in the tennis-versus-pickleball turf war?
JK: I won’t play tennis if there are pickleball lines on the court. Tennis courts should be tennis courts. Pickleball players deserve dedicated courts with permanent nets. The demand is there, and it’s going to keep getting more popular.
Raised: Downtown Charleston
Lives: West Ashley
World ranking in men’s singles: 16
Career: Tennis instructor for City of Charleston; pickleball pro at Pickle Bar
2022 Highlights: Six top five tournament finishes (so far); training with current world number-one Tyson McGuffin in Idaho