Welcome to another Dink’ n’ Dish, where Pickleball Rookie takes a deep dive into the life of passionate pickleball enthusiasts and entrepreneurs. Our guest today is a former collegiate tennis player and a PPR-certified pickleball instructor. Today, Jenny Johnson shares her journey from discovering her love for pickleball to founding a pickleball brand, Rich Cat Supply, aimed at serving the rapidly growing pickleball community. Get ready to be inspired by her story and learn more about her vision for the future of this addictive sport.
Pickleball Rookie: Introduce yourself. Please include a bit about your pickleball journey.
Jenny Johnson, Rich Cat Supply: As a third-generation teacher and coach, racket sports run in my blood. “Play” has always been a core family value – board games, cards, ping pong, bike rides, tennis, and yard games were how we spent time together. My grandfather led the racket sports legacy by becoming the first high school tennis team coach in Edina, MN and my mom followed in his footsteps by becoming a USTA Teaching Pro. I spent my summers helping them teach at a local resort. In college, I played D2 tennis at the University of MN Duluth and was an instructor at Tennis & Life Camps where I was fortunate enough to be mentored by the winningest collegiate men’s tennis coach. Steve Wilkinson taught me how good sportsmanship, full effort, and a positive attitude were crucial to succeed on and off the tennis court.
After college, I had fun exploring a variety of new activities like Bikram yoga, kiteboarding, snowboarding, and mountain biking with my husband, despite being busy raising our son and daughter. Later, we pursued our bucket list dream of moving to a coastal town in Spain, and I became enamored with a new racket sport – Pádel – which can be best described as a mix of tennis and squash placed in an enclosed court surrounded by glass walls and metallic fence. It was appealing because it didn’t take as much athleticism and skill as tennis to get started, was very social, and fun. We moved back to the States and soon after that, I discovered my true love: pickleball.
As a former collegiate tennis player, I didn’t think I’d ever consider playing a game with a plastic whiffle ball, but in 2019, I fell deeply in love with the fast-growing sport of pickleball. I was delighted by the people I met, the playful banter, and the fact that I could play for hours and completely lose track of time. Curiosity about how the game is taught, I became a PPR-certified instructor and nothing brings me greater joy than helping others discover and grow their game. Business, education, and athletics have been intertwined throughout my life and career.
I’ve held a wide range of jobs including Action Sports Sales Rep, High School Business and Marketing Teacher, Software Start-up Marketing Editor-in-Chief, Amazon A+ Content Specialist, Head Varsity Girls Tennis Coach, and mother of two. My life experience has prepared me with the mix of skills, drive, and enthusiasm to build a pickleball brand aimed to serve a community I deeply care about. I’m so excited for this new chapter of my life. Whoever said “Life is one big adventure or nothing” is spot on.
PR: Tell us about the very first time you heard the term “pickleball.”
JJ: I thought it sounded ridiculous. Any game with the word “pickle” in it, could not be taken seriously.
PR: What were your initial thoughts when you played pickleball for the first time?
JJ: I remember playing pickleball in my high school “Racquet Sports” class. I thought it was a silly game that didn’t require much skill and something I would never pursue outside school.
Badminton, ping pong, and tennis seemed much more legitimate, but in retrospect, I think it had to do with the equipment we used – a heavy wooden paddle, and a soft whiffle ball – it felt lame and underwhelming. I can’t help but believe my perspective would have been different if we had learned to play using carbon fiber paddles and hard outdoor pickleballs.
PR: How often do you currently play?
JJ: My heart wants to play every day, but in order to maintain a healthy balance of resistance training and rest and prevent injury, I try to play competitively 2 days a week and drill 2 days a week.
PR: What was the motivation for starting Rich Cat Supply?
JJ: The motivation was three-fold: Design, Value, Growth
DESIGN– After playing pickleball for several months, I fell hard for the game. I was ready to go all in and throw down $ for paddles, bags, and clothing accessories because it had become part of my lifestyle. But as a female in her 30s, it was hard to feel excited about gear that was targeted toward seniors/males. The game is so fun, social, and dynamic, and I was inspired to design and create pickleball gear that embodied the spirit of the game in a way that a younger demographic could get excited about. I wanted to make paddles that would make my kids think pickleball is cool.
VALUE FOR IMPROVERS – As an instructor, I know that players are more likely to have a great experience and get hooked on a sport if they use the right gear when they’re learning & improving. Many players fall into the trap of buying a cheap paddle or spending too much on paddle technology they don’t need. As a result they 1) don’t enjoy the game because the equipment limits their ability to execute shots or 2) enjoy the game enough to get hooked but immediately discover that in order to improve, they need to upgrade their paddle. In both scenarios, the result is monetary and environmental waste. Over the past two years, we tested various shapes and materials and created two models in that “goldilocks” zone to purposefully fill the gap between poor-quality/cheap and overengineered/ overpriced.
GROWTH – I am passionate about teaching and kids. Pickleball is a healthy activity that ALL kids can learn, play, and enjoy. As a public school teacher, I saw how limited funding and resources are in schools and want to make an impact on communities by giving back to phy ed programs that teach this game. Everyone deserves access to health and fun. For every 20 sold, Rich Cat Supply donates a paddle to youth programs. Learning the game with quality equipment allows kids to see the true potential of the game and exposes them to a healthy activity they can enjoy with family and friends outside of school.
PR: Why take the project to Kickstarter?
JJ: As a female entrepreneur who is bootstrapping this startup with her hard-earned savings, I needed to lean on crowdfunding to get the initial funds for manufacturing a quantity that made sense financially. It offered a platform to tell our story and get the buy-in to prove that Rich Cat Supply could succeed. Not only did we meet our funding goal day 1, the project was 270%funded in 30 days.
PR: Where do you find inspiration for paddle construction and design? You have some sweet-looking ones!
JJ: In my 20s, I worked in sales/marketing in the snowboard/action sports industry and saw how important graphics were to customers. It was laughable at times. I would carefully listen to customers tell me about their skill level, experience, and frequency of use in order to recommend the best snowboard for them – but if there was a color scheme or fantastic graphic, none of that mattered. They bought the board with the graphics they loved. Pickleball paddles provide a great opportunity for graphics that inspire and delight players. One of our core values of Rich Cat Supply is playfulness and we made our first line of paddles graphics bold and fun
PR: Where do you see the sport of pickleball in 10 years?
JJ: I think pickleball will be a standard unit in phy ed classes and likely introduced in elementary school. If it isn’t a varsity high school sport in 10 years, it will be a very popular club activity amongst high schoolers because it can be mixed-gender and is so social. Pickleball facilities are popping up all over the country which will draw participants of all ages. I foresee an Olympic debut in the near future!
PR: What advice do you have for anyone who is on the fence about getting started or is an absolute beginner?
JJ: Do you like to have fun? Feel joyful? Make friends? Laugh? Stay healthy? Keep your mind sharp? Get in your daily steps? Make new friends? If so, pickleball is a no-brainer. Tennis has been scientifically proven to increase your life expectancy up to 9 years, the highest of all activities. Pickleball has a lower barrier to entry for enjoying all of the same benefits.
PR: If you could make one change to the sport, what would it be?
JJ: Add Split-Age and/or Parent-Child daws in tournaments at the amateur level. This is the only sport that I can play competitively with my 70 year-old-parents, my teenage kids, and my school-age nieces and nephews. Having these events would promote family play!
PR: Where would your dream pickleball match take place? Give us specifics about the destination and why. Dream big!
JJ: Milan–Cortina d’Ampezzo for the 2026 Winter Olympics. I dreamt of participating in the Olympics as a kid. And it happens that the 2026 Winter Olympics are being held near the Dolomites in Italy – which has been at the top of my bucket list. What a dream it would be to combine the two!