Twenty-four-year-old Skylor Riley of Wilson, North Carolina, is quickly climbing the professional pickleball ladder after signing with the Selkirk Sport Emerging Pro Program this summer.
A Far Cry
It is all a far cry from the very first time he heard about the sport from his college friends. They were telling him all about a fun new sport they’d been playing and how he should give it a go.
Skylor Riley was skeptical, to say the least: “I had some friends playing, telling me about it,” Riley recalled. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m not playing pickleball. That sounds awful.’
“And then I finally went out there. Ever since then, I was addicted, and I haven’t stopped since.”
In just three short years, Riley has become something of a hot shot in the pickleball world.
This past summer, he signed a sponsorship deal with Selkirk Sport, a leading manufacturer of pickleball equipment, as part of their Emerging Pros Program. The program aims to identify and support up-and-coming players to help grow the sport.
The sponsorship is already paying dividends. Riley receives $100 for each tournament entry and $400 for every match won on the pro circuits like PPA and APP.
Plus, he gets vouchers for a bunch of free gear. For an athlete new to the scene like Riley, this support provides a meaningful boost to get his career moving.
Emerging Pros Program
In May, co-founder and co-CEO of Selkirk Sport Mike Barnes talked about the Emerging Pros Program. He said, “By providing these talented players with the support they need, we believe we are making a meaningful impact on the future of the sport.”
Since signing in May, Riley has jumped right into playing 5.0 tournaments (the highest possible amateur ranking). He often partners with fellow emerging pro Evie Kenna in mixed doubles.
The pair captured a gold medal in the 5.0 Ages 10-34 bracket at the recent APP event in Atlanta. They also snagged a bronze earlier this year in New Jersey, plus a top 5 finish together in another tournament.
While he rotates male partners in men’s doubles, Riley has great chemistry with Kenna on the court. As he put it to Restoration NewsMedia, “I’ve got a bunch of men’s partners; I just haven’t settled down and picked the one I really want to go far with yet.”
Pickleball has ignited a competitive fire in Riley. Though not previously a racquet sport guy, he’s taken to it with passion. As he explains, “I’m just very competitive, so I don’t like losing anything I do. I started off not very good, so I got to where I just wanted to be the best at it.”
Riley got his first proper taste of pickleball a few years back when his hometown of Wilson installed some pickleball courts at a renovated park.
When COVID hit, he found himself back home playing a bit recreationally. After winning some local 4.5-level tourneys with partner Ryan Harris, Riley got a taste of higher-level competition.
Last summer, he and Allison Bartlett qualified for the USA Open Championships at the 4.0 skill bracket. Riley then grabbed a silver medal playing 4.5 men’s doubles with Ricky Stephens.
He and his partners have also won numerous “moneyball” tournaments up and down the Carolina coasts.
A Natural Talent
Though new to racquet sports, Riley has shown a natural talent for pickleball. As he explains, “I’ve got good defense. I can hit a lot of balls back. I can use both hands, left and right.”
But the sheer dedication Riley pours into the game is more important than his athletic gifts.
Riley is eating, breathing, and sleeping pickleball when not working his day job. He plays around the Raleigh-Durham area almost every night against the best competition he can find.
His mother, Lisa, says, “The passion he has for this is unbelievable. This is the only thing he wakes up for in the morning; it’s his one true love.”
An Exhausting Routine
Riley’s routine is exhausting but laser-focused. As he explains, “Well, I work 10 to 5. I’m out every night playing, so I get home late. I usually don’t get into about 10, which I work for my grandpa, so I get a little bit (of slack).
“But I play pretty much every night from 6:30 to 10, and I get home late. Then tournaments are usually on the weekend.”
Highest Caliber Opposition
For Riley, the key is persistently playing against the highest caliber opponents. As he notes, “We have a lot of good talent around the Durham area, the Raleigh area, so I’m doing as much as I can to get out there.
“I’ve actually got a free membership to Life Time in Raleigh. One of my buddies hooked me up, where they’ve got three pickleball courts in there. So I’m getting to go there pretty much twice a week, three times a week playing.”
A Sense Of Purpose
Looking ahead, Riley plans to continue his intense training regimen aimed at competing professionally. As he explains, “What’s next for me is just to keep playing to get better and better so I can compete at the highest level and win at the highest level.
“The higher level you go, the more consistent you have to be. I’ve been winning since I started playing, so it’s just about getting higher to the top.”
For Riley, pickleball has provided far more than just tournament success. It’s given him a community, a passion, and a sense of purpose.
Though he initially thought it was a sport for seniors, pickleball has enriched Riley’s life in ways he never imagined. And he’s only just getting started chasing his pro dreams.
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?