ready for pickleball?

It was the summer of 1965 on Bainbridge Island, just across the bay from Seattle. The weather was dreary and wet. Two fathers returned from a day of golfing to find their families plagued by boredom. So they rounded up the crew and headed out to the old badminton court.

Unable to find adequate equipment, they decided to improvise, grabbing a wiffle ball and ping-pong paddles. To mix things up even more, they decided to lower the badminton net to 36 inches off the ground.

“They wanted to have a sport for everybody to play that was easy, and they kind of just cobbled together the equipment that they had,” explains Geoffrey Jagdfeld, tennis director at Solaris Sports Club in Yorktown Heights – where pickleball has been in play since September of 2017.

Often described as a combination of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, pickleball, as it came to be known, may be the fastest growing sport in the country. A million people are expected to start playing the game this year, increasing the number of players in the U.S. by about 50 percent.

The rules are similar to other racket sports with a few modifications, some listed here:

  • The scoring system and rotation are the same as in badminton.
  • Only underhand serves are allowed.
  • There’s a double bounce rule that extends rallies and eliminates the serve advantage.
  • A non-volley zone referred to as ‘the kitchen’ spans seven feet on both sides of the net.
  • Games are played up to 11 points.

The beauty of pickleball is its versatility. It can be played virtually anywhere. It’s easy to learn, accessible to all ages, can be played as singles or doubles, and can be gentle or fast-paced. Game times are shorter than other racket sports. All of this has fueled the sport’s growing popularity, especially among boomers and seniors.

Gail Bell, 70, has been playing pickleball at Club Fit in Jefferson Valley since the club began offering the sport eight years ago. At 75, her older brother is a USA Pickleball Association ambassador.

“As you get older, your parts don’t hold up as well,” she says. “Being a smaller court, you don’t have to cover as much territory as you do in tennis.” The equipment is much lighter, which Jagdfeld says could limit the risk of repetitive strain injury. Pickleball is also wheelchair accessible.

Bell first learned the game in Florida and has even played while on vacation in Colorado. “No matter where you go, you just google, where is a good to place play pickleball, and you just go,” she says. You can find a place near you by entering your zip code on the official pickleball website www.usapa.org.

“It’s a great way to meet [people] and get exercise at the same time,” says Julia Vesei, USA Pickleball Association ambassador for Northern Westchester. “And it’s fun. We have a lot of laughs.”

Tiffany R. Jansen

Tiffany R. Jansen is a Harrison-based freelance writer and journalist. She's written for TheAtlantic.com, Saveur.com, and SELF.com, among others. She loves the Oxford comma and stroopwaffels, though not necessarily in that order.

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