pickleball is all the rage

John and Linda Zeiss didn’t know what pickleball was when they moved to Heritage Hills  in Somers in August of 2020. “It sounded like something only elderly people played if they needed an activity to keep busy,” John recalls. Nearly two years later, the couple plays pickleball as often as five days a week.

John, 66, a retired nursing home administrator, does it, in part, to get some exercise. “It’s not necessarily cardio but you’re moving when you play, and it’s fun,” he says. “We’ve made a lot of friends. When Linda and I play, we laugh, we support each other.” He says he’s happy that he and Linda, 61, have found a sport they both like to play. “It’s really great when you find an activity that you can do together,” he says.

Pickleball, a racquet sport that is played on a badminton-sized court with a plastic ball (similar to a whiffle ball) and wooden or composite paddles, is easy to learn. It can be played outdoors or inside, and once players are experienced, it can segue into a competitive and fast-paced game, says USA Pickleball’s Director of Media Relations Laura Gainor. And, it’s exploding in popularity.

“We are now at 4.8 million players across the country,” Gainor marvels. “That’s a growth of more than 39% in just the last two years.”

Baby boomers and seniors make up a good percentage of the number of players, she says. Pickleball is accessible, helps you bond with others in your community, and has multi-generational appeal, Gainor comments.

Mel Siegel, owner of Sportech in Rye Brook, has witnessed “an explosion” in pickleball over the last few years. He credits the growth to a number of factors. First, the game is very accessible. “It’s much easier to learn than tennis or golf. Within an hour, you can feel competent.” Even if you’re a bit out of shape, it’s easy to play at a beginner or intermediate level.

Mel also notes, “It’s a very social game.” People play in close proximity to each other, making it easier than other sports to socialize. Finally, pickleball is not an expensive sport. Tennis sneakers, a paddle and a ball are all you need to get going. Mel points out, “You won’t be spending hundreds of dollars like in other sports.” A pickleball racquet can be had for as little as $40.

Local venues are getting in on the game. The Westchester JCC, for example, recently started an indoor pickleball program. The cost for non-members is $20 for three hours of play. Municipal recreation departments, including those in White Plains and Rye Brook, have recognized pickleball as a new and permanent part of their programming.

And if you don’t belong to a country club or other organization with pickleball courts, Mel encourages you to set up your own court in your driveway. Some chalk lines and a net, which can be set up and taken down quickly, will do the trick.

The tennis magazines have moved from limited handling of the sport to more regular coverage. What’s more, says Mel, tennis pros are getting certified to teach pickleball–a true sign the tide has turned with this sport.

The game can be played as singles or doubles, and it’s possible for a newbie to learn the basic rules in just a single session. You don’t need any special clothing and you can wear whatever feels comfortable. Moreover, the pickleball equipment is inexpensive and easy to carry around. A paddle may set you back about $40 and the balls are a few dollars.

At Heritage Hills, Denise Elliott is in charge of pickleball. She started playing about two years ago, traveling around with friends to play. Homeowners at Heritage Hills were interested in getting a court set up on their premises; ultimately, this was approved.

“Now, 12 people can play at a time when we play indoors in the gym,” Denise says. “It’s more fun to play outside, though, and now that the weather is nice, more people are doing so.”

While injuries are possible, as with most sports, they are less likely if you are careful. “I recommend that people go in and watch first,” Denise advises.

Paul Senderoff, 76, had never played tennis or racquetball. Retired for almost 20 years, he owned an appliance store in the Bronx. He says Barbara, his wife of 53 years, is not athletic and doesn’t like to do anything much outside. “But we play pickleball together and I enjoy it because I’m happy she is out there playing,” Paul says, noting that she likes the camaraderie of the game. With regard to his own interest in the sport, Paul notes, “It is good cardio for me and gives me a sport to play. And I’ve met a lot of people who are very friendly.”

Paul plays about three times a week, even when he’s vacationing in Florida. “I enjoy winning, but really, I just enjoy playing,” he says.

The sport is governed by the USA Pickleball Association (USAPickleball.org), which maintains the rules, promotes the sport, and provides player ratings. To find a local “ambassador” who can help find you games, check out their website.

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