Welcome to the fastest-growing sport in America

Date Published: 
May 12, 2017

In the “Baron” business, it gets very expensive maintaining castles, paying taxes and retainers, and whatever else barons do, so when a golden opportunity came along to write a column about pickleball, working with Tripp Colonell — the master of the phrase — I had to grab it.

It is my intention to inform readers of the Coastal Point about the fast-growing sport of pickleball, as well as keep the pickleball community aware of news. However, please do not expect me to do it with the same flair and entertaining quality as our very gifted sports reporter.

I suspect there still are readers who still don’t fully know about or understand pickleball. Hey — don’t stop reading here if you don’t think pickleball is for you. If you ever played ping-pong, racquetball, tennis, volleyball, lacrosse, softball, baseball, or just liked laughing with friends, pickleball might be for you.

Here goes: Pickleball is played on a court roughly a third of the size of a tennis court. In fact, two or three pickleball courts can be lined out on a tennis court, which is the case in many communities. The net is just 2 inches lower than a tennis net, which can be used for both sports. Many new home developments are including them as part of their offerings.

It is the fastest-growing sport in America and mostly occurs in retirement communities, where recently arrived residents are looking for new activities and to meet new people.

One of the things that make the game so enjoyable for everyone is the unpredictability of the specially-designed plastic pickleball. There are holes in the ball, so the wind can make absolute fun of you as you are about to put that bad-boy in your opponent’s court. There are also paddles specifically designed for pickleball.

That’s about all you need. Well, you probably should get a pair of court shoes, because you are going to be putting 5,000 steps per hour on your wrist gadget, hour after hour. I would not recommend sandals, as one very extra tall Eskimo from the Coastal Point discovered when he just about took out the net and net poles. Get ready to laugh.

Wardrobe: Any loose comfortable shirt and shorts combination. There is no need to buy anything new, because they will soon be too big, and you will be buying the next size down.

Buy some bottled water.

That’s it. You are ready to go.

You will soon learn that it is not tennis on a small court, nor racquetball, nor squash. You might have some muscle memory from those sports to overcome, but it all comes together quickly.

It is difficult not to laugh in your first five minutes of play. In fact, I think that laughter at the five-minute mark is when you become addicted.

You can begin playing it in the first lesson, but mastering it is the major long-term challenge.

You will need to learn and respect some unique rules that subsequently require specific shots. The first is that the server must allow the return of serve to land on the server’s side before he/she can take the ball in the air. The second is there is a 7-foot zone, the “No Volley Zone,” on both sides of the net, where the ball cannot be volleyed. That zone is lovingly called “the kitchen” by pickleballers.

These two rules give the sport its uniqueness and is the reason for the statement “Easy to quickly learn, so difficult to master.”

Through this column I will point out upcoming beginner clinics; explain venues to play; announce special events, including tournaments; highlight the latest news; and introduce you to some of the movers and shakers in the pickleball community.

Speaking of news: Ocean City, Md., just finished their second-ever pickleball tournament at Northside Park. Members of the Ocean View Crew won five of the nine medals awarded in men’s pickleball.

I would like to make a special salute to local resident Bob Gaudreau, who won gold in the Men’s 55-65. Locals Charlie Biddle and Bob Zimmer won bronze in that same category, while David Lipstein and Steve Donoho took bronze in the Men’s 65+ category. If you bump into any of these folks at Giant or Hocker’s, be sure to buy them some pickles.

We had no local women finishing in the medals, but that clearly is on my “to-do” list for next year.

The tournament was dedicated to the 50th anniversary — 1967 — of the first pickleball court, and here are some excerpts from the tournament poem to celebrate that event.

“It was the year 1967, we all were feeling GroovE…

Listening to great music like ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,’

‘Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,’ ‘Hello GoodBye,’ ‘Penny Lane,’

‘Strawberry Fields Forever,’ ‘All You Need Is Love,’ all hits main,

...

On that other coast, the Deadheads started to make tie-dye shirts,

While my buddies and I in the East were more focused on those mini-skirts

The first permanent pickleball court was built, the game itself two years before,

Only the Lord above knows where and why they came up with the pickle score,

The first composite pickleball composite paddle wouldn’t come along until 1984.

Al “Hondo” Handy, recreation supervisor of Ocean City Recreation & Parks, said, “The tournament drew players from Florida, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Delaware, and, of course, Maryland.”

Kim Allison, director of the Ocean City Pickleball Tournament, and Recreation Program supervisor, was excited that “the number of competitors doubled this year, and that many more visitors came to Ocean City for the first time.”

Our entire pickleball community thanks them for the tournament and indoor facility.

The full Ocean City medal results are posted at Pickleballcoast.com.

Vaughn “The Baron” Baker is a Senior Olympics gold-medalist in pickleball, and is public relations director for the First State Pickleball Club (FSPC) and captain of the Ocean View Crew pickleball community. He spent his career working with top tennis professionals while working for Wilson Sporting Goods and introducing the Prince Tennis Racket and Wimbledon Tennis Lines. For more information, visit PickleballCoast.com.