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Pickleball, Anyone?

I have always said fashion trends of all sorts tend to start on the left coast, head east, spin around Boston for a while before heading downeast to Maine.  Pickleball is no different.  It started in Seattle back in the 60’s and has slowly been building a following as it treks across the county and is starting to become a new amenity at many Maine condo complexes.  The reasons are simple.  It is a fun sport; suitable for all ages; and inexpensive to operate.

How many of us have seen aging tennis courts with sagging nets and tall vegetation growing out of the court cracks.  With aging boomers and knees not being what they use to be, the tennis playing populations of many condo complexes are shrinking.  Boards are finding it more difficult to justify spending precious capital funds for an amenity that is past its prime for the many.  Enter Pickleball.

Perhaps you have heard of Pickleball but never thought about it for your community.  However, vacation areas like Arizona and Florida have condos offering vacation rental packages with the enticement of Pickleball tournaments to attract snow birds from the north.  It is a game that can be played both indoors and outdoors, but before we discuss the game’s specifics, the first question everyone asks is: ‘Why is it called Pickleball’?

There are two urban legends that address this.  First, it is a game played with four people often with a wide range of ages and abilities.  This reminds some that a mixed rowing crew’s boat is called a Pickle Boat.  More likely, it is the story that the founder’s dog was named Pickles and the dog kept running off with the ball during the game’s early days.

Currently there are over 13,000 Pickleball courts throughout the US with over 2.4 million players per the Sports & Fitness Industry Association (SFIA).   The game’s popularity in Maine is accelerating.  This past June over 350 Pickleball players from around the country entered the Atlantic Regional Pickleball Tournament at the Portland Racket and Fitness Center representing this 13 state region.  The Maine contingent had 130 players according to the USA Pickleball Association.  It was the largest Maine racket sport tournament ever held.  The oldest player was 84 and the youngest was 11.

The game is played on a 20 by 44 foot court or 1/3 the size of a tennis court with a 34-inch high net in the center sloping up to 36 inches high at the sidelines.  The solid paddle is smaller than a tennis racket but bigger than a ping pong paddle.  The original paddles were solid wood but newer ones are of composites or aluminum.  The ball is like a thick skinned whiffle ball with a top speed of less than 1/3 a tennis ball.  So as not to sound like an IKEA set of instructions, I will be brief on the rules of the game.

The serve is underhanded and must bounce once on both the serve and return and then it only must be kept in bounds.  Balls returned without a bounce (called a volley) must be at least 7 feet from the net to prevent spiking.  Typical games are played to 11 points and like most racket sports a player must win by 2 points.  Points can only be earned while serving.  There is no standard Pickleball outfit.  Whatever is comfortable.

So if you are the activities chairman at the condo complex, the attractiveness of the sport is not only can you set up multiple Pickleball courts on a standard tennis court or even a hard grass court, but the equipment cost is minimal.  It can provide an excellent community gathering event and with a little effort leagues could be developed among nearby condo communities.  Many schools and other institutions have been known to provide their facility halls for indoor games during the winter.

Of course racket sports are not for everyone.  So if you want to combine your bowling and curling skills there is always bocce ball.  I’ll leave those game and court rules as a homework assignment for the intrepid, but whatever you do, go out and have some community fun. 

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Article written by Jack Carr, P.E., R.S., LEED AP, Criterium Engineers

Published in Condo Media, September, 2016

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