Pickleball might sound as if it’s a sport geared toward children who enjoy making a mess, but in reality it’s a game that can be played by anyone and focuses on alleviating any number of messes that other sports can cause.
According to the United States of America Pickleball Association’s website, the sport was created in 1965 by two men, a senator and a businessman, from the state of Washington. The way the sport got its name is often disputed. One story derives from the “pickle boat” in crew, and the other comes from one of the men’s family’s dogs being named Pickles. Neither story has been confirmed by the USAPA, which says that both stories may be true. Either way, by 1984 the USAPA was formed, and by 1990 the sport was being played in all 50 states.
The game is much like tennis. However, it’s played on a badminton court measuring out at 22×40 feet in order to diminish the extra stress that’s caused by running around the larger tennis court. Instead of using rackets and a tennis ball, the game is played with a paddle and a Wiffle ball. Another element that keeps the movement to a manageable level is the “kitchen,” a 7-foot, non-volley zone in front of the net, eliminating the smash shot from a player’s arsenal.
With the focus being on hand-eye coordination more than intense cardio, pickleball is a game gaining steam particularly among seniors.
“It’s a really silly name, but it’s a serious, fun sport,” said USAPA ambassador Rena Rosenfeld. “Anytime someone says ‘pickleball,’ I can’t help but smile.”
One of pickleball’s most enticing factors for Rosenfeld is the use of a Wiffle ball. Unlike a tennis ball, which has a pretty steady trajectory, the plastic Wiffle ball moves with the wind in unpredictable ways, testing a player’s hand-eye coordination.
Rosenfeld of Sag Harbor and Mindy Chermak of East Hampton are the ambassadors for the East End. Their responsibilities include introducing the game, creating publicity, coaching and training, as well as bringing the sport into public recreation areas.
Currently, there are four public areas on the East End that provide pickleball courts to play on: the Montauk Playhouse, East Hampton Indoor Tennis, East Hampton YMCA and the Southampton Recreation Center. She plans on working to integrate the game into local schools starting in September.
“Everybody knows about it now. As soon as I called the Y, they were interested in my help. When I called the rec center, they were also eager for help,” said a beaming Rosenfeld.
For those with private tennis courts, she explained that it’s very easy to transform one into a pickleball court. Paint can be used for permanent alterations, but tape also works for temporary use. There is also technology available that can place the tape in a badminton structure.
While her ambassadorship has been getting the sport into public areas and has focused mostly on the benefits for seniors, there has been a bit of a void in targeting the sport toward kids and younger people. “I have to admit that we haven’t done much with kids. That’s going to be the next step for me, that I will get to the schools and explain it to the kids. I have been hitting harder on the seniors,” Rosenfeld said.
Her current overarching goal is to create a big tournament on the East End, hopefully sponsored by a pickle company, with the money raised going toward those affected by Lyme disease. This is something she takes very seriously and thinks it would be good for an area like the East End, where residents and visitors are often affected by the disease.
For now, however, she’s simply focusing on growing the game and officially getting it set up in the two new public facilities she’s in contact with.
“For cardio, it’s fantastic. For hand eye-coordination, it’s unbelievable. I really wish I had this sport growing up instead of finding it. But it’s okay—it’s a great sport, and this is a great area for growing the game.”