Pickleball: The Fun, The Fanfare, The Exercise

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By: Diane FeenContributing Writer
There’s an addictive quality to the newest paddle sport called pickleball.
It’s easy to see why.
The game is played outside (or indoors) the players are congenial folks who are older in years, and you get to exercise at a pace that makes tennis look like a speeding bullet train.
Not that pickleball is a slow pokers game – quite to the contrary – it can have velocity and ferocity. But not the type you see at the US Open. The pickleball way is tamer and more lighthearted.
You don’t see fierceness or yelling on the courts (like in some tennis games). Instead you see players enjoying the challenge of running around a smaller playing field that allows them to spring into action even with a meniscus tear.
That’s why the game is catching on in Palm Beach County like wildfire. The local Delray players are thrilled to have pickleball courts at the Tennis Center, Pompey Park Gym, The Delray Community Center Gym and in gated communities all over the county.
If you’ve never heard of pickleball, chances are you’re in the majority. The sport seems to have grown up like weeds among the grassy knolls of everyday life.
The name pickleball doesn’t conjure up thoughts of active adults (and children) volleying a small ball across a net. Instead it reminds one of something to top off a burger or a way to relish the ability for agility.
The game has a lower impact on your joints and doesn’t require the vigorous bending in tennis. Its easy going nature – and simplicity of social etiquette – has captivated older folks with the same zealousness of Viagra.
Played on a surface the size of a doubles badminton court, players use a flat paddle and perforated plastic ball to volley back and forth over the net.
The reason it’s so beloved in Delray (and beyond) is because the game is slower than tennis, more social than ping-pong and has a swing more elegant than badminton.
When conceived the game’s heritage was rooted in all three of these sports. Washington State Congressman Joel Pritchard and businessman Bill Bell were at Pritchard’s home when they noticed their family had nothing to do. Their badminton court was intact but they had no rackets.
So they improvised and used ping-pong paddles and a perforated plastic ball. Unlike badminton the net was lowered and the courts were marked (like a tennis court).
Played by four people at a time the swiftness and spirit of the game makes it the perfect backdrop to socialize and get into shape at the same time.
“I was in martial arts for 53 years and my body got beat up pretty bad,” said Mike Turturro. “Even though I had a hip replacement and a bad knee I play pickleball three times a week. It’s a terrific sport that’s competitive and social.”
The social aspect is what psychologists might categorize as imperative for seniors who seem to embrace its inclusiveness with zeal.
“I just moved here in July and all my friends came by way of pickleball. The people here are my extended family. I come three times a week and I’ve found it’s a great way to get the day started,” said Janet Novack, who has abandoned her golf clubs for what she calls the dopamine rush of pickleball.
If it sounds pretty cool, it is. That’s why over 2.5 million people are playing pickleball and there are over 15,000 indoor and outdoor courts in the US.
Novack isn’t the only one who has taken pickleball as her chosen object of affection. So has retired intelligence officer of the Delray Police Department, Ed Smith. Smith plays the game three or four times a week and has become an avid ambassador for the game. “I’ve been athletic my whole life and I just love pickleball. It’s great exercise and the social aspect is appealing.”
From an outsiders perspective pickleball can be pretty alluring. It’s played by both men and women (in the same game) the score seems less important than getting out and giving it your best try, and the players are congenial folks who realize that your best years are always ahead of you.
It’s so much fun it has the same addictive quality as cheesecake or flourless chocolate cake. “I played pickleball at Pompey Park at 8:30 am (for a couple of hours) then played at Delray Tennis Center and at night I played at Kings Point. I love this game – its gender neutral and challenging,” said Jay Gordon, who won a silver medal for pickleball at the Florida Senior Games for men over 70.
Though the Delray Beach, Boca and Boynton group of pickleball players seem to be nearing retirement (or immersed in it) it’s played by everyone from nine to 90. But you can’t dismiss the camaraderie and joyfulness of its senior players. It lends merit to the belief that 70 is the new 50, and age is nothing more than a numerical sequence.
Harriet Kalin will tell you that in a heartbeat. The 78-year-old learned about the game when she and her husband Josh lived in the Villages. Now they are believers. “Pickleball is awesome, we love the exercise, the camaraderie and the friendships we have made,” said Harriet, an ambassador for the USA Pickleball Association.
Marc Thomas might be the baby in the group (he’s in his 30’s) but he plays the game with the same enthusiasm and vigor as his opponents. The handsome Rhode Island native plays every day for hours and seems to meld into the social fiber of his surroundings. “I used to play tennis but really love pickleball. You don’t need to run as hard and the courts are smaller. This is the best game I’ve ever played.”
Pam Garcia is also a sparkling example of the pickleball phenomenon. The retired paramedic-firefighter for the Delray Beach Fire Department plays the game with gusto and passion. She imbibes the same professionalism and pedigree as a pickleball version of Chris Evert. Garcia recently won a silver medal in the Palm Beach State Championships and is limber in her social and athletic ability.
Many of the players in the area have similar mojo and mannerisms. They value the unrivaled camaraderie and team spirit of pickleball and enjoy the physical workout that comes with its neatly measured territory.
There’s also the economic impact on the city. “Delray Beach is poised to become a national and international destination for pickleball, which will undoubtedly lead to increased tourism and revenue spike for businesses. There are eight new pickleball courts that just opened at the Delray Tennis Center,” adds Novack.
There’s another good reason to take up this supreme sport – you have to stay out of the kitchen on most occasions. And for someone meeting their golden years with gusto (and bad knees) it just makes sense.
Call Harriet and Josh Kalin for information at 561-499-2020. Contact Carl Steinberg for lessons (he’s terrific and patient) 561-271-3017.