Pickleball is all the rage

It’s not often that grandmothers and grandsons share an obsession, but Lorraine Pagliocca and her family, aged 7 and 9, are mutually in love with pickleball.

She got them hooked when they were stuck in remote learning during the pandemic. “We played in my driveway during their lunch and recess,” she says; the space is large enough for a court of law. She provided a net, paddles and balls. “It’s a super cheap sport for the whole family.”

Pagliocca was introduced to pickleball while visiting family in Florida a few years ago. Back home in Goshen, she saw signs pointing to pickleball clinics at the Orange Hollow Racquet Club. Now she plays at the Goshen Senior Center and the Middletown YMCA. “It was a good activity. It released some of their energy,” she says.

Pickleball is trending nationwide – the fastest growing sport in the United States. “It’s up 39.3% over the last two years,” says Jayne McLaughlin, quoting a 2022 report from the Sports & Fitness Industry Association. She is also the Kingston-based North Mid-Atlantic Region Ambassador for USA Pickleball. “In my own experience, local growth is amazing.”

The game, created by a group of neighbors (including a Washington state politician) in 1965, is a mix of badminton, tennis and ping-pong, played on a badminton-sized court, at inside or outside. Imagine a playing surface that is almost half the size of a tennis court and athletes swinging smaller wooden paddles to hit an air ball, similar to a wiffle ball, over a net.

The name is said to refer to a pickle boat – a crew term. An average match lasts just 14 minutes, making it an easy sport to try out without much commitment. About 4.8 million Americans now play pickleball at least once a year.

Pickleball can be played competitively — there’s a US Open every year in Naples, Florida, and will also be held in Atlantic City, New Jersey in September — but most people play for fun. It is a very social sport, usually played with doubles in parks, schools or local venues. While it’s possible to sweat while playing multiple games in a row, you don’t have to be in good shape.

Not needing muscle was a selling point for Tamar Adler, who lives in Hudson and recently purchased some pickleball equipment; her 5-year-old can easily handle the paddle lighter than a tennis racket. Adler once played decades ago in California, but hasn’t played since. “It was in my head like something I wanted to come back to – a fun game I could play.”

Adler is a fan of games: badminton, squash, pétanque, bacci, croquet — she plays them all. She is drawn to the name pickleball and that it “smelt a bit shuffleboard-y.” There’s something kitsch about it. She had mostly forgotten about pickleball until a co-worker mentioned that he plays seriously.

Some beginners start by working with Tina Marchie, a certified pickleball instructor who has taught at the JCC in Newburgh and the Sportsplex in New Windsor. Currently, she teaches at Downtown Sports in Mawah, New Jersey, about 45 minutes south of Beacon.

Marchie, who is one of the administrators of the Hudson Valley Pickleball Facebook page, credits COVID-19 with pickleball’s current hyped status. She has witnessed an increase in requests to join the group and take classes.

“For years I tried to get my racquetball friends to try pickleball. It wasn’t until after the pandemic, when you couldn’t be in a small room to play racquetball, that they all came out,” she says.

New courts appear in the valley

In recent years, there has been an explosion of interest in pickleball, America’s fastest growing sport. (Players featured in San Francisco, August 2021)

Chronicle of San Francisco / Hearst N / Chronicle of San Francisco via Gett

While pickleball is relatively simple, there are nuances that take years to master. “You can learn and play fast, but there’s always a challenge: top spin, back spin, working on my serve. All of that makes it interesting,” says McLaughlin.

One of the quickest ways to get started is to join a public game. To find courts in the Hudson Valley, there are a number of websites and apps that direct players to Poughkeepsie, Kingston, SUNY New Paltz, Red Hook, and everywhere in between. Newcomers can expect a warm welcome.

“It’s a very social sport, people get to know each other in open games in the parks,” says McLaughlin, who suggests trying the courts at Staatsburg, a “fun new place” that opened last summer. . She also loves James Baird State Park in Pleasant Valley and can’t wait for Saugerties to open its new adaptive courts, which will be the first in the area to accommodate wheelchairs.

“The pickleball culture is very open. Many of us learn by showing up to a group of strangers and saying, “Can I play? says McLaughlin. Friendships can be forged at any level.

“I meet new players all the time. It’s fun and can be quite competitive for those who like the game like me,” says Michelle Hostutler Okeefe, who started playing camping in Lake George in 2016. Her main spots are Circleville and Cronomer Park in Newburgh.

Outdoor venues are usually free, while indoor courts cost around $15 for a few hours — or a day pass, depending on location. The Hudson Valley lacks indoor courts, although there are a few: Kingston YMCA, Rhinebeck Tennis Club, Greene County YMCA.

“In winter, it is difficult to find local amusement arcades. More city parks need to invest in dedicated pickleball courts to keep up with the sport’s popularity. The local tennis facilities haven’t really invested their hearts in pickleball,” says Okeefe.

One of the downsides of playing outdoors – whatever the season – is the wind, “because the ball is light as a wiffle ball,” says McLaughlin. Winter pickleball isn’t as simple as shoveling snow from outdoor courts and going for it; which may damage the surface. Yet some diehards do it anyway.

“I’ve seen people shovel a tennis court and use a leaf blower to dry it out,” says Marchie, who has also heard of players buying half-courts on Amazon and setting them up in their living rooms.

Indoor play at home undermines the social aspect that Adler hopes to tap into by joining the local pickleball scene. Smaller courts mean you can talk while you play. “You can hear each other without shouting,” she says.

Wondering why pickleball is suddenly all the rage, she adds, “As with so many things in the air, I don’t know where it came from, I just know it took a while to come.”

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