I recently learned that the latest craze at our friends’ Southern California retirement center is the game of pickleball (spelled as one word). “If we want to enjoy a game of pickleball, we have to reserve the court several days in advance,” they said. “We prefer the fenced-in pickleball courts, as we don’t spend as much time chasing the ball as on the unfenced courts.”
Pickleball: A Family Sports Game
I shared my spontaneous vision of crazed retirees dodging green dill pickles. After a good laugh, she explained, “No, it’s a recreational game that was created on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, Washington. The game is a mix of badminton, ping-pong, and tennis. It was designed to allow family members, from kindergarten age to great-grandparents, to have fun in a friendly competition. Would you like to go see the pickleball courts?”
Of course we said yes. We took a quick ride in our friends’ golf cart to the pickleball court. Two games of pickleball doubles were going on behind the green, shade-cloth covered, tennis-court-high fence. Moans, groans, and riotous laughter filled the air. We scooted across the back of a court and sat on a corner bench. The player nearest us volunteered to explain the game to us. Here’s what I learned from him and by observation.
The Pickleball Court
The pickleball court is the same size as a doubles badminton court: 22 feet wide and 44 feet long. Both singles and doubles are played on the same size court. The court is divided into two sides, in the middle, with a net hung at 36 inches on the ends. A non-volley zone line is painted 7 feet away from the net on both sides. The back 15 feet on each side of the court is divided down the middle to make two serving areas. To me, the court looked like a cross between a giant ping-pong table and an intsy tennis court.
Players need a paddle to play pickleball. The wood paddles are the cheapest, but they are also the heaviest. Composite and graphite paddles are also available. The weight and grip size of the paddle needs to be considered when purchasing one. Our friends let us try hitting the pickleball wiffle ball with their paddles. They were made of graphite and cost about $65 each. Their association provides the specifically designed pickleball wiffle balls. They are stored in a container right on the pickleball court.
The game is designed to make winning with an ace serve impossible. The serve is hit diagonally across the net into the opponent’s service square. It will be a fault if the serve lands in the 7-foot non-volley zone. The server must have one foot behind the baseline and hit the ball underhand while holding the paddle below the waist. The receiver must allow the ball to bounce once before returning it. The server must allow the return after the serve to bounce. From then on, volleys are allowed for the rest of the point. Points are only gained for the server. The first to reach a score of 11 wins the game, but must be ahead by two points to win.
Too bad my retirement center doesn’t have a pickleball court. If it did, I’d head for a game with some picklers right now, instead of that boring elliptical machine at the gym.