Racquets up! There’s a new sport in Red Deer — one hailed as North America’s fastest growing competitive pastime.
And no, despite it’s name, pickleball is not about hurling fermented cucumbers across the playing field or dressing up in gherkin-inspired uniforms.
It’s a blend of ping-pong, badminton and tennis, played in doubles or singles with a wooden paddle and a wiffle-like ball.
“It’s addicting actually,” said Val Vollmin, president of the Red Deer Pickleball Club, which was established last fall. “It’s something that just about anyone can play. A lot of our members are seniors and whereas tennis is tougher to play, this is a smaller court and you don’t have to be as mobile. It’s easier and you can be as competitive as you want.”
It is played on a badminton court but with a lowered net and while the court is divided up like in tennis, there are non-volley zones (also called the “kitchen” area) in the inner courts.
The first side scoring 11 points and leading by at least two points wins.
Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, Wash., when a group of men, including one congressman, set out to create something different and fun for their children.
Not much is known about where the name of the game came from. Vollmin said there is speculation it’s derived from one of the sport inventor’s dogs, Pickles.
The sport was officially incorporated in 1972 in the United States and Pickleball Canada became an official national association in 2009. It now has over 1,000 members.
According to the association, the sport is sweeping the nation with new clubs popping up every month.
Tournaments are also now a part of the pickleball trend. Vollmin, 59, and a few other local members will be participating in the Alberta Open Pickleball Championships in Calgary in July and Vollmin, who participated in eight tournaments in the United States last winter, is also signed up for a championship in Utah later this year.
She first tried a swat at pickleball years ago while wintering in Arizona and is still a member of the Pickleball Club at Sun City Merrill Ranch in Florence, Ariz., where she plays every winter.
“It’s huge down there. That’s what we do,” she said. “We tried to get it going in Red Deer about four years ago because we enjoy it so much.”
While it’s been tough trying to flesh out the club roster, Vollmin said they now have 55 members in Red Deer, an increase from the 25 that signed up last fall.
Last week the club hosted its first open house and demonstration at the West Park Community Centre. There was also free introductory lessons. Vollmin said she was pleased with the turnout of 65 and hopes to have the club’s membership climb to 100 before September.
Membership is $20 per year and members must be at least 14 years old. Anyone younger interested in playing must be accompanied by an adult.
The club currently practices at the West Park community courts but is looking for a full-time home with courts with a finished surface.
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