Pickleball players, from left, Val McMurtry, Carol Stanton, Lowri McNabb and Annie Percy. Photo: Peter Jones.

Pickleball gathering momentum

There’s a new game in town.

It’s called Pickleball and, despite its unusual name, is played by sober folk looking for a bit of exercise and a chance to test their skills.

Most Thursdays at the Blenheim Indoor Centre on Batty’s Road a group of women gather to play the sport, which was invented in the United States during the summer of 1965 as a children’s backyard game.

Washington State Representative Joel Pritchard and two friends returned from golf and found their families bored on a Saturday afternoon.

They set out to play badminton, but no-one could find the shuttlecock so they improvised with a “pickle ball” [a lightweight plastic ball with holes in it], lowered the badminton net and fabricated some bats from plywood in a nearby shed.

Early suggestions claimed the unusual name for the new game came from the family dog “Pickles” but Pritchard’s wife said the name came from “Pickle boat”, a rowing term in which oarsman were chosen as leftovers from other crews. The dog was in fact named after the game.

Played on a badminton-sized court in either singles or doubles format, the rules of a game which incorporates elements of badminton, table tennis and tennis are relatively simple.

A Pickleball bat and a wiffle ball.

Serves are underhand and diagonal, as in table tennis, with just one attempt allowed, unless it is a let. The ball must bounce once after the serve and once when it is returned, then players can volley, but are not allowed to do so from within a seven foot, no-volley zone (referred to as the kitchen) on each side of the net.

Points can only be scored by the team serving, with games played to 11 points.

Pickleball was first played at the Blenheim Indoor Centre in July this year and has quickly become a popular pastime for a group of eight players who have embraced the challenge of mastering a new game.

Lowri McNabb, who is involved with many sports throughout the province said, “It’s a lot of fun. I was looking to get back into a racquet sport but I haven’t got past Pickleball yet.

“It’s a very social game that anybody can come and join in, that’s part of the attraction”.

Val McMurtry said she also enjoyed the social side, meeting different people, and “likes the exercise”.

Carol Stanton also relished the “extra exercise” and said “it brings back some old skills that I might not have used for a very long time”.

“I enjoy it very much and look forward to Thursdays a lot,” she added.

A common theme among the players was that this is certainly not a game for the elderly and, after being run around the court relentlessly during a 10-minute game, I can report that is very much the case.

I can also report that tennis-style topspin is hard to impart onto a pickle ball and the game, which appears relatively simple from the side line, takes some time to pick up. However, when you do, it is a great low-impact way of sharpening your hand-eye co-ordination and raising your cardio levels.

The Thursday players are keen to attract more people to the game, which can be played by those of all ages.

Entry to the five courts available at the centre is $5 per player, with Thursday play running from 1pm until 3pm. New players are welcome. Courts are also available on Wednesday, both during the day and in the evening. They can be booked by phoning 03-5784851.

Centre owner Dorothy Fitzpatrick says they intend to affiliate with Pickleball NZ, adding yet another sport to the centre’s current menu of badminton, indoor cricket, indoor netball, table tennis, tenpin bowling, indoor bowls and indoor hockey.