Pickleball, the Duckbill Platypus of Sports

Published 11:00 am Monday, January 15, 2018

Have you ever thought, ‘I like ping pong, but I want something a little more extreme?’

If so, pickleball may be the sport for you. This combination of tennis, badminton and yes, ping pong has many different origin stories, but the one thing everyone agrees on is that it started in Seattle around 50 years ago and is named after the creator’s dog, Pickle.

I joined Jeanne Hays and other local seniors at the Oxford Activity Center last week to try my hand at the game. In the initial email Hays sent to me, she told me about an 85-year-old who plays at the center and “puts a wicked spin on his hits.” Being abysmal at all paddle-related sports (Or sports in general, who am I to tell a lie?), it’s safe to assume I was a little intimidated to start.

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However, Hays and company welcomed me right in, explaining the basics and even letting me serve a few balls. Pickleball, which is considered the world’s fastest-growing sport, is fairly simple in theory. It’s played on a small-scale tennis court with heavy-duty paddles and wiffle balls.

The group usually plays the game in doubles, with each person playing a specific role. The job of server rotates between the players, similar to the way positions rotate in volleyball. Once the serve is returned, players can play anywhere on the court – except for the kitchen, a box on either side of the net. Keeping players out of the kitchen prevents them from guarding the net too closely.

Thanks to the guidance of Hays and the other ladies, I was able to get a few good hits, and because they play inside a gym, even hit the ball through the basketball goal. (Completely on purpose, I assure you.) They taught me how to improve my serving and hitting technique, and we had a few laughs along the way.

The senior group has played pickleball for a few years, during which they have traveled all over the country for competitions, going as far as Orlando and Atlanta. They meet twice a week at the activity center, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 to 11 a.m. On Wednesdays there is a beginner class for those who want to learn the basics and improve their skills.

On average, between 30 and 40 people play pickleball every week at the center. One thing they made clear to me – and one thing I’d like to reiterate – is that it’s a sport for all ages and skill levels. Many of the regulars are former tennis players who turned to pickleball when tennis became too rough on their joints. Others are newbies to the world of pickleball, but find that it’s a great way to get a workout and socialize at the same time. The use of different techniques and equipment from similar sports may seem strange at first, but in my opinion, it’s a strange combination that works.

One lady put it best when she said, “Have you heard of a duckbill platypus? That’s what this sport is. It’s not one thing, it borrows a little from it all.”

So now, here’s my charge to readers. Where should I go next? Is there a new class I need to take, a restaurant to try or even a Pinterest-worthy craft you’d like me to take on? If so, send me an email at anna.gibbs@oxfordeagle.com and I’ll be there.