In a real pickleball in Fayence

Pickleball? It may sound like a funny name for a game, but it’s one of the fastest growing sports in the US and Canada with more than 200,000 players. The USA Pickleball Association saw its membership jump 84% in over two years.

Pickleball started some 50 years ago when two dads living on Bainbridge Island, near Seattle, were trying to entertain a bunch of bored kids. Lacking the equipment to play one sport, they made up the game using Ping-Pong paddles and a Wiffle Ball. Today, there’s an entire website dedicated to the sport: www.pickleballchannel.com

Naturally, pickleball is now gaining a foothold in Europe, notably Spain, Holland, the UK and, bien sûr, France.

I discovered the game in Canada a few years ago and brought it to France in 2013. With the support and help of a few others, the association Pickleball France-Pays de Fayence (www.pickleballfrance.org) was founded in order to spread the word about this activity to the widest possible audience. About 50 players have joined up so far, with more coming along all the time thanks to word-of-mouth, articles in local newspapers and magazines, and social media, like Facebook (www.facebook.com/pickleballfrance).

Pickleball France-Pays de FayencePickleball France-Pays de Fayence (left to right):
Paul Fisher (British, Secretary), Pierre Obozinzki (Belgian, President), André Vial (French, Treasurer).

So what is it? Well, imagine Ping-Pong played on a badminton court or tennis played on a smaller court, with oversized paddles instead of string racquets. Pickleball is a little bit of both but a lot of fun – easy to learn and as competitive (or not) as you want it to be. Usually played in doubles, its close-to-the-net rallies are fast-paced and exciting although you can simply play a more classic tennis-style game from the baseline. Watch a game live or on video, and you’ll see what it’s all about.

Pickleball is not only enjoyable but also seriously addictive. There’s something about the camaraderie on and off the court, the at-times lightning-fast play, and the distinctive “thok” of the hollow Wiffle ball that makes it more than just appealing. The learning curve is short – it doesn’t matter if you’ve never played racquet sports – it’s a game for all ages.

As with any sport, you need to have a certain ease of mobility and good balance. With a lightweight paddle that is somewhat larger than a Ping-Pong paddle and more square, and a lighter ball (about 250g and 5g respectively), far less effort than tennis is required, but you’re in motion a lot of the time, which still gives your cardio a workout without being exhausting or difficult. As with any racquet sport, there are techniques and strategies to learn if you’re inclined to be competitive.

The rules are simple. A game is played to 11 points (but you must win by a two-point spread) and, like tennis, points are scored when an opponent is unable to return a shot or hits the ball out of bounds. Unlike tennis, however, the serve must be underhand.

Pickleball court

The court is about a quarter that of a tennis court. The non-volley zone – “the kitchen” – is an area in front of the net where you can’t set foot unless the ball has already bounced there. Playing just outside this area is where the fast-pace – and funniest – exchanges happen; the better your reflexes and finesse, the longer and more hilarious the rallies. A game lasts between 10-20 minutes, before players rotate to get a chance to play with a new partner.

Have I piquled your interest? Come on a Saturday morning and try for yourself in Fayence. Take the main road up towards the village, you can’t miss us playing at the municipal open-air sports grounds just after the second hairpin turn. Visitors are always welcome and we offer drop-in fees – a great way to get a taste for the game – plus you can rent a paddle for the morning.

Membership at Pickleball France-Pays de Fayence is a very reasonable, €45 per year but a 50% reduction applies for the second-half of 2015. Paddles can be purchased through the association (€50-€80, wooden paddles €20). You might be so enthused you’d want to set up pickleball in your own area, portable nets are available for €150, along with one dozen balls (€18-€25). All you need to set up in your community is an accurately sized badminton court, handball court, tennis court, a sports hall … or any firm surface. A few drawn lines and away you go!

As the sport is still in its infancy in Europe, equipment is not available in sporting goods stores, but we have models you can try out, and we can deliver pickleball merchandise anywhere. Pickleball France can also help you become a local pickleball “Ambassador”.

Tell your friends, your hiking group, your yoga classmates, your butcher … pickleball is growing by 30% a year in the US and Canada, and our players know why!

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