At first, Bill Loran was wondering what that strange noise was. As it turned out, the clunking noise Loran was hearing as he walked through an RV park in Florida over seven years ago was the sound of a ball hitting a paddle, part of sport called pickleball.
Loran had never heard of the game, but when the athletes he overheard playing the sport recruited him for a trial run, he quickly became hooked.
And it all started with an innocent stroll.
“We were walking around this RV park and heard this clunking going on. The first thing they (athletes) do, ‘you have to come and play.’ It’s so darn addictive.”
As the sport thrives across Arizona and the southern States, the sport is faring well on this side of the border also and will be one of sports on centre court when the Southern Alberta Summer Games comes to Lethbridge July 6-9.
“The state of pickleball in Lethbridge is growing,” said Jim Wood, director of Lethbridge Outdoor Pickleball, as a group took advantage of a sunny morning May 27 to get in a few games at the Kinsmen Park.
“We have an outdoor facility at Kinsmen Park and they also play indoor at the Seniors Centre five days a week. So there are a group there of about 25 or 30 and then out here we usually have two or three courts going.
“It’s kind of the perfect game for our demographic, although it’s starting to be played in the schools as well, elementary and junior high. It’s a perfect game for seniors and that’s who is predominately playing here in Lethbridge.”
Among those players is Loran, who has spent the last few winters in Mesa, Arizona further honing His pickleball skills in anticipation of the games on his home court.
“In the whole southern Arizona area there are lots of people (playing). You can play in tournaments down there all the time if you want to,” he said. “They’ll come from all over, down there. They come from San Diego and Los Angeles for some of the bigger tournaments that are sanctioned. It’s a pretty big deal.”
Back in Lethbridge, Lethbridge Outdoor Pickleball has kept the door open for more interested athletes to take a swing at the sport.
“We like to get experienced players on the outdoor courts,” said Wood. “People who are new to pickleball can take lessons at the seniors centre and they can start in a novice category and work their way up that way. It’s a good place to start for beginners.”
Pickleball is the perfect transition from tennis, said Wood.
“As people get older and their mobility gets a little bit reduced, many tennis players move into pickelball. It’s an active game. It’s a social game and you’re not covering quite as much court. But it’s still very fast.”
And the sport mirrors more than just tennis.
“One of the things the creators of the game did was design it to fit on badminton courts,” said Wood. “A badminton court is also the same as a pickleball court, that’s why in so many gymnasiums you can lower the nets and transition from badminton to pickleball. So it has similarities from tennis, badminton, ping pong and other racket sports (such as) squash and racquetball.”
And pickleball is scored like volleyball.
“The team with serve is getting the points. If you lose the serve it transitions to the other side,” said Wood. “One of the things that happens here is both players get a chance to serve before it moves to the other side.”
The parallels to other sports aside, the game of pickleball remains simple and accessible, said Wood.
“You need a net, a ball and a paddle and you’re good to go. It’s not complex. What we’ve done at the Kinsmen Park is design the pickleball courts to fit within the tennis court. Tennis players can still play tennis and we can still play pickleball.”
And most importantly for most pickleball players, it’s a chance to stay active and enjoy a low-cost sport.
“When you get to be 70, we’re just in it for the exercise,” said Loran with a chuckle. “My biggest cost is shoes. You wear out a pair of runners in less than about three months.”
“For seniors, they want to be active,” added Wood. “They want you to be social and this is just perfect for that. All you need is a pair of shoes and a little hand-eye coordination. It costs nothing to play here.”
Lethbridge Outdoor Pickleball invites experienced players to join the group of recreational players Monday, Wednesday, and Friday starting at 9 a.m. at Kinsmen Park at 9 Avenue and 11 Street South.