HAV­ING A BALL

Sub­tract­ing from the bucket list of sport­ing ad­ven­tures in South­west Florida

RSWLiving - - Departments - BY ED BROTAK

Who knows, imag­i­nary teams such as the Sani­bel Kosher Dills or the Bonita Hubba Bub­bas could some­day com­pete for blue rib­bons. Any­thing is pos­si­ble with the ex­plo­sion of niche ac­tiv­i­ties like bub­ble soc­cer and pick­le­ball. Both have leagues and tour­na­ments. Bub­ble soc­cer, whose play­ers shimmy into an air suit and bounce off one another, is also in de­mand at par­ties and team-build­ing func­tions. Pick­le­ball is very trendy with play­ers 30 and up. Pick­le­ballers in Sani­bel, for in­stance, pack the city’s recre­ation cen­ter for Wed­nes­day and Satur­day games. There’s a wait­ing list in sea­son. “Any­one can play pick­le­ball,” says Char Du­rand, a recre­ation as­sis­tant at the Sani­bel Recre­ation Cen­ter. “We have peo­ple in their 80s who play.”

Pick­le­ball is from the 1960s. The game was for chil­dren but has crossed age bound­aries. It is like ten­nis us­ing a wif­fle ball and a gi­ant ping-pong pad­dle. Bub­ble Soc­cer, or zorb foot­ball, was just in­tro­duced in the States. Play­ers in bub­ble suits or orbs bounce off/bash op­po­nents chas­ing a soc­cer ball or in a game of hu­man dodge­ball. There are bub­ble soc­cer leagues and tour­neys. “It’s like hockey with­out get­ting hurt,” says Valo­rie Pari, owner of SWFL Bub­ble Soc­cer in Fort My­ers.

The USA Pick­le­ball As­so­ci­a­tion boasts it is the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing sport, with over 400,000 play­ers na­tion­ally. It sanc­tions rules and rank­ings. The game’s in­ven­tors had wanted a game for their chil­dren on a lazy Satur­day in 1965. The three men low­ered a bad­minton net and used parts from

The USA Pick­le­ball As­so­ci­a­tion boasts it is the coun­try’s fastest grow­ing sport, with over 400,000 ac­tive play­ers na­tion­ally.

other games. Pick­le­ball is even in pub­lic schools. The game court is about twothirds the size of a ten­nis court.

Bub­ble soc­cer, on the other hand, is a much newer sport from Nor­way. Play­ers don­ning an air suit look like a large ball with legs. There are no real rules. No po­si­tions. No goalies. Run­ning into one another ap­pears to be a chief goal, like bumper cars, says Pari, who first watched bub­ble soc­cer on so­cial me­dia. She couldn’t find a lo­cal league or place to play, so she founded SWFL Bub­ble Soc­cer, a Fort My­ers firm. Pari has a bub­ble soc­cer field at Alico Fam­ily Golf in South Fort My­ers. But her busi­ness mostly is mo­bile for birth­days, cor­po­rate events and re­lated games. She started the firm af­ter quizzing 300 peo­ple about bub­ble soc­cer and show­ing them the game on a mo­bile de­vice. The re­ac­tion was wow, where can we get this, she says. “Some­times spec­ta­tors get ex­cited and run on to the field in [vain] at­tempts to help,” she says. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Although bub­ble soc­cer is played on a rel­a­tively small field, the game is a work­out. Air-filled bub­ble suits can weigh

There are no real rules in bub­ble soc­cer. No po­si­tions. No goalies. Run­ning into one another ap­pears to be the real goal, like bumper cars.

15 pounds, there’s lit­tle ven­ti­la­tion and it is work to roll off a turtling (back) po­si­tion, she says. The fun is bash­ing op­po­nents with lit­tle risk of in­jury. Most of her cus­tomers are teenagers to about 40. She has equip­ment for smaller play­ers.

Like ten­nis, the pick­le­ball court is used for both sin­gles and dou­bles. There are right and left ser­vice courts. There is also a marked area on ei­ther side of the net where play­ers aren’t al­lowed to vol­ley. The net it­self is about 3 feet high. Serves are un­der­handed. Points go pretty quickly. A typ­i­cal game is to 11 points (must win by 2). Du­rand says most games are 15 min­utes or less.

As with most ath­letic ac­tiv­i­ties, proper footwear (in this case for a hard-sur­faced court) is nec­es­sary. Eye pro­tec­tion is also rec­om­mended. Warm­ing up and stretch­ing be­fore as well as cool­ing off and stretch­ing af­ter­ward is al­ways ad­vised. With a smaller court that re­quires less run­ning around than ten­nis, pick­le­ball is an ideal sport for older ath­letes. Sani­bel’s Char Du­rand notes av­er­age com­peti­tors are 50 to 60. They play at a slower, more re­laxed pace. For them, pick­le­ball is more of a so­cial gath­er­ing. If, how­ever, you have a more com­pet­i­tive na­ture, you can pick up the pace, and there are even pick­le­ball tour­na­ments.

And about the term pick­le­ball―—leg­end is that one of the game’s in­ven­tors, former U.S. Con­gress­man Joel Pritchard, had a dog named Pick­les. His wife Joan quashed the spec­u­la­tion, dis­clos­ing that Pick­les was not yet a fam­ily pet when the game was de­vised. The dog was, in fact, named af­ter the game, she says.

Free­lance writer Ed Brotak is a re­tired me­te­o­rol­ogy pro­fes­sor turned stay-at-home dad. He and his fam­ily live in western North Carolina but they love Florida and va­ca­tion here ev­ery chance they get.

It’s like hockey with­out get­ting hurt.”

—Valo­rie Pari, owner SWFL Bub­ble Soc­cer in Fort My­ers

Pick­le­ball is played on a ten­nis court–like sur­face. It is pop­u­lar

in such spots as Sani­bel.

Ja­son Gra­ham (fore­ground) and Nick Bon­giorno dive into bub­bles at Alico Fam­ily Golf in Fort My­ers.

Pick­le­ball (top) fuses bad­minton, ten­nis and ping-pong. Broth­ers Zach (left) and Nick Bon­giorno en­joy bub­ble

soc­cer ac­tion at Alico Fam­ily Golf.

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