OUT­DOORS

If you were to blend bad­minton, ping pong and ten­nis, you’d get pick­le­ball

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A Sport on the Rise

Pick­le­ball. The name makes you gig­gle. The smiles con­tinue af­ter you try it and get hooked.

East Naples Com­mu­nity Park is nick­named “pick­le­ball’s world cap­i­tal” be­cause of its 54 pick­le­ball courts, ac­cord­ing to Col­lier County Parks & Recre­ation. It’s the site of the an­nual Minto U.S. Pick­le­ball Cham­pi­onships. South Lee County now has pub­lic out­door or in­door courts in Bonita Springs at the YMCA and the city’s Recre­ation Cen­ter, and in Es­tero at the Com­mu­nity Park. Neigh­bor­hoods and coun­try clubs have or are adding their own courts.

You’ll also find a 12-court pick­le­ball sta­dium on Sani­bel Is­land at the Sun­dial Beach Re­sort & Spa, where the pub­lic can play for a fee. In Cape Coral, Four Free­doms Park has in­door courts and Camelot Park has two lighted courts. Fort My­ers has pick­le­ball courts at Brooks Com­mu­nity Park and Wa-Ke Hatchee Com­mu­nity Park. There’s no doubt the sport is on the rise.

Michael Bald­win, head ten­nis pro at Mediterra in North Naples, says his club boasts more than 100 ac­tive pick­le­ball play­ers, com­pared to fewer than 200 ac­tive ten­nis play­ers— af­ter only a year’s play on three pick­le­ball courts. “I’m ex­cited,” he says, not­ing high­way bill­boards now fea­ture pick­le­ball among mar­quee life­style ac­tiv­i­ties at new sub­di­vi­sions.

Bald­win is among those who call the game “ad­dic­tive” be­cause of its so­cial na­ture, rel­a­tive ease of play and strong work­out. He em­pha­sizes safety, in­clud­ing warmups and post-play stretch­ing to avoid mus­cle and ten­don in­juries from over­do­ing it.

The No. 1 ad­vice from Bald­win and other pros? Use the right shoes! That means court shoes, rather than sneak­ers. Court shoes keep your ankles steady amid quick moves. They also have smoother soles for slightly less grab­bing—and don’t leave skid marks.

The game is “ad­dic­tive” be­cause of its so­cial na­ture, rel­a­tive ease of play and strong work­out.

Nathan Green, man­ager of Ten­nis & Pick­le­ball US on Route 41 in Bonita Springs, says his equip­ment and cloth­ing sales to­tals now are split 50-50 be­tween ten­nis and pick­le­ball. He’s built the store into a “des­ti­na­tion,” with a 115-seat in­door pick­le­ball arena, plus 85 stand­ing-room spa­ces.

The arena, and a hit­ting wall for ten­nis, con­sume about a third of the store’s 14,000 square feet—and Green says it’s a rev­enue pro­ducer with les­sons, clin­ics, pub­lic rentals and spe­cial events. The largest spe­cial event prom­ises to be­come an­nual, fol­low­ing the rous­ing suc­cess of the first Global Pick­le­ball Chal­lenge last spring, with the world’s top play­ers spon­sored by pad­dles sold at the store.

EASY, YET HARD

Do­minique Levin, who has played ten­nis for 30 years, now leads pick­le­ball at Bonita Bay. The sub­di­vi­sion of­fers five courts and all have gel sur­faces, like at Mediterra. Mem­bers re­port that gel is eas­ier on their knees. Dur­ing peak sea­son, last March through April, Levin says 300 club mem­bers played pick­le­ball. Begin­ners’ clin­ics were al­ways full—with a wait list.

Levin agrees that the “ad­dic­tion” is be­cause of the game’s fast pace, short games and so­cial min­gling. Op­po­nents are close to each other, fa­cil­i­tat­ing chat­ting and laugh­ing. “It’s a wel­com­ing cul­ture,” she says. “Play­ers don’t mind if they have to share court time. Sit­ting out is OK be­cause it lets you chat with friends.” Pick­le­ball en­thu­si­asts say pick­le­ball and ten­nis are com­pat­i­ble. Gary Le­fkowitz is a skilled dual player from Va­len­cia Bonita, a de­vel­op­ing com­mu­nity that fea­tures both kinds of courts. He says play­ers can go both ways: “There are ob­vi­ously some ad­just­ments,” Le­fkowitz says, “but, typ­i­cally, ten­nis play­ers eas­ily make the tran­si­tion. “It’s mis­tak­enly thought that be­cause the court is smaller, there is much less run­ning. But I think it’s more anal­o­gous to rac­quet­ball in that re­gard, with more and quicker move­ments— and more wrist than arm,’’ he adds. Over­all, Levin ob­serves: “Pick­le­ball is easy to learn but hard to master.” Doug Ford, call­ing pick­le­ball “a great game for se­niors,” founded the pick­le­ball club four years ago at Citrus Park, a man­u­fac­tured hous­ing park in Bonita most fa­mous for its se­nior soft­ball league. The club has nearly 110 mem­bers and the sport is now “by far more pop­u­lar’’ than ten­nis, he re­ports.

Still, there are some in­juries—to shoul­ders, for ex­am­ple, that make the seem­ingly gen­teel game of pick­le­ball a chal­lenge. Reach­ing down for a low­bounc­ing pick­le­ball will of­fer lit­tle re­lief from pain for ten­nis play­ers who strug­gle to make strong over­hand shots. BUILD­ING THE BUSI­NESS U.S. Ten­nis & Recre­ation, based in Naples and Es­tero, is in the com­pet­i­tive field of build­ing and resur­fac­ing courts—and adding col­or­ful pick­le­ball reg­u­la­tion lines to ten­nis courts for thrifty multi-task­ing. Add por­ta­ble nets and you can have two pick­le­ball courts in roughly the space of a sin­gle ten­nis court.

Com­pany pres­i­dent Danny Prov­inzino says the hot trend in courts is gel, which is mildly rub­bery for more com­fort­able play. He ex­plains that gel lasts longer than its rock-hard pre­de­ces­sors. New and re­fur­bished courts are ap­plied in poured and brushed lay­ers of syn­thet­ics af­ter grind­ing the base sur­faces as smooth as ice, as was done last sum­mer at Palmira Golf & Coun­try Club in Bonita Springs. Jeff Ly­tle is the re­tired ed­i­to­rial page ed­i­tor and TV host from the Naples Daily News. He now lives in Bonita Springs.

High­way bill­boards now fea­ture pick­le­ball among mar­quee life­style ac­tiv­i­ties at new sub­di­vi­sions.

Above and below: Pick­le­ball joined ten­nis at the Yam­ron Chal­lenge at Mediterra in North Naples for the first time in 2018. The 2019 event takes place Jan. 19-20.

Bonita Bay Club mem­bers en­joy the five courts in the sub­di­vi­sion.

Dr. Christina Kab­bash, who has an or­tho­pe­dic sur­gi­cal prac­tice in Naples, of­fered on-site med­i­cal care at the Minto U.S. Pick­le­ball Cham­pi­onships in East Naples.

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