Above: Preparing for some pickup pickleball are (from left) Alan Simon, Marty Walter, Ed Feldstein, Ken Lester, Carolyn Miller and Allan Bleich.
Being one to stay fit and well read on topics of senior fitness, I wondered what all the fuss was about pickleball. I read that The Villages community in central Florida has 162 pickleball courts and a line to play starting in the early morning.
A combination of tennis, badminton and ping-pong, pickleball started in Seattle in 1965. It’s a game for all ages; thus, it’s not so senior-oriented. You have to have quick reflexes and be able to move about the court.
Linda Cahn, an ex-tennis jock, said: “It’s a misnomer that pickleball is for older people. I get a good workout, and it’s quick, quick, quick — and more fun than yoga.”
The serving is easy. The court is smaller than a tennis court, and you have to wait for a bounce before charging the net.
Learning about five basic rules is a priority and is not difficult. I was told about “the kitchen area,” a sometimes forbidden, lined-off rectangle close to the net. (I wonder if that term originated from men who want to stay out of the kitchen and not do dirty dishes.)
You also have to transition to the weight and trajectory of the plastic Wiffle ball, which moves slowly.
The Marcus Jewish Community Center has three pickleball courts six days a week; the schedule varies based on the season. Organizer Ed Feldstein, a volunteer, puts out an email to 150 players with updates.
“Pickleball runs itself,” Feldstein said. “It’s a sport that is easy to transition, engenders nonhostile competition and a good support system. There are no guarantees that a champion tennis player will quickly master this; it’s a humbling game.”
I chose to go on a Monday at 4 p.m. when beginners are encouraged.
Part of the fun of the game is the guidance and camaraderie of people who start as strangers and end as teammates or friendly opponents.
One of the volunteer organizers, Ken Lester, plays three or four days a week. Lester said: “When I started around 2006, there were 68,000 U.S. players. Now there are over a million. I come out for the friendships and exercise.”
Retired lawyer Alan Simon has played three days a week the past few years. He likes the sharpening of his reflexes and the bonding with the other players.
My gracious partner, Dr. Allan Bleich, a phenomenally young 80, had taken a few months off for knee surgery and returned to his workout routine, which includes biking, swimming and pickleball. “It’s more fun than working out in the gym and is great cardio.”
Bleich was a true Southern gentleman and immediately loaned me his fancy, souped-up graphite paddle that mimics a 15-year-old’s skateboard design. I figured I’d saddle up to the doctor in case I passed out while galloping midcourt.
Although we lost, we were not an embarrassment. No one was showed mercy as the balls kept flying to me, the weak link.
I also was glad that Bleich is well educated because keeping pickleball score would give pause to an actuary. It has three-ish components, unlike the two in ping-pong, tennis or racquetball, and goes something like “6-3-2-S.”
Now all I have to decide is whether I want to be cool and invest $70 in a fancy paddle. The Marcus JCC provides regular wooden paddles and balls.
Nonmembers can call the Marcus JCC at 678-812-4000 and arrange for up to three passes for $5 each to get a taste of the game and peruse the open pickleball schedule. To play Saturday, come in on Friday and prearrange a guest pass because money is not accepted on Shabbat.