Just this past November, Hannah was leafing through the York Parks and Rec winter program guide and noticed “pickleball” among the activities. She learned that York residents were eligible to play this paddle sport at the Kittery Community Center (the town to our south). Knowing nothing of this game, we thought, What the hey, why not give it a shot? Thinking that we, as modestly-skilled tennis and ping pong players, might take to the game, we showed up at the the indoor gym with three pickleball courts outlined in tape.
There we met the kind of teacher we’d like our grandsons, Owen and Max, to have. Interested in us individuals, encouraging, knowledgeable, he gave us the time we needed to learn this paddle sport. We had it all in Ted Welch, the pickleball ambassador. Since then, we have met three other equally terrific and encouraging ambassadors, Roger Huppe and Bill Case here in Maine, and Laurie Lee in northern Georgia.
Playing doubles, we quickly learned that the wiffle ball doesn’t bounce quite as high as a tennis ball; ergo we whiffed on a lot of shots getting our bearings. The court is 2/3 the size of a tennis court with rules quite different from tennis or ping pong. Click here for an overview of the new rules.
To begin, the game starts by one player serving underhand to the opposite quarter of the court. The returner whacks the wiffle ball back and we as the serving team have to let it bounce before we can hit it.
Scoring points only when we serve, we learn we must stay out of the kitchen. The kitchen (often referred to as the non-volley zone) is a rectangular area on either side of the net, seven feet wide from side to side of the court. A player cannot step into the kitchen (the no volley zone) to hit a shot in the air. She can step into the kitchen to play the ball off the bounce.
Honing our game on the pickleball courts in Kittery, Hannah and I became regulars playing two to three times per week. Learning among good folks made the process even more enjoyable. When we brought our friends, Donna and George, and later our daughter Molly and her hubby Tip, for their introduction to pickleball, Ted and the Kittery pickleballers couldn’t have been more welcoming and encouraging.
Lately, to step up our game, we drive 30 minutes to Saco, Maine to play with the morning pickleballers at XL Sports World, just off the Maine Turnpike. As with Kittery, Saco is a venue where we have found a community of players, mostly card carrying AARP members, where everybody knows your name.
Not even a year into my pickleball education, I am learning the subtleties of the game – how to dink and how to hit the third shot better and better. Dinking is hitting a shot just over the net into the kitchen so the opponents cannot volley and smash it.
As for the third shot, the serving team must let the return of serve bounce before playing on. The third shot is similar to the dink as its purpose is to hit a shot just over the net into the kitchen so the opposing team cannot volley it.
I love the yin and the yang of pickleball. I love the social as well as the competition. I like hanging out with the good folks that seem to be the norm among pickleballers. And too, I love developing my game to eventually becoming a solid 3.5 player (on a scale to 5.0). I love having players better than I am to learn from – Pat in Georgia is such a person, Norm here in Maine is too.
Another great thing about pickleball is that it travels so well. This past May while Hannah was taking part in a voice rehabilitation clinic outside of Tampa, FL, I played pickleball in Hillsborough County four days in a row. When recently traveling to Mount Rainier and the Columbia River Gorge, Hannah and I found a morning of pickleball in Beaverton, OR, within minutes of the Nike campus. And just two weeks ago in northern Georgia, we were welcomed as family by the Yonah Mountain Pickleball Club.
(Click here to see the United States of American Pickleball Association (USAPA) site that helps anyone find games across America. Select a state, then find a city, and voila you have the contact information for your next game of pickleball.)
Hannah and I bought two extra pickleball paddles for anyone who reads this blog and might want to join us for a game. We’ll teach you the basics on the outdoor pickleball court just down the road from our house in Ogunquit. Soon you just might be hooked on pickleball as we are.
PS In the preview picture for this blog, Hannah and I are joined by our daughter Molly.
PSS My favorite pickleball shirt to date says “Dink Responsibly.”