Throughout Spring and Summer I paddle board around our lake almost every single day but when the Autumn weather kicked in a month ago, I found my new exercise passion and past-time, pickleball.
One of my girlfriends had been hounding me to try pickleball for the past four years. I honestly, don’t know why I never gave it a try, even when I drove past a bunch of folks playing every single day, right in my own neighborhood. But just over one month ago I finally took the plunge and the catalyst was not what I expected.
About a month and a half ago, I was camping alone with my dog in the high Sierra when I met a lovely camping couple from New Zealand. I had been sequestered away in my RV for two weeks, writing another book and online class, 10-12 hours a day, when an occasional break to swim, hike, or paddle board with my dog each day, caused me to cross paths with Leigh and Peter. We became fast friends as we were camping neighbors and had a lot in common to chat about as our Golden Retrievers frolicked in the lake every day. Leigh and I even hiked a bit with our Goldens, as Peter left camp each day to play in pickleball tournaments in Lake Tahoe and other surrounding areas.
I learned that Peter often plays pickleball while Leigh paints and takes hikes with their dog, whenever they travel. This was no exception and I quickly determined that Peter was no casual pickler.
I asked Peter more about his love affair with pickleball and I told him I had been recently thinking of trying it, since the weather was changing and I would likely not be able to partake in my daily paddle board much longer, as cooler weather was approaching. I also told him I was a bit reluctant to just show up at my local pickleball group when I had no idea how to play. I didn’t want to be a nuisance to a bunch of seasoned players, when I didn’t know the first thing about it. (other than it’s the fastest growing sport in the world with a 650% increase in numbers of players in the last six years.) Of course, I have similarly heard that paddleboarding is also, one of the world’s fastest growing sports…I am beginning to see a thread here. I seem to gravitate to the ‘fastest growing sports.’
Peter showed me the apps he uses to meet up with other players all over the world while he and Leigh travel, and he promised to come to my home soon to teach me the basics in a week or two when he and Leigh returned from their current month-long jaunt. It turns out, that not only do we have Golden Retriever puppies almost the same age, and we were all born in New Zealand, they also eat Keto, love tea, are super health conscious, travel extensively as I do, and they live only 45 minutes from me in the Sierra foothills.
A couple of weeks later, as promised, Leigh and Peter came over to my home for lunch, our doggies played, and Peter took me to my neighborhood pickleball court to show me the basics. While I immediately recognized that my 40+ years of tennis might help me in some areas, I also realized there was a lot of “tennis brain” and muscle memory that I would have to retrain.
Peter brought some paddles, gave me an informal lesson with some valuable pointers, provided me an overview of the rules, and hit some balls with me, while Leigh cheered and encouraged me that I was a “natural,” and would soon be playing with confidence.
As a kid, you could never get me off the tennis courts. I played nearly every single day, on the Carmel Woods tennis courts, growing up. I continued to play in college and for decades after. I have always loved volleyball, tennis, and ping pong, and have excelled at all three, so I quickly determined that this new endeavor would be a good fit as it seemed to have some of my favorite elements of each.
After Peter’s introduction, I took the plunge two days later and showed up at the mixed Pickleball group/club that meets every single morning in my gated community’s neighborhood pickleball courts on our lake. I explained how I had just tried it once before (with Peter, two days prior) and the 22 or so in the group that first day, were very welcoming and patient. They even loaned me a paddle and gave me some pointers. I was amazed how kind, patient, understanding, and encouraging they all were.
While there were countless differences and adjustments I had to overcome from my decades of “tennis brain,” I caught on quickly and thoroughly enjoyed the fast-paced exercise and challenging fun that pickleball provides. I knew I was hooked, the very first time I played that first real game with the group. I quickly determined it was both physically and mentally stimulating, much like my other love, for decades, salsa dancing.
I began looking forward to my daily, morning pickleball group and was pleasantly surprised that my local group even plays on the weekends…7 days a week. These folks are serious, hard core. I am beginning to understand why.
By the second week of playing every day, I had mastered the wonky scoring and was beginning to understand and implement some basic strategy to the game. I was pleasantly surprised that my once-fierce backhand in tennis was carrying over to pickleball. Well, at least most of the time, it was an asset.
By the third week, I acquired my own racket from a lady in the group who had six extras, and I began to pick up steam, improving a bit, nearly every day. By my fourth week playing, I had my first “off” day where I missed balls I was not normally missing, and I lost half the games I played. I’ve had two of those “off” days now. It reminds me of the old fishing saying: “The worst day fishing (playing pickleball) is still better than the best day at work.”
Our pickleball group even has a women’s group that meets one night a week. I’ve made it most weeks to that one also, which means I have been playing pickleball now for just over five weeks, nearly every single day, and sometimes twice a day, about 2-3 hours per day. So I guess I have played about 100 hours of pickleball. Wow, time really flies when you play pickleball.
If I am completely honest, I really enjoy playing with the very best players, because much like salsa dancing, it’s then that I am stretched out of my comfort zone that I learn and improve the most.
Lately, I haven’t picked up my tennis racket as I have decided to focus solely on improving in pickleball for awhile. While some of my fellow pickle buddies play both sports weekly, I’m not sure I can make the switch back and forth just yet.
Pickleball energizes me but I am amazed how mental it is. I almost feel a bit brain-drained at times, as it can move very fast, with intense volleys, requires a lot of concentration, lightning fast reactions, the scoring is tricky or in the very least requires attention to maintain, and constantly changing partners and opponents calls for a lot of adjustments, every few minutes. I can almost feel new neural pathways being laid every time I play.
I love that it is a challenge, I learn new things every time I play, I meet positive people, it provides a good cardio workout while improving dexterity, agility, and eye-hand coordination, it’s fast paced, I get to play with several different people with varying levels of proficiency every time I play, I only have to drive or walk 2 miles to play, it’s not hard to play several games in an hour or two, it doesn’t require exceedingly expensive equipment, and while I have come quite a long way in the past month, I know I have lots of room to grow and improve. Maybe someday I will be ready for a tournament.
A few days ago, I even took my first official lesson with three of my new pickling buddies who kindly invited me to join them in taking a lesson from a gentleman who has trained under the best female pickle ball player in the world. Wow. There is so much to learn and it’s all very humbling. Once you think you have a few basics down, you learn so much more that you can perfect and expound on. Maybe that’s why I like the challenge.
I saw a new lady in our neighborhood group this week. She reminded me a bit of myself, just a month ago. It was obvious that in just three times, she was newly-hooked as she wanted to keep playing even after our group was breaking up to head home after a couple hours of play.
I know all ages play pickleball, but in our predominantly retired community, I am one of the youngest in my early 50’s. I love that I see folks decades older than I, playing vigorously. That gives me something to aspire to.
When I can figure out the addiction factor, I’ll let you know. For now, I just know that it’s fun, fast-paced, challenging, social, friendly, and full of opportunities for growth and mastery.
The only quasi-addictions I have ever had in my life have been salsa dancing and traveling. And while I have salsa danced 2-3 times a week, and traveled on 900 trips over the past 25 years, I have never done any activity 6-7 days a week before. Even paddle boarding usually maxed out at 5-6 days a week during the summer. So maybe, I am, in fact, a pickleball addict. Time will tell.