Pickleball Is The Happening Sport

Friendly to retirees, and cheap to play

BY CHARLIE PRESTON

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the world!” I’ve heard this claim from numerous new, and longtime enthusiasts of the sport of pickleball. Whether or not that stat is true, it seems to be growing in the Los Barriles area where a number of new courts, including the Tres Palapas Pickleball Resort, have sprung up in recent years.  Los Barriles is a small beach community about an hour north of San Jose, and is dominated by Canadians and Americans.

Pickleball is played on a shrunken tennis-court-like arena in one-on-one matches, or teams of two.  The game resembles a cross between tennis and ping-pong, if you were standing on top of a ping pong table. Players use wooden paddles to bat the ball, which is similar to a whiffle ball. The net is waist high and you can only allow the ball to bounce once or not at all, before returning the volley.

Interested in this new trend, my girlfriend and I recently ventured up to Tres Palapas, located just north of Los Barriles, in the suburbs, if Los Barriles were big enough to have a suburb. There we  watched an exhibition match between what was described as the world’s best pickleballers. The facility at Tres Palapas has a country club  atmosphere with two bars and a restaurant on the premises, flanking the courts, and surrounded by a high cement wall. There are also massage and yoga facilities. In the middle is a tall viewing platform, a good place to watch the action from with drink in hand. I couldn’t help but notice the age of the majority of the patrons, being mostly of the baby boomer generation, which lent itself to the country club feel. Tres Palapas is so popular with this set that some people have moved to Mexico as winter residents, just because of this place.

The sport itself is nearly 60 years old. Its creation is attributed to a former politician of Washington state, Joel Pritchard, who created the game out of a lowered badminton net, a whiffle ball and some homemade plywood paddles. The name is attributed to Joel’s wife, Joan because the creation of the sport reminded her of the “pickle boat,” referring to the last boat to return to port with their catch, whose crew was usually compiled of the leftovers of other crews. Others like the legend that the game was named for a dog named Pickles who would run off with the ball.

The sport is reasonably attainable to beginners, requiring only sneakers, a paddle and a ball, as well as access to a suitable court. At resorts like Tres Palapas the cost is a little higher in conjunction with the associated amenities. At Tres a daily pass costs $10, and half price play starts at 3p.m. each day. For those ready to make a greater commitment to the sport, and to the Tres Palapas Resort, a monthly membership is available for $179 and an annual membership costs $599.

Whether you’re already familiar with this rapidly growing sport, or just hearing about pickleball, Los Barriles is a hotspot for pickleball and has numerous opportunities for getting on the court. Impromptu games are springing up on courts throughout the Baja, and longtime players are eager to show newcomers the ropes. Pickleball offers players of all demographics the opportunity to get fit, challenge themselves, and be part of a rapidly growing group of enthusiasts. I’ve been warned on several occasions to beware, because pickleball can be highly addictive and once you get the itch, you’ll be hooked for life.

There are also nice pickleball courts in San Jose at PuntoAzul, they have a website, and there is pickleball in Cabo, but the Cabo people are not welcoming to newbies.