No fermented cucumbers needed for one of the fastest growing recreational sports
THE WOODLANDS, TX -- Let’s set one thing straight: pickleball does not involve any pickles! Paddles, a ball and a net are the only equipment needed to play this fast-growing sport. Many people are learning and loving to play across the nation and here in The Woodlands.
This fun sport for all ages and skill levels was invented by some families looking to cure their boredom back in 1965. Some say the name originated from the dog named Pickles, which belonged to one of the families. Pickles loved to run around with the ball, so the name seemed fitting.
Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court, with a net which is lower than used for tennis, a paddle which is a bit bigger than a ping pong paddle, and a ball with holes similar to a wiffle ball. Generally, it’s played as a doubles game, but singles can play it as well.
The Woodlands Township has created opportunities for residents to play this sport. Tennis courts are used for play, especially when painted with pickleball lines. Presently, there are only 14 dual painted public courts in The Woodlands. Proposals have been discussed to paint more courts in the future. You can also play indoors on one court at the Recreation Center at Bear Branch Park. In Conroe you can play indoors at the C.K. Ray Recreation Center and the Conroe YMCA and outdoors at Candy Cane Park.
Ernie Ortiz is currently the only International Pickleball Teachers Professional Association (IPTPA) certified pickleball instructor in The Woodlands. He instructs new and advanced players throughout the area. Ortiz has a background as a competitive racquetball player. After early retirement from his career as an air traffic controller, he wanted to find a way to stay active with his wife, Jonna. They both picked up the sport and are passionate advocates for pickleball.
The game is said to be easy to learn. Only three months of pickleball play were needed for Ortiz to reach the level enabling him to become an instructor. Ortiz encourages anyone who wants to enjoy a competitive or recreational sport to come and give pickleball a try. “In as little as one lesson you can easily hit repetitive balls over the net to other players. However, as you get better in the sport, the game does become faster and more strategic. The sport is primarily played as a doubles game, so movement is far less than other sports. We have players that are as young as 12 years to 90 years old and every age in between,” Ortiz said.
Although tennis courts are converted for use, pickleball plays far differently than tennis. The ball used takes in air when in motion, slows immediately, and doesn’t bounce like a tennis ball. You’ll need to hone your skills for a good dink (a short, drop shot) rather than practicing a forceful smash shot. “The game does not require a lot of power, but finesse, patience, and the ability to minimize unforced errors and capitalize on their opponent's mistakes,” Ortiz said. Husbands and wives often enjoy playing pickleball together since strength takes a back seat to strategy. “Playing patiently trumps playing with power.”
Shelly Craft started playing pickleball less than a year ago. She has no background with any racquet sport. “I’m picking it up cold. I love it,” Craft said. “I’m totally hooked! It’s a great lifetime sport.”
In addition to the health benefits from staying active with the sport, Craft has enjoyed the social aspect found within the pickleball community. “It’s very challenging. It’s very physical, and there is a great social organization that goes along with it so you can’t lose there,” Craft said.
Ortiz leads Tuesday morning and Thursday night open and advanced play at both Meadowlake and Shadowbend parks as well as an advanced ladies group on Saturday mornings. There are fees to get involved in The Woodlands open play events. The seasons run from September to late December and mid-January to late May. The costs begin at $45 per season or just $5 to drop in and play. Schedule an introductory lesson to get started for $30. This introductory lesson will teach you all about the sport, the unique rules, and what you need to know to play.
Don’t go out and purchase a paddle before your first lesson. Ortiz will provide a full selection of paddles, all designed for various purposes. You’ll get to try the many paddle styles available, and the instructor will guide you in choosing the one that works best for your game.
To learn more about pickleball, visit the United States of America Pickleball Association (USAPA) website. Register online for pickleball events through The Woodlands Township Parks and Recreation when you are ready to start playing.