Taking a swing at pickleball

Local pickleball players hoping to get more court time and grow the sport in Cranbrook.

Come try out the sport of Pickleball at the courts by Mount Baker Secondary School.

Come try out the sport of Pickleball at the courts by Mount Baker Secondary School.

The best tennis courts in Cranbrook—by a long, long shot—are the ones beside Mount Baker Secondary School.

Everything is set up correctly; the courts are smooth and undamaged by the elements, while the nets are taut and in good shape.

However, if you look closely on a few courts, there are lines painted inside the traditional tennis boundaries that make you scratch your head.

Turns out those lines are for a similar net and racquet-based sport that is quickly growing in popularity across the world—and that sport is pickleball.

Pickleball is it’s own unique sport, however, it borrows elements similar to tennis and table tennis. Players use paddles instead of a stringed racquet and the ball is made of hardened plastic with holes in it, sort of like a larger version of a ‘whiffleball’ that golfers use for practice. With the same sized boundary of a badminton court and the net at three feet high, a pickleball match goes to 11 points.

I grew up a tennis player—even had my own coach before moving to Cranbrook when I was a kid, so I like to think I have the fundamentals of the sport down.

However, I had no idea what pickleball was until I was invited out to a recent mid-morning gathering of pickleball players looking to grow the sport in Cranbrook.

Truth be told, I went in completely blind; had no idea what the sport was.

I hung out on the sidelines, watching a match while Andy Schmaltz, a hardcore pickleball player, explained the rules and some of the strategy behind the game.

After one game ended, I grabbed a paddle and headed in with Schmaltz for a doubles match against two other players, which is how the sport is meant to be enjoyed.

A cross-court underhand serve opens the the point, and the two sides rally until the point is won. A seven-foot zone on either side of the net—nicknamed the kitchen—serves as a no-volley zone.

Some points are drawn out, as my tennis training forces me back to the baseline to settle in for a long rally, waiting for the other team to make a mistake. However, the key to pickleball is getting a net-front presence and punishing the opponents with the return volley.

That’s when the points tend to go a lot quicker.

The game itself is easier on the body, as the court is smaller and the swing mechanics aren’t as aggressive as tennis, which is much more technical. Proper positioning is key along with communicating with your doubles partner.

Part of the enthusiasm for pickleball in Cranbrook has to do with snowbirds—often retirees who take off to warmer climates in the winter to areas that have access to pickleball courts—as well as generating some buzz for the B.C. 55+ Games, which Cranbrook and Kimberley will be co-hosting in 2018.

While the courts at the high school are the only ones in Cranbrook right now, there is currently work underway at Gyro Park that will include two new tennis courts and four pickleball courts.

But for now, the current pickleball courts will have to do, as a group of players has dedicated time reserved for Tuesday night, Thursday night, Saturday morning and Sunday morning.

If anyone is interested in trying out the sport, head down to the courts at any of those times and feel free to jump in on a game.