By Bill Sterling

Pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the country, and there is a growing legion of pickleball enthusiasts on the Eastern Shore.

Played on a 20’ x 44’ court that matches the size of a badminton court, pickleball combines elements of badminton, ping pong and tennis.

“Think of it as a giant ping pong court,” said Mike Bono recently, as he was beginning a clinic at Eastern Shore Yacht & Country Club, where members have built a regulation pickleball court enclosed by a net.

Bono said pickleball is being played up and down the Shore. “There’s a large group of players who play at Wachapreague almost every day by painting lines over a tennis court. On Chincoteague, they play in the community center on a tile floor, and Cape Charles has a court drawn over a tennis court. I know one homeowner who has built his own pickleball court in his yard, but other than that, I believe this is the only court built specifically for pickleball on the Eastern Shore of Virginia.”

Pickleball

Bono, a public-school teacher who has coached various sports and has played tennis competitively, touts the many benefits of pickleball.

“Older players like it because there is less running than in tennis. It’s also a a happier game,” said Bono, “because players are closer to together and there’s more conversation. The volleys are longer because the ball is slower than in tennis and players have time to react. In tennis, if someone beats you, they say, ‘Good game,’ but in pickleball, they usually show you techniques on how to improve your game. It’s also more casual than tennis. There’s no proper attire — anything goes from T-shirts and shorts to workout clothes.”

Like tennis, two or four players can play, using solid paddles and a perforated ball much like a whiffle ball. The net is hung at 36 inches on the ends and 34 inches at center, two inches lower than a tennis net.  

The ball is served with an underarm stroke, and points are scored only on the serve, with the player or team first scoring 11 points and leading by at least 2 points being the winner. There is an area seven feet from the net that is the non-volley zone or “kitchen,” where the ball can’t be hit before it bounces.

Bono was teaching the finer points of pickleball to six players at the first of two clinics on a recent Sunday at Eastern Shore Yacht & Country Club.

Tori Bloxom said the appeal of pickleball for her “is to get some exercise and see friends.”

Her husband, Bob, who has played tennis throughout his life, said, “Now that I am 60, I like the fact there is less ground to cover in pickleball compared to tennis.”

Eve Belote said she is not all that athletic, but enjoys pickleball. “I did not play tennis and never felt I had good hand-eye coordination, but I find I can play pickleball well enough to get enjoyment from the game while being with friends.”

Julie Badger said couples and families can enjoy playing pickleball, which is as much a social time as it is an athletic endeavor.

Vince Passione, now 70, finds pickleball a good way to stay active and fit while not having to run as much as tennis demands. 

Pickleball

His wife, Jo Anne, said, “I like the fact the games go rather quickly, and you can rotate partners and make up different teams.”

Bono believes strongly in stretching before starting play. “You need to do some jumping jacks or leg pumps to get the muscles loose before jumping on the court and playing,” said Bono.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 on Bainbridge Island, a short ferry ride from Seattle, Wash., when three fathers — whose kids were bored with their usual summertime activities — created the game.

They first used homemade equipment, improvising paddles from ping pong and a perforated ball, but as the game evolved, pickleball equipment was standardized. 

“It’s like any sport in that you can spend more if you want,” said Bono. “My first paddle was $20, and now I have one that cost $120. You can feel the difference.”

.