This may seem like an odd tittle for the blog of someone who loves to cook—head’s up, look for a favorite recipe coming up soon—besides, I’m very happy with the kitchen in my summer place. It’s quite large with custom cabinets to make up for the galley kitchen of my apartment in Philly with its generic white IKEA cupboards. This kitchen has brand-new stainless-steel appliances and my first ever ice-maker. Never mind that the electric stove has a slippery glass top not too practical for cooking paellas.
No, the kitchen of this post belongs to the pickleball court. As I have learned, it’s never too late to start a new sport and pickleball is supposed to be an easy transition for those of us who used to play tennis. As a good little Spaniard, I learned to play tennis at school in Madrid and as my arms and legs got longer, continued playing at the Apostol Santiago Club when my family joined—one of the few luxuries in my middle-class upbringing.
When we moved to the States, I remember that I purchased my first tennis racket with baby-sitting money in Woolworth’s and feeling so sophisticated. For decades, I played with boyfriends, husbands and later on with colleagues at the University in its state-of-the-art gymnasium. When I broke the talus on my left foot a couple of years ago, I knew that my tennis playing days were over and I consoled myself watching Rafael Nadal and Naomi Osaka on TV.
Then, I heard of pickleball, one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, where there are over three million players. It combines elements of badminton, tennis and racquetball. It’s played with a paddle and a light ball similar to a wiffle ball in weight and as large as a tennis ball. The court is the size of the one for doubles in badminton, with the net on the ground. On both sides of the net there is a seven feet non-volley zone, also known as “the kitchen.” No one is sure why it’s called thus. It seems that it’s a term borrowed from shuffleboard, where there is an off area also by that name. A player cannot step in this area unless the ball bounces there first (it’s the bright blue zone on the photo). For old-time tennis players, it’s tempting to go up to the net trying to win a point; only to hear: “Fault, stay out of the kitchen!” Actually, keeping score is the most challenging part of the sport. All I know so far is that the first side scoring 11 points and winning by two, wins the game.
The sport was first played in 1965 in Washington State at the home of Joel Pritchard, later a congressman and lieutenant governor. Some say that the unusual name of the sport came from Pickles, the family dog. But Joan Pritchard disagrees; it got this name because “it reminded me of the Pickle Boat in crew where oarsmen were chosen from leftovers of other boats.” Needless to say, the leftover players are mostly seniors like me who used to play tennis. The USA Pickleball Association was founded in 1984 and it holds the U.S. Open Pickleball Championship in Naples, Florida, every year.
In every community where pickleball is played there is an “Ambassador” who organizes the players, who usually play in doubles. Here in Brigantine, New Jersey, Bob Galbraith and his wife, Winnie, train us, make sure that we sign up with the app, follow the rules and stay out of the kitchen. They have given me a few lessons and assure me that I’m inching along from newbie to beginner.
My family and friends in Spain make fun of me when they hear that I’m playing pickleball. Just as they did when I started doing Pilates. Who ever heard of those crazy American trends? Never mind that now Pilates is the exercise of choice of trendy Spaniards and that, according to the Spanish Pickleball Association, “Pickleball Was Poised to Invade Spain” several years ago. Michael Hess, an American living in Spain, is the President of Pickleball Spain and has plans to grow pickleball in the rest of Europe. This bodes well for pickleball, since in order to become an Olympic event, it needs to become a full-fledged international sport first!