Tired of tennis? Play pickleball
June 25, 2008 · Updated 12:05 PM
"Photo: Spin is everything in pickleball, so Frank Candelario gets under a ball with serious attitude on this hard serve.Matt Johnson/staff photoLearn more about pickleballSince there is no pickleball league on South Whidbey, perhaps the best way to get an introduction to the sport is through the USAPA website at www.usapa.org. The site has up to date pickleball news, a court-of-the-month feature, tournament schedules, equipment links, and a form to order official pickleball rule books.In addition, Southend resident Mark Friedenberg, a member of the USAPA board of advisors, has written the foremost book on the subject of pickleball. It is titled The Official Pickleball Handbook and is also available on the USAPA website.One day about 22 years ago, Frank Candelario had just finished a long run at his in-laws' home on Bells Beach when he saw a curious construction project beginning to take shape at the house next door.Two of the neighbors had begun to pour a concrete slab in the backyard. They told Candelario that the slab was to be a court for a sport he had never heard of -- pickleball. A few days later, when the concrete had cured, the neighbors set two poles in the ground, strung up a badminton net at ground level, and began hitting a big whiffle ball back and fourth with what looked like oversized ping-pong paddles.I thought it was silly to begin with, he said. But then Frank and his wife, Krissy, began playing that silly game against the neighbors. Then they invited friends over. Then they built a court in their own back yard. They were hooked on pickleball.A cross between tennis and ping-pong, the game is played on a court measuring 20 feet wide by 44 feet long. Players hit a large whiffle ball across a low net, serving underhand and making returns in much the same way tennis players do. Because of the ball's low speed and the small court size, rallies often last more than a minute, making the game exciting and pressure filled.After their introduction to the sport, the Candelarios liked the game so much that they decided to buy a high-tech pickleball paddle company started by a Boeing engineer, Arlin Parento. Now owners of the Ultra-Lite Paddle Company, the Candelarios are the world's only producers of tournament quality fiberglass and graphite pickleball paddles. Frank Candelario dove even deeper into the world of pickleball two years ago when he was named president of the United States of America Pickleball Association. The family even has its own pickleball court behind its Langley-area home -- and so does the family that purchased their previous home in Brier.Wherever it is, the Candelario home is as close to being the world headquarters of pickleball as any place could be.We believe someday it'll be a national pastime, Frank Candelario said. I consider pickleball an industry waiting to happen.Invented on Bainbridge Island by former Washington Congressman Joel Prichard in the 1960s, pickleball was for some decades a Western Washington phenomenon, making it into public school physical education programs, parks, and back yards all over the region. Prichard named the sport after his dog, Pickles. Good thing the dog's name wasn't Bowser, said Frank Candelario.These days, it is becoming an international sport. The Candelarios can track the spread of pickleball by looking over orders for their paddles. Among orders from most of the 50 states come paddle requests from the Czech Republic, Croatia, Asia and Australia. Last week, the couple received a fax from a television station in Turkey that is producing a series about lesser known sports in that country.Part of pickleball's appeal is its economy. Old-style wood pickleball paddles can be had in almost any sporting goods store for about $15 apiece, while balls cost about $1 each. For those who want better paddle response and lighter weight, the Candelarios' fiberglass and graphite paddles price in the $30 to $45 range.With this equipment in hand, the prospective pickleball player need only find a large slab of pavement -- such as a driveway, large patio, or parking lot -- and a badminton net -- often available at local thrift stores. But because few locations have holes drilled for net poles, portable, weighted nets and poles are available from companies such as Sport Court. Draw the boundary lines with a piece of chalk, and you've got a game. Of course, on South Whidbey, Frank Candelario said locals need only check around to find the nearest back yard court.They're kind of everywhere, he said. On the court, the Candelario family plays the game as a hybrid sport. They make wide dashes across the back court, slashing hard at the ball with their paddles, much like high-level ping-pong players. Joe Candelario, the couple's teenage son, adds a bit of Boris Becker tennis to his game, rushing the net often and landing on his backside several times during a game. But the game can be more subdued, and it is for the sport's biggest growth demographic -- senior citizens.I've seen people in their 70s and 80s out there looking like children, Frank Candelario said of pickleballs more mature players.There is good reason for this, Krissy Candelario said. Pickleball is not necessarily a power game like tennis. The big wiffle balls used in the game move only so fast. To be competitive, a pickleball player needs to develop good hitting skills and the ability to predict the ball's path. Once a player has these skills, he or she need not run much. That is one reason why pickleball has become a popular sport among seniors and in RV parks across the nation.It's more available to a wide array of people, she said.Fifteen states include pickleball as an event in Senior Olympics Games, while several states along the West Coast -- including Washington, Oregon, and California -- hold regional championship tournaments for high-level amateurs.Even if the sport does not attain the same popularity enjoyed in this country by football, basketball and baseball, the Candelarios believe Washintonians will always have a soft spot in their sporting lives for this racquet sport with the funny name."