Appeared in the Noe Valley Voice, October 2022, pg 16.
Courting Pickleball at Upper Noe
Remember to Stay Out of the ‘Kitchen’
By Chris Faust
Tennis anyone? No? How about pickleball, then? Charlie and Barbara met on a tennis court forty-five years ago. “Barb has great court sense,” says Charlie. “She broke my strings the first time we played tennis,” Recently, Charlie injured his right arm. Tennis was out for him so he learned to play pickleball with his left. Now they are back in the swing of it together. Doubles anyone?
Pickleball is a fun and easy paddle sport, a cross between tennis, badminton and ping-pong that has rapidly grown in popularity. Upper Noe offers free court time for Drop-In Adult Pickleball from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. each Tuesday and Thursday. The volunteer run Rec & Park program is not listed in the seasonal program catalogs but word of mouth has kept the courts busy, especially with the older crowd.
The sport came to Upper Noe in the spring of 2018 after Rick Casse noticed that our gym had lines for badminton courts. He and his wife, Liz, had been playing pickleball elsewhere for about six months and knew the courts to be the same size. In the beginning, Rick acted as the designated volunteer for the program. His job was to help new people learn the game rules, proper play, and the ground rules for Upper Noe. He loosely organized the players to manage the sessions and promote the program. Last year, that job has passed to Linda Hook, who scoffs at the title “organizer.” She began playing at Upper Noe four years ago. She was a tennis player but found Pickleball to be more fun and easier. She says that the group is not all that organized but the same people play, you see the same faces, and it has become kind of a pickleball family but they are always ready to welcome newcomers.
Though, the activity was cancelled during the rec center’s COVID shut-down, it quickly recovered as soon as the gym reopened in fall of 2021. Part of its appeal was that players never needed to be very close to one another. Still, despite the wind, some COVID-cautious players prefer to play outdoors. So, while the gym is striped for four courts, the exterior tennis court was more recently striped for two more. If an official net isn’t available, some players don’t mind just using the tennis net and improvising play without an official court.
The game is played on a court about half the size of a tennis court. A doubles court is the same size as singles. Any smooth surface will do but it is often played in a gym or on a tennis court using a freestanding, portable net that is slightly lower than tennis nets. The ball is essentially a wiffle ball, so it does not carry a lot of speed or momentum. Wind is a factor and it slows significantly after bouncing. This is one of the big adjustments from playing tennis. And, unlike tennis, one cannot charge the net. The “kitchen” is an area seven feet on each side of the net where the ball cannot be returned without it bouncing there first.
Pickleball is easy to learn. 10-year-olds who were waiting for the courts to clear so they could play basketball decided to try it and picked it up in minutes. However, mastering it is something else. The small court and kitchen mean that a player does not need to cover much ground. Good players do not move as much and it requires far less energy than tennis to be competitive. “The game is easier for older adults. We don’t have to run as far,” says Charlie. “There are eighty-year-olds here who will kick your butt,” says Casse. Jennifer, who is still working from home several days a week, occasionally sneaks an hour and a half break to play. She describes herself as an advanced beginner, still feeling a challenge from the regular players. “I’m improving and getting a good workout.”