A paddle, a ball, a net, and a court. That’s all you need to play one of North America’s fastest growing sports.
Pickleball is a hybrid sport that is a combination of tennis and ping pong. Played on a court similar in size to a badminton court, and with a lower net than tennis, the sport has been hailed for being very accessible to those with mobility issues.
Larry DeMarchi is president of Pickleball Fernie, an association that was born in 2018.
“At that time, we only had indoor courts so our goal was to get an outdoor facility,” DeMarchi said. “So we thought it was best as an organization to organize so that we could approach for grants as a club rather than as just a bunch of pickleball players.”
A group of pickleball enthusiasts met in May 2018 and decided that they were in favour of forming a club. An executive was elected and Pickleball Fernie began official operations. One of the first orders of business for the club was getting an outdoor court.
According to DeMarchi, they were able to find an unused basketball court at the Max Turyk Community Centre. With support from the City of Fernie and several other external funding sources, they were able to turn the basketball court into two regulation pickleball courts.
DeMarchi said that in 2014, there were only twelve pickleball enthusiasts in Fernie. Now, they have over 100 members. Some of these members pay a yearly membership fee and others are associate members, meaning they attend regularly but prefer to pay the drop-in fee instead.
Although summer is peak pickleball season, according to DeMarchi, each winter session brings between 15 and 20 people out to play. The club rents indoor space at the Fernie Community Centre for the winter and runs games on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
Although pickleball has been wildly popular with retirement communities, DeMarchi mentioned that they have members ages 20 to 70 currently playing in Fernie. He also added that the club has players of all skill levels.
“We have very good players and we have novice players but we can all play together and socialize together which is pretty cool. Especially at our age. We’re not 16-18 years old, gunning for the gold medal,” he said before quickly joking, “even saying that, some of the old guys still have the competitive spirit in them too.”
According to DeMarchi, the social aspect is one of the best things about pickleball and probably adds to its growing popularity. On top of meeting four times a week, the club also hosts monthly socials and is always open to new members.
“We definitely have a lot of interest but the problem is that it’s a little intimidating if you’ve never played,” said DeMarchi. “What is a little intimidating is the rules, just because you don’t know the rules, even though they are very simple.”
Pickleball can be played as doubles or singles, with the court and the rules being the same for both. Games are played to 11 points and must be won by two points. Points can only be scored by the side serving at the time and if playing doubles, both team members get to serve until a point is lost.
Whoever is receiving the serve must let the ball bounce once before hitting it back over the net. Once it is returned, the serving team must also let the ball bounce once before hitting. After this initial exchange, players are free to hit the ball without allowing it to bounce first.
There is also something called a “No-Volley Zone” that stretches seven feet on either side of the net. A player is not allowed to hit the ball while they are inside this zone unless it bounces first.
For anyone who is interested in learning more about pickleball or playing with Pickleball Fernie, DeMarchi encourages them to reach out to him directly. He said since they have so little court space in the winter time, it can be hard for newcomers to learn the rules when just dropping in on a regularly scheduled game. However, DeMarchi is more than happy to give lessons to groups of four or more who are willing to learn.
“We’ve got the paddles, the balls, the nets and courts. I enjoy doing it and that would be a nice way for you and your friends to get involved in it.”
If pickleball seems like the sport for you, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Pickleballfernie.org for more information.