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Beacon Senior News

Let’s play pickleball

Jun 01, 2018 08:23PM ● By Kate Senn

Like many Western Slope seniors, Jeff Riddle was hooked from his first time playing pickleball, and is now a self-proclaimed pickleball addict.

It’s hard not to smile when saying the word pickleball. This growing sport is just as much fun to play as it is to say.

New players are sure to be amused by the whiz, whack and pop of the holey plastic ball flying back and forth over the low net at surprising speeds. Developed as a backyard sport on an old badminton court in the 1960s, pickleball is now played by all ages—in recreation centers, on altered tennis courts, in school gym classes, overseas and across the Western Slope.

What is pickleball?

A combination of tennis, badminton and Ping-Pong, pickleball can be played with doubles or singles on a small tennis-like court (usually 20 feet by 44 feet). Players use paddles to serve the ball underhand and diagonally across the court, winning points when their side serves and the other side misses the ball. The first team to reach 11 points wins the game.

Paddles are larger than those used in Ping Pong, and the lightweight, plastic ball keeps the game fast-paced and challenging. Some players use tactical tricks to score points, while others add great topspeed, sending the ball spinning down the line.

Constant movement is one aspect of the game that keeps Jeff Riddle playing at the Montrose Recreation Center a couple times a week.

“I tried it and I was instantly hooked,” said Riddle, who played his first game of pickleball over six years ago. “I enjoy pickleball more than almost anything now.”

He tells friends and new players that it’s more than a sport or a hobby.

“It’s an addiction,” he said.

A former tennis player and racquetball competitor, Riddle found the transition to pickleball to be straightforward and easier on his body.

“It’s quick to pick up,” he said. “I was also really impressed early on with the more experienced players’ willingness to help us learn how to play and how they would drill us and give us advice. We’re very lucky to have experienced competitive players who are good teachers.”

One of the advantages of the game is its unpredictability. Most games are played with doubles—two members on each team. Riddle said it’s common for players to trade partners, which keeps the game exciting and challenging.

“Generally, there’s not one doubles team that is dominant because players come and go,” he said. “Sometimes people will find a player they want to team up with during tournament season, but there’s a lot of change and that adds to the fun.”

Where to play

In recent years, Montrose and Delta have become hubs for pickleball play, but weekly games also take place in Cedaredge, Paonia, Ridgway and Gunnison.

Montrose pickleball players have access to up to 13 courts—some indoors, some outdoors—and a number of tournaments, but Riddle said players in surrounding towns associate closely with one another and will play different courts across the Western Slope.

One of the main times players mingle is at tournaments, such as the Western Slope Regional Pickleball Tournament on June 2-3 at the Montrose Recreation Center, and many other tournaments held year-round.

While Riddle is taking a break from tournaments this season, he has played with many top-ranked players and met many friends from across the Western Slope.

“[Games] can be very competitive, but people respect the game and respect the rules,” he said. “Everyone’s a good sport and I’ve made a lot of good friends.”

He knows one couple in Ridgway who travels from tournament to tournament in their RV.

Introducing pickleball

Montrose Recreation District’s 50+ activities coordinator Cindy Marino helped introduce the game to Montrose over six year ago and was integral in setting up its first pickleball league. Both a player and an official pickleball ambassador, she was quick to list the many reasons why pickleball is worth trying.

“Pickleball is a sport for all ages,” Marino said. “It’s a great way to get the heart rate up and do some interval training that is both low-impact and social. It’s a life-changing sport for people of all mobility levels.”

Playing pickleball can lower high blood pressure, and help you lose weight, make friends, relieve stress and improve hand-eye coordination. Instead of heading to the workout area at the gym, competitive games of pickleball can make an hour or two of exercise fly by.

Marino attributed the public’s participation in establishing an active pickleball community on the Western Slope. Local residents have donated paddles, nets and balls to help spread interest.

While local pickleball players are not grouped into any formal organization, Riddle chairs an informal steering committee that helps Marino establish guidelines for play, times and address player issues. The committee recently received approval from the Montrose Recreation Foundation and Montrose Community Foundation to operate under its umbrella of nonprofits to raise funds for installing window shades on the recreation center’s east windows, thereby eliminating the sun’s glare on the court and improving the experience for this growing group of players. Riddle expects to have raised enough funds for this first phase of improvements to the recreation center by the end of summer.

Ready to play?

Pickleball is played five days a week in Delta and Montrose, and beginners are always welcome. Beginners will “learn through doing” at open play, unrated court times or at 2.0 rated, or beginner times. Private lessons are available through the Montrose Recreation Center.

“Experienced players like to host clinics, where they will talk new players through some of the strategies and put them through practice,” Riddle said. “I think that’s one reason [pickleball] is growing so fast. They want new players to learn the game and have as much fun as they do.”

Visit the official pickleball website at www.usapa.org for more information on this fun and challenging game. For more information about local games, clinics and tournaments, visit www.westernslopepickleballclub.com or call 252-4884.

2018 Western Slope pickleball tournaments

June 2-3 - Alpine Double Elimination,  Montrose Recreation Center, Montrose

July 14-15 - Alpine Double Elimination, 2500 Pine Grove Road, Steamboat Springs

July 22 - Deltarado Days, Bill Heddles Recreation Center, Delta

August 3-5 - Alpine Pool Play/Brackets, Durango Community Recreation Center, Durango

August 25-26 - Western Colorado Senior Games, Lincoln Park & Pineridge Courts, Grand Junction

August 25-26 - Memorial, Steamboat Springs Tennis Center, Steamboat Springs

September 8-9 - Alpine Double Elimination, 567 Colorado Ave., Carbondale

September 20-23 - USAPA Battle of the Paddle, Glenwood Springs Recreation Center, Glenwood Springs

September 29-30 - Alpine Double Elimination, Oktoberfest, Delta