Jeff Parkes playing at an Albany tournament.

When American Jeff Parkes planned a three-month visit to his daughter and grandchildren on Waiheke in 2015, he worried there’d be no opportunities to play his beloved sport of pickleball. Most New Zealanders at that time had never heard of it, let alone played it. Now, pickleball is a rapidly growing pastime on the island, largely thanks to Jeff. It is also the fastest growing recreational activity in the United States according to the Sports and Fitness Industry Association (USA). 

So what is this sport with the silly name, where did it come from, what are its benefits and what does its future look like?

Before leaving for his initial family visit, Jeff got in touch with an American couple in Rotorua who were playing pickleball. Willing to travel down country to keep up his practice, he organised a few games with them. Later, they played what Jeff says was the first-ever game in Auckland on the tennis court at the Auckland Naturists’ Club.

Jeff moved to Waiheke in 2019 and pickleball has since flourished. Island pickleballers – or ‘picklers’ –run four indoor sessions at the Waiheke Island High School Recreation Centre on Donald Bruce Road and two outdoor sessions at the same location. The growing attendance reflects the global trend. In the United States, an estimated five million people regularly play the game.

Pickleball was born on Bainbridge Island, Washington State, in 1965 at the summer cottage of Joel Pritchard, who later became a United States Congressman and then Washington’s lieutenant governor. He and his friends are said to have devised the game and established the rules. Initially they patched together an impromptu outdoor game using a lowered badminton net, a wiffle ball and home-made paddles similar to those used in table tennis. 

• Sarah Gloyer

Full story in this week’s Gulf News … Out Now!!!

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