AUGUSTA — What in the world is pickleball?

“Pickleball is sort of a hybrid between ping pong, badminton and tennis,” explains Aaron Dion, New England-Maritimes District Pickleball Ambassador for the Atlantic Region. “It’s similar to tennis but there’s different strategies, a few different rules. You usually play with doubles but you can play singles.”

Dion, of Portland, volunteered his time at the A-COPI Tennis and Sports Center on Saturday morning along with fellow pickleball proponents Milad Bozorgnia and John Capozzo, of Jay and Monmouth, respectively, for a 90-minute tutorial to teach the game to the 15 or so in attendance.

One of those on hand was Patti Prescott, a former women’s state champion in table tennis who said she tried the game at the urging of a friend.

“I just wanted to try it and see what it was like,” Prescott said. “The rules are a little bit different but it’s fun. It’s a good workout and so is table tennis if you play competitively.”

As Dion noted, pickleball is a combination of the three sports.

The playing surface is the same size as a doubles badminton court — 20 feet wide by 44 feet long — and can be played either indoors or outdoors.

The net is obviously narrower than a tennis net but the two are very similar in height. A regulation pickleball net is 36 inches tall at the sidelines and 34 inches in the center, as opposed to a tennis net that is 42 and 36 inches at the same points, respectively.

The paddle used is similar to a ping pong paddle in composition, but is unique in size and shape. The hitting surface is shaped like a square and is larger than a ping pong paddle, yet smaller than a tennis racket. A type of Wiffle ball with small, circular holes spaced evenly throughout the ball is used and they vary in weight depending on if they are designed for use outdoors or indoors.

Game play is a cross between volleyball and ping pong, but is fairly easy to pick up after a few games.

“(There is) a very quick learning curve,” Dion said. “Somebody who has never played before can come on and in 15 minutes start playing the game.

“One of the most appealing aspects is you can have four players on a court, you can have one person that’s 25-years old and another that’s 75-years old and you can have an actually good game.”

The age flexibility, according to Dion, is one of the main reasons pickleball has rapidly grown recently — even though the sport was invented some 49 years ago.

Still not convinced about pickleball? Neither was Dion when he first started.

“I got suckered into the sport by my wife (Kathy) about three years ago. She sucker punched me,” Dion said. “She said, ‘we’re going to go play a sport called pickleball’ and I thought she was nuts. She showed me a video online on YouTube and about three seconds later I realized it looked fun.”

It was a similar experience for A-COPI Tennis Director of Operations Deidre Hutchins as well.

“Originally when we were looking at reopening the courts one of our board members (Peter Walsh) had heard about pickleball,” Hutchins said. “(He) talked to a couple people that had played pickleball that said it was the fastest upcoming sport in the country.

“… I played in Florida in the spring at a community center. I’m a tennis player and I had a lot of fun. I came back and said, ‘oh my god we’ve got to get pickleball going.’ I contacted (Atlantic Region Pickleball Director) Rocky Clark, he came up, did a clinic and we had 40 people show up for the clinic with Milad.”

Hutchins also said that he expects the sport to only grow from here. Currently A-COPI offers open pickleball courts three times per week for 90 minutes at a time, and will try to have a tutorial session like the one held Saturday once per month.

“We’re resurfacing these courts in the fall and we’re going to have permanent pickleball lines painted on our furthest court,” Hutchins said. “Right now you can see we’ve got it chalked in. Once we resurface, we’ll have permanent paint lines down and we’ll continue to grow the sport and offer more times as the demand grows for that.”

Hutchins is also hoping that the sport begins to catch on with younger age groups, as she said in the eight weeks they’ve been hosting pickleball there haven’t been a lot of young people come in and play.

“I don’t know why,” she said. “It may be because it’s touted as an older person’s sport but I don’t really think it is. It will take some time.”

If it is going to catch on with a younger age group anywhere in the region, there is a decent chance it could be Maine. As Bozorgnia explains it, most of the sport’s regional leaders are located in the area.

“We’re fortunate to have all the big ambassadors and all the regional district directors all be from Maine,” Bozorgnia said. “We’re kind of really the epicenter of pickleball in the whole Atlantic region.”

Information on where pickleball is being played locally is available on the USA Pickleball Association’s website — www.usapa.org — and there are also a few local tournaments upcoming. The Pickleball New England Singles Championship will be held on July 12 in Gorham, while the 2014 Dorie Hawkes Pickleball Tournament will take place in Waterville on Aug. 2.

Whether you are just getting into pickleball or have been playing for some time, Bozorgnia offered a key bit of wisdom as he closed the seminar Saturday.

“The most important thing to remember is to have fun,” he told the eager group of newcomers. “With a name like pickleball, how can you take it too seriously?”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: Evan_Crawley


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