Pickleball proves to be a hit

If they listen closely, Huntington Beach residents may be able to hear plastic, hollow balls whirling through the air.

The sound, similar to that of a Wiffle ball passing by your ear, is coming from an increasing number of pickleball games downtown.

More could be on the way. About 30 enthusiasts want the city to increase play on regulated courts at Worthy Park.

The sport, which took off in Orange County about 48 years ago, combines elements of three of the world's most recognizable racquet sports — tennis, badminton and table tennis.

The game has drawn so much recent attention from the public that Huntington Beach Community Services commissioners voted Aug. 14 to add two pickleball courts to the master plan for Worthy Park, located at Main and 17th streets.

"People are going to Tustin and other places to play pickleball," said Diana Abruscato, who's been spearheading the movement for the past five months. "There are some Huntington Beach residents that are going over there to play, and we want them to come back here. We want USA Pickleball Assn.-sanctioned courts in Huntington Beach."

Interim Community Services Director Janeen Laudenback said the proposed courts would take over one of two basketball courts at the park.

She added that the cost to the city and whether the courts would be included in next year's budget are unknown.

Pickleball is played on a badminton-sized court with a 3-foot net. Players use 8-ounce, composite paddles and hit what is more or less a Wiffle ball. The rules are like table tennis: The winning player must score 11 points and by a two-point margin.

Pickleball was invented in 1965 in Bainbridge Island, Wash., by then-U.S. Rep. Joel Pritchard, according to the USA Pickleball Assn. website. The game was named after Pritchard's dog, Pickles, who would chase the Wiffle ball around as they played.

Abruscato, 48, said it isn't just a fad, and the numbers prove it.

Pickleball players in the country total about 103,000, an increase from about 63,000 in 2010, according to the association.

Most pickleballers are senior citizens; the game is so popular among the older set that it is an event in the National Senior Games.

Abruscato said younger players are joining the sport as well.

Every Wednesday night and Saturday morning, a group of about 30 pickleball players set up nets on the basketball courts in Worthy Park and play for a few hours. Some bring portable folding chairs and their own equipment, while beginners borrow paddles from enthusiasts.

Pickleball player Diane Farrell, 65, said the game is more about finesse than power, though she's seen her fair share of beginners getting carried away.

"There's still some big lobs and big hits," she said. "You get the big power hitters that can't stop. They just got to hit it has hard as they can."

Farrell had played racquetball but found pickleball easier on her joints.

Hope Bruckner, who declined to give her age, had her first go Saturday morning. She chatted with other players and fiddled with a paddle in her hand.

"I haven't tried [pickleball] yet, but I've played tennis my whole life," she said. "It's not as extreme as tennis, and that's why I'm supporting it."

Another new player, Judith Handler, 70, likes the welcoming atmosphere and the challenge of the sport.

"The people are very nice, and the game is great," she said. "I think it's good exercise, and you get to meet a lot of new people."

Deb Walters, Bruckner's friend, has been playing for a couple of months. She was looking for something fun to do with her granddaughter and stumbled upon the sport while reading an old newspaper clipping.

"This sounded like something the two of us could do," said Walters, 61. "We came to try it out, and now I'm hooked."

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