Pickleball in the Czech Republic: A Lesson in Fun

When a teacher and a sports trainer join forces, you know things will get done! Pickleball found its way into the Czech Republic thanks to a determined duo made up of US Open silver medalist Lenka Mišičková and teacher/counselor Jodi Oppenhuizen. These two players have plenty of expertise between them and use a friendly yet consistent process for integrating the game into local communities.

Lenka and Jodi

Jodi Oppenhuizen (left) and Lenka Mišičková (right)

Joining Forces

The first time pickleball found its way into the Czech Republic was in 2014 after Jodi was introduced to the game by her parents and learned to play in Michigan. She brought donated paddles and balls to the Christian International School in Prague where she works and started a pickleball club. Wanting more partners to play with, she also taught her friends about the game and created the Pickleball Czech Facebook page to share information.

A year later and worlds apart at the time, Lenka visited with a friend in Meadville, PA. There she was introduced to senior pickleball champion John Vicek. After sharing pictures from his matches, John and his wife invited Lenka to their home in Windsor, Canada to learn the game. Lenka quickly took to it, having been a ping pong champion in her teen years and an athlete her whole life.

Pickleball in Prague

Pickleball in Prague

It was only last year (2015) that Lenka and Jodi crossed paths. Lenka contacted Jodi after finding out about her efforts through a mutual contact in Amsterdam. After falling in love with pickleball, she wanted to help spread the word about the addictive game.

Gearing Up

Jodi lent equipment to Lenka so she could teach pickleball to kids at FIT Sports Club just south of Opava in Hradec nad Moravici, where she also trains them in ping pong, tennis, roller blading and floor ball (known in the U.S. as “floor hockey”).

Lenka’s first attempt was during the children’s summer camp, where they quickly became interested in the sport. As a follow-up, she continued to teach them pickleball during the 2015 – 2016 school year in the Czech Republic’s Moravian-Silesian region.

In spring 2016, Lenka purchased the domain for the Pickleball Czech website to better network with newcomers. Her and Jodi’s initiative was also strengthened by the head of the Ukraine Pickleball Association, David Conover.

A star of donated pickleball gear!

A star of donated pickleball gear!

In the following summer, Jodi participated in the Michigan State Games where she was recognized for her efforts to start pickleball in the Czech Republic. While there, she established a sister club relationship with the Grand Rapids Pickleball Club.

She also received support from Paddletek, Selkirk Sports and PickleballCentral when it came to acquiring more equipment, which is currently finding use on both sides of the country (Prague and Hradec nad Moravici)!

Despite having a decent amount of paddles and balls, one area where the Czech Republic lacks “equipment” is when it comes to the courts themselves. In fact, there are currently no pickleball-specific courts in the country. But Jodi and Lenka don’t let this slow them down!

“Although there are no courts that have been made exclusively for pickleball,” Jodi says, “there are many badminton courts. [Since] a doubles badminton court is the same size as a pickleball court, you can typically find a place to play indoors.”

Lenka adds, “[When] I train outside my house we just find level ground and use chalk for lines!”

Pop-Up Pickleball

When Lenka visited Jodi for the first time, they found another way to adapt to their surroundings. Jodi suggested they play pickleball on the Charles Bridge, one of the most famous tourist locations in the country.

Jodi and Lenka playing on Charles Bridge!

Jodi and Lenka playing on Charles Bridge!

“And we did!” She confirms. “We played many other unusual places in the city and were able to talk to people from various countries about pickleball. I appreciate Lenka’s humor and positivity.”

How’s that for pickleball guerilla marketing? No more excuses for not playing if you lack a “proper” court! Jodi shares another benefit of teaming up with Lenka aside from her open-minded attitude:

“She’s won several medals in tournaments, so it’s great to have an excellent Czech player in the country paving the way for future players.”

A Fighter’s Endurance

Indeed, it was Lenka who won the silver medal for women’s singles in the US Open. Amazingly, it was her very first pickleball tournament and she had to fight through an injury the whole way.

“The US Open was the first [pickleball] tournament in my life. I didn’t know what my level of play was, but because I have lots of experience in ping pong I felt I could adapt quickly. I had very good partners with me. In the women’s doubles we won 4th place and in mixed doubles we got 5th.”

“At the beginning of the second day my leg muscles started to hurt. I couldn’t take a step without intense pain. But because I’m great fighter I wanted to make it through to the end! I honestly have no idea how I won silver in those conditions. After every match I visited the tournament doctor who iced and bandaged my leg.”

Lenka fighting through the pain at the Amsterdam Tournament

Lenka fighting through the pain at the Amsterdam International Pickleball Tournament

“Afterwards I went to a hospital back in the Czech Republic and they determined it was inflammation of the muscles and tendons. I wasn’t allowed to play for nearly a month. After waiting things out I competed in the Amsterdam International Pickleball Tournament and had the same issue return… but I won another silver medal! Miracle.”

Lenka may attribute her wins to luck and divine intervention, but we give her credit for tons of grit, determination and skill. (Though we hope her legs have gotten some much-needed rest and fully recovered!)

In addition to teaching pickleball during the school year and during summer camp for kids in Opava and Ostrava, Lenka is sharing her talent by joining with the Osatrava Municipal Hall to organize exhibitions in primary schools.

Lenka with her silver medal at the US Open

Lenka with her silver medal at the US Open

Incredibly enough, coaching pickleball and numerous other sports isn’t even this champion’s day job. Lenka primarily teaches law and economics to people transitioning in the work force. In her remaining time, she has also published 3 books on sports. (Stop making us look bad, Lenka!)

Her endless supply of resiliency is perhaps no surprise when you hear Lenka has spent her life tracking down extended family after contact was lost between relatives in the U.S. in 1948 and 1968 due to the Czech Republic’s communist regime. Thankfully she has been able to find several aunts and uncles at this point, and shows no signs of slowing down.

We’re glad this determination has spread into other areas of her life and that picklers get to benefit!

Setting the Scene

The big push for Lenka and Jodi to establish pickleball in the Czech Republic will come when they’re able to host their own competition. Although there haven’t been any tournaments in the Czech Republic yet, several countries nearby have seen them, such as Amsterdam and Ukraine.

Lenka with Leonardo Gonzalez from Spain in the Kiev International Tournament

Lenka with doubles partner Leonardo Gonzalez from Spain in the Kiev International Tournament (with their gold medals!)

Europe in general has been making great progress, considering there was a pickleball tournament in Spain this past September and in the UK in October. As the number of players in the Czech Republic continues to grow, Pickleball Czech looks to the future with hope and plenty of spirit.


 

PickleballCentral offers a big round of applause for Lenka’s wins and both women’s dedicated efforts to continue growing the sport around the world. Thank you both for taking the time to share your work with us!

Let’s Help Spread the Pickleball Love to Japan!

Exciting news today as USAPA Nationals medalist Daniel Moore begins a crowdfunding campaign to bring pickleball to Japan. If you’re looking to share the gift of pickleball with international fans this season, this is a great place to start!

Pickleball players of all ages in Japan

What some people don’t know is that Daniel lived in Japan for 16 years growing up and currently serves as a tour guide for visitors through the organization Walk Japan. Japan has an aging population with many indoor gyms equipped with badminton courts that could be utilized for pickleball.

According to Daniel’s campaign, there are currently 2 locations that regularly play pickleball in Japan with a third arriving in January. He explains:

“The locations have around 15-20 players each… An additional three locations have played pickleball before but we haven’t had the time or the funding to continue supporting them so they don’t have any balls or paddles. Most importantly, they don’t have someone there to explain the rules, coach and teach… which is what will get people playing.”

Senior picklers in Japan

The funds will primarily go to the Japan Pickleball Association headed by Moore so that the group can travel around the country to provide clinics and demos. They are also planning to register the JPA as an official non-profit organization and put together local/national tournaments to coincide with Daniel’s annual pickleball Japan trip.

The campaign only needs $10,000 to be successfully funded, and if you make a donation above $25 you’ll receive a Japan Pickleball t-shirt!

Daniel and Japanese pickleball players

Please consider donating if you like the sound of a pickleball-crazy Japan and would enjoy visiting in the future, or if you just want to share the joy of pickleball around the globe. Click here to donate today.

Indian Pickleball Continues to Grow at the 4th National Tournament in Jaipur

AIPA’s (All India Pickleball Association) hard work and effort has clearly gotten the pickleball rolling as more Indian players take up the competitive mantle. On November 11 – 13th at the Sawai Mansingh Indoor Stadium in Jaipur, the 4th National Pickleball Tournament was a rousing success.

Kavita and Ashwin of Rajasthan

Kavita and Ashwin of Rajasthan (Runners-Up in Mixed Doubles)

Of the 29 states in India, 12 teams were present from 10 states to show off their pickleball talent, with observers from two additional states in the wings. The participating states included:

Bihar
Haryana
Jharkhand
Kerala
Madhya Pradesh
Maharashtra
Pondicherry
Rajasthan
Sikkim
Uttarakhand

The West Bengal and Tamil Nadu visitors expressed interest in throwing their hats in the ring for next year’s tournament in Uttarakhand.

AIPA Nationals 2016

Maharashtra Sets the Standard

The winners this year were actually repeat champions from 2015, with Team Maharashtra once again claiming victory! Rajasthan still made an impressive showing on their home ground, often coming in silver just behind the winners. At least the other states know who they have to knock off the podium when the next opportunity arrives!

In Men and Women’s Singles players from Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh actually overcame the Maharashtra pros, but Doubles was a sweep. The Maharashtra pairs didn’t offer any quarter as they defeated opponent after opponent and claimed gold in all three categories.

Team Maharashtra 2016

Team Maharashtra 2016

Manish Rao and Bhushan Potnis of Maharashtra won the Men’s Doubles title by defeating Dr. Bharat Ram and Prashant Kalaniair from Rajasthan. Somewhat ironically,  in the 3rd national tournament held at Panipat last year, it was Ram/Kalaniair who defeated Rao and Potnis. Can you say “sweet revenge”? The final scores were 11-5 and  11-7.

Manish Rao and Bhushan of Maharashtra

Rao/Bhushan vs Bharat/Prashant in the Men’s Doubles

Similarly, Atul Edward and Natasha Beig from Maharashtra won the mixed title by defeating Kavita and Ashwini Wadhwa of Rajasthan. It wasn’t as easy of a battle, however, as the Wadhwas managed to hold the game until the 3rd set when Edward/Beig won the final. The scores: 11-1 , 5-11 and 11-6.

Atul and Natasha vs Kavita and Ashwin

Edward/Beig vs the Wadhwas in the Mixed Doubles

The Women Doubles gold medal went to Maharashtra’s Karishma and Rujuta who beat Rajashthan’s Madhulika and Garima. It was something of a rout with the final match scores coming in at 11-2 and 11-3.

Karishma and Rujuta vs Madhulika and Garima

Karishma and Rujuta vs Madhulika and Garima in the Women’s Doubles

Hard-Won Singles Matches

Moving on to the singles: the Men’s title was won by Nikhil Singh Rajput of Rajasthnan, who was presented with a tough fight from Aniket Durgawali,  a younger player from Maharashtra. The thrilling match lasted 3 sets and continued for an impressive 50 minutes!

Nikhil Singh Rajput from Rajashtan

Men’s Singles Winner Nikhil Singh Rajput from Rajashtan

Could you stand the heat? Nikhil managed to overcome the stress by putting his 5 years of pickleball expertise to work. The scores: 11-5, 8-11 and 11-2.

As expected, the Women’s Singles title was won by the defending champion from Madhya Pradesh, Shubhi Vyas. She handily won her gold by beating her rival from Rajasthan, Rekha Chowdhary, with scores of 11-5 and 11-3.

Shubhi Vyas

The Women’s Singles champion for the 3rd year in a row: Shubhi Vyas!

Pickleball in India Gaining Fans

This is the 4th consecutive year where AIPA has organized a national-level open tournament. Pickleball continues to gain wider acceptance in India, with players from across the country gathering to witness this event.

Playing the tournament at the Sawai Mansingh Indoor Stadium was something of a dream in itself for many players, with the location being one of the most prestigious sports arenas in the country. The Rajasthan State Pickleball Association made special efforts to book the world-class facility, with top quality housing and food arrangements as well.

There were 4 courts in the spacious indoor hall where nearly 130 matches were conducted in 2 days.

India National Tournament 2016

The Hidden Champions

Special thanks go to Mr. Karan Singh and Ms. Neetu Sharma, who took great pains to make the tournament a grand success. Mr. Raghu Raj, the President of Rajasthan State Pickleball Association, was also a major force in establishing a high-quality event.

The Chief Guest for the closing ceremony was the Commissioner of Police from Jaipur City, who was very impressed by the game of pickleball. He believes that pickleball will be an added attraction for tourists who visit Jaipur and suggested that a public court should be designed in the heart of the city.

Maharashtra at Jaipur National Tournament

Will Team Maharashtra be unseated next year? Who knows… for now, they celebrate!

Image credit goes to the Rajasthan State Pickleball Association and AIPA.

The UK’s 1st International Tournament: To Pickle or Not to Pickle, That is the Question

Stratford-Upon-Avon in England is generally famous for one thing: Shakespeare. This is his birthplace, a town that can claim one of the greatest playwrights of our time as one of its own.

Now it has another equally important claim to fame: It was the host of the first ever international pickleball tournament in the United Kingdom on October 21-23rd. The tournament was organized by the UKPA and represents the first in a series to be hosted by the association.

UKPA International Tournament 2016

Pickleball on the International Stage

Any doubts about how big the sport has become in Europe and just how big it’s going to get were laid to rest by this truly international affair. 144 players from England, Wales, Canada, the U.S.A, the Czech Republic, Spain, France, Germany and Ukraine all came together for this three-day event.

The result was a melting pot of styles, tactics and a crash course in how to swear in several European languages!

Over 400 games were played over the course of the three days with day one kicking off with the first-ever competitive singles tournament to be held in Europe. It was father against son, sibling versus sibling, doubles partner against doubles partner, it was an all-out war to win the first ever singles gold medal.

A Pickleball Master Class

The quality of play across the board was up there with Shakespeare’s greatest works, but the men’s under 40’s doubles final was undoubtedly one of the matches of the tournament. It was an admirable showing of power, skill and tactics between traditionally old rivals: the French and the Spanish.

After an intense three matches, the Spanish pairing eventually emerged victorious. Sacré bleu!

Due to the sheer number of games and players, the men’s final took place at 9pm on Saturday night. The number of competitors who stuck around to watch the final underlined the fantastic attitude and commitment players across the global have towards the sport.

UKPA International Tournament 2016

Passion and Enthusiasm

This commitment was echoed by every international player at the event. All had made the journey specifically for the tournament.

Few amateur sports invoke the same passion from players, the kind that sees people getting on planes or planning a holiday solely to get a few games of pickleball. Pickleball may not be as big in Europe as it is in the U.S, but it’s getting there, and what the Europeans lack in numbers, they certainly make up for in dedication and skill.

Who knows, in the near future we may be seeing the very first pickleball world championship or perhaps a pickleball Ryder Cup with the best in Europe against the best of the Americas.

Many congratulations to all the players and as one continental player said loudly and often, “Viva le Pickleball!”

Here are some more pictures of the dinking and drop shots from the weekend:

UKPA International Tournament 2016 UKPA International Tournament 2016 UKPA International Tournament 2016 UKPA International Tournament 2016 UKPA International Tournament 2016
Images courtesy of the UKPA and the competitors of the tournament.

If you’re heading over to the United Kingdom and are looking for your fix of pickleball, visit the UKPA’s website to arrange a game at a local club.

Pickleball in Papua New Guinea: Health and Pickleball, Hand in Hand

This story is from our customer Joyce Baranowski. Enjoy!

I recently returned from Papua New Guinea and wanted to share my story and pictures with you.

jb-papua-2

Being in a third world country makes one feel very appreciative for the conveniences we have in America, but also makes one wonder why we have so much stuff. The Papuan nationals are extremely poor with 90% unemployment. Most have no shoes and the clothes they wear are worn and dirty. They wash themselves and their clothes down by the river and cook their food in a large pot over a fire. Thankfully, they live in a climate that allows them to grow food year round, so they don’t go hungry.  They eat to live, unlike us, who live to eat.

papua-new-guinea-map

The hospital station where my daughter and her family live is a lifeline to the people. Without the doctors and nurses at this hospital, many would die. Right now there are 9 American missionary doctors (along with their families), a radiologist missionary from South Africa, a dentist missionary from Canada, and 4 American missionary project leaders with their families.

Their service and commitment is a blessing to this area of Papua New Guinea. If you’d like to read more about the Kudjip Nazarene Hospital, you can visit www.nazarenehospitalfoundation.org.

grandson Miles and Mom Rachel

Grandson Miles and Mom Rachel

Needless to say, the Papuan nationals had never heard of pickleball. They are always amazed by the strange games the Americans are playing like tennis and volleyball. Not only had the Papuan nationals never heard of pickleball, neither had any of the missionaries! It was great fun to introduce the game to the missionaries. They knew I was coming to teach them how to play pickleball and were excited to learn.

Joyce and friend with grandson Miles

Joyce and a friend with Miles

One of the guys got online to figure out the size of the court and had the lines painted on the area where they play tennis and basketball before I got there.

The surface is asphalt and not the smoothest, but it made the game more challenging to play. You never knew where the ball was going once it hit the ground in certain parts of the court!

I was not only encouraged by how fast the people picked up the rules of the game, but by how quickly they were able to pass the rules on to each of the newbies that came to play.

My daughter Rachel was really excited about getting a tournament together, but each weekend was busy with other activities. I’m sure it will happen, unfortunately  I just won’t be there to participate! It was nice to see the missionaries enjoying themselves with this new sport.

Several of them told me many times to please thank the people who donated the equipment. So a big THANK YOU to PICKLEBALLCENTRAL for the paddles and balls!

jb-papua-4

I really can’t say for sure this is the only place in Papua New Guinea where pickleball is played, but its fun to think that it is there now, and I was able to introduce local folks to this wonderful game.

Thank you, Joyce, for sharing your story with our readers. We are glad to support your efforts to take this game to a new place like Papua New Guinea. Hopefully some of the Papuan nationals will grow to love the game as much as Pacific Northwesterners, where the game began in the 60’s!

Ontario Pickleball Club Creates Free, Year-Long Program for Kids

Pickleball has a reputation as an old timers’ sport, and that’s fine by us—more time on the courts! But sometimes you just have to wonder: Won’t someone think of the children?

Today an Ontario club is sharing how they not only started an adult pickleball league, but created an entirely new pickleball program for kids.

This past August, Dan Pronovost of the K-W Badminton Club was awarded a $13,331 provincial grant to start a free pickleball program for the community’s youth. It’s an exciting development that will help show how the game’s versatile appeal while giving kids a positive outlet for their energy.

KWBC Building

Setting the Scene

“I’ve been a member of the K-W Badminton Club (KWBC) for many years,” Dan explains. “About 5 years ago, it became clear we’d need to purchase our building to continue growing our club and add additional sports. I joined the board to help manage this process and oversee renovating our 45,000 sq. ft. building.

“I’m happy to say since the purchase of our building in 2013, we’ve renovated about 25,000 sq. ft. of space for sport use. About 75% of the building is in use by our sports tenants and users. This includes axe throwing, roller derby, bike polo, professional wrestling and pickleball, along with our badminton club of course.”

Dan says that his group first reached out to KWPA, the Kitchener Waterloo Pickleball Association, in 2014 to bring the sport onto their six court badminton facility. Thanks to this cooperation, they now have daily pickleball programs for all skill levels.

“Hundreds of players visit the facility for pickleball every week, from beginners to advanced players who visit despite being hours away. Pickleball has been an excellent way to add additional weekday daytime programming in a facility that would otherwise be empty.”

KW Pickleball Interior

Wish Granted

Clearly, the club’s leadership went a long way toward getting pickleball established in the first place. But considering grants are something many pickleball groups would love to obtain, how did Dan make his case? Turns out it was a combination of past experience and finding an underserved demographic.

Dan Pronovost

Dan Pronovost

“We became aware of the Ontario Sport and Recreation Communities Fund (OSRCF) through our successful Ontario Trillium Foundation (OTF) grants in past years. In talks with KWPA, we decided that pickleball for youth is a very underdeveloped demographic, since the sport is primarily aimed at seniors.

“But pickleball is of course equally exciting and fun for kids! The partnership opportunity with KWPA made perfect sense: KWBC is a mature and fiscally strong non-profit organization with grant experience and a world class sporting venue. KWPA has excellent talent for developing and leading a professionally-coached youth pickleball lessons program.”

The money for the grant has been allocated for, in order of usage:

– Coaching/instructor costs for the lessons (although 50% of the coaching is volunteer/non-paid)

– Additional administrative staffing and facility upkeep

– 20 new pickleball paddles and sufficient balls for one year

– Development of the coaching program/youth lessons sets

– Coaches certification and training

There are an incredible 192 kids that will get to enjoy this new program, where before there were no local opportunities for kids to play pickleball. The KWBC has also run paid youth badminton lessons for over 10 years which have been successful, so they feel confident there will be similar interest in pickleball.

KW Pickleball Games

Dan says the OSRCF grant will let them to make the pickleball lessons available for free to all participants for the 2016/17 school year, even with paddles and balls being included. With professional coaching, a great venue and free lessons, it’s not hard to see why spots fill up fast.

Their aim is to use the OSRCF grant to “seed”‘ the pickleball youth program in 2016/17, then continue with a nominally paid program beyond that to break even.

It’s a smart and beneficial model for all parties involved. While securing the grant was relatively straightforward, there are other concerns Dan has about supporting a thriving sports community.

Effort and Expansion

“The challenge is maintaining an 80+ year old building for sport use. Since the purchase of our building in 2013, we’ve invested over $500,000 in renovations and thousands of volunteer hours. While we are very happy to have received generous grants from sources like OTF and OSRCF, we can always use more help to further improve the quality of our venue.

“We are hoping to further renovate our 10,000 sq. ft. concrete rink pad space, which is used for pickleball and roller derby, by replacing part of the roof, adding heating for better winter usage, insulation, and high-quality floor painting and lines. Adding air conditioning for summer-time use is one of our more frequent member and user requests!

KWPA Players

“The demand for sport space in the core of Kitchener is growing, but there are no municipal plans to add venues. Every time we open an area of our building for tenants and renters, the space is taken almost immediately, especially for lesser-known sports struggling to compete for space.”

Dan says that he believes forward thinking, financially secure non-profit organizations such KWBC are key to helping address shortages of sport space for everyone in the community.

He also welcomes and encourages all pickleball players to visit their club, so if you’re ever in the area, feel free to stop by! KWBC hosts a popular regional pickleball tournament in spring, which is a draw for players from abroad to come out and compete.

“Many other sporting organizations are starting to see the value of adding pickleball to their venues. Indoor and outdoor tennis clubs are a good candidate for adding pickleball to help support their facilities and courts. Any club with a suitably-sized gym should be thinking about adding it to fill unused court times.”


We agree! To our readers looking to expand pickleball offerings in their area, we hope you’ll keep this advice in mind and push local community centers and other facilities to bring our favorite sport to the masses.

Thanks to Dan for his time and hard work ensuring pickleball is available to players of all ages!

Pickleball in New Zealand – Beauty and the Ball

New Zealand is famous for its beautiful landscapes, Maori culture and Lord of the Rings. It’s a great place for thrill seekers, backpackers and anyone who appreciates gorgeous vistas. But until recently, there was one area where it fell short—pickleball!

Clearly this problem had to be remedied, which is why Sharon Fleet took it upon herself to help spread the word (and supplies).

New Zealand is something of a “baby” when it comes to pickleball, having only started the development of local stores and clubs in June 2015, but it’s spreading quickly thanks to the efforts of Sharon and her friends.

Players at Rotorua Pickleball Club

Players at Rotorua Pickleball Club

Sharon was kind enough to spend some time explaining how pickleball made the trip to New Zealand and how she got involved in its growth. Click the links to jump to specific sections or read in full below:

A Warm Welcome
Feeding a Healthy Addiction
Places to Play Pickleball in New Zealand
The Pickler Connection
More Fun and More Funds
New Zealand’s Treasures

A Warm Welcome

Claire Spackman and David McNamara were the first New Zealanders to take the initiative to set up a pickleball group after playing it in the U.S. The couple were local players at the Rotorua Badminton Club, so they turned to Sharon (as a chairperson) to see if they could start offering pickleball at the facility.

Sharon had wanted to start future-proofing the Badminton Hall, so she was open to ideas that could help generate more fun and income. The three had a meeting to discuss pickleball as a new opportunity, and she saw its potential right away.

The trio introduced pickleball to the rest of the committee and established a club which could operate out of the 6-court badminton hall to attract newcomers. It’s clearly seen success, as the Rotorua club just celebrated their 1st anniversary on July 25th this year and continues to go strong.

Lake Rotorua

Speaking of lakes… Lake Rotorua is stunning! (Credit: Dave Smith)

Sharon is also a Member of the Rotorua Lakes Council Sports and Recreation Committee, which allows her to pitch the sport to a wide variety of groups and get in touch with the 45+ age group.

Feeding a Healthy Addiction

In addition to her work with the Rotorua Rec Committee, Sharon runs a store called Pickleball Essentials that helps provide people with a local resource for pickleball equipment and assistance when setting up clubs.

“Recognizing this is a completely new sport to New Zealand, I started doing some research and quickly established that apart from eBay, no one was selling pickleball gear locally or nationally. You really need equipment to start a new sport, and since I already have an importing business set up in the automotive area, I was familiar with what was required.

“My goal with Pickleball Essentials is to supply quality pickleball products at reasonable prices, and help foster the creation of multiple pickleball-playing locations around the country. We’re seeing steady results!”

Places to Play Pickleball in New Zealand

Despite her entrepreneurial background making the process a bit more straightforward, Sharon explains that it still takes a lot of work to establish a fresh organization:

Pickleball Rotorua session

Several games of pickleball at the Rotorua facility

“Marketing is number one. How do you introduce a new sport with a crazy name!? At the same time as David, Claire and I started Pickleball Rotorua (our local club), we recognized the need to set up an association under which other locations could be unified. As such, Pickleball New Zealand was born.

“David secured the website, developed the logo and maintains it with current events and news. We also have a Facebook page under the same name: Pickleball New Zealand.”

You can find a full list of New Zealand locations to play pickleball on the site, but to sum up, you can find courts in:

  • Kumeu – NW Auckland
  • Nelson
  • North Shore
  • Rotorua
  • Snells Beach
  • Wellington – Hataitai
  • Wellington Hutt Valley
  • Whakatane
  • Warkworth
Little Pickler NZ

Is this New Zealand’s littlest pickler!?

The Pickler Connection

Many players become aware of pickleball after coming for badminton, then end up taking advantage of the courts for both sports. But it’s not simply a case of, “Build it and they will come!”

Sharon says that David and Claire have been instrumental in introducing pickleball to groups and badminton associations around New Zealand, as Claire plays competitively. Sharon also explains that:

“A number of locations have started up because people are familiar with pickleball and are keen to put local groups together. Currently we don’t have a great deal of interlinking with the other clubs, but we’ve started talking about inter-town challenges, etc.  As New Zealand’s pickleball scene grows, so will travel between the sports centers.

Pickleball in Wellington

Pickleball was introduced to Wellington back in January this year and has seen 2 clubs start up

“Introducing pickleball to badminton groups as an alternative income stream has been a slow process, but it’s helped along by people who have played the game overseas. It’s been wonderful to welcome visiting picklers from America and Canada—we treat them like royalty!”

More Fun and More Funds

Sharon’s main hope and passion is to continue seeing pickleball grow in Rotorua. They currently have two club sessions, one on Monday evening between 7pm to 9pm and one on Thursday morning from 10am to 12 noon. She says that Monday evenings attract 30 – 40 players while Thursdays are more low key.

“I’ve found pickleball to be a fun, social game. It seems to create a lot of noise and camaraderie among players. It’s also been a very welcome activity from my perspective as a committee member, due to the increase in activity and visitors.

“Regarding my own pickling schedule, due to a torn Achilles I haven’t been able to play since October last year, and this has considerably restricted my mobility. I just started back at badminton, and next Monday I will be playing pickleball again. YEAH!”

New Zealand’s Treasures

Beyond the flourishing pickleball scene, there are a ton of fun things to do in New Zealand, and in Rotorua specifically. According to Sharon, “Rotorua is a tourism mecca and an adventure playground with a plethora of activities to enjoy, along with some of nature’s most fascinating gems.”

Whakarewarewa at Rotorua

Whakarewarewa, “The Living Maori Village” at Rotorua (Credit: Mundus Gregorius)

We’re inclined to agree! Here are just some of Rotorua’s exciting offerings:

  • Tamaki and Whakarewarewa Maori Villages: To learn about Maori culture and get a firsthand look at some of their traditions, you can visit these living villages to hear songs, watch warrior displays like the haka, learn the poi (swinging tethered weights) and enjoy a delicious traditional hangi (slow cooked in a covered pit) meal.
  • Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Tour: The location of the Hobbiton set is in a nearby rural town called Matamata, and there are several tours that will take you there from Rotorua. You’ll travel through the scenic Kaimai Ranges until you reach the Shire and get to see charming hobbit holes, The Green Dragon Inn, the Party Tree and more LotR landmarks.
  • Geothermal Spas: Rotorua has a lot of geothermal activity like hot springs, geysers, mud pools and terraces. If you want to treat yourself and have a luxurious, healing moment while soaking in one of these natural wonders, check out a big list of your options at Rotoruanz.com.
  • Wingspan National Bird of Prey Center: Dedicated to the conservation of the Karearea New Zealand falcon, this center rehabilitates injured wild birds and releases captive-bred falcons to support local populations. You can get a close-up look at these incredible birds and even see them in action during the flying displays that take place daily.

Many thanks to Sharon for her hard work in the name of pickleball and for sharing a slice of New Zealand with us!