Around the Island

In a pickle: Our reporter investigates the sport of pickleball

CAITLIN PANARELLA PHOTO Pickelball action on the Shelter Island School tennis courts recently.
Pickleball action on the Shelter Island School tennis courts recently.

One morning recently at the tennis courts behind Shleter Island School, Marji Cyr served the ball, but she wasn’t playing tennis, but a game called pickleball.

Across the net from Ms. Cyr, players readied their paddles for the approaching shot. Quick reflexes are a plus in this sport, as newcomers, including this reporter, soon discover. With a quick return across the net, the players moved up the court for an exciting face-off, chasing the small orange ball.

The sport of pickleball, described by players as a combination of ping-pong, tennis and badminton, officially took up summer residence on Shelter Island in 2014. Complete with a ribbon cutting on the school tennis courts, that opening has since created opportunities for players to learn, play and compete together.

It’s a game for all ages and skill levels, played with a whiffle ball and short paddles. The name comes from the Pacific Northwest where, it’s said, the sport was invented. Out there, “the pickle boat” is the last boat to return with its catch, and at the sport’s birth, someone said that choosing up sides was like “picking” through the leftovers of the last boat.

Every player has his or her own style, so novices will receive different advice on how to serve from each of the more experienced players, as this reporter learned. A lesson began with “dinking,” or volleying, the ball back and forth. Just keep out of “the kitchen,” beginners are instructed, a zone marked off several feet in either direction from the net once a game starts.

“You just have to find your niche,” said Gail Coyle, a regular on the courts, coming to he rescue of this baffled beginner.

Ms. Coyle has helped the sport grow on the Island by donating a pickleball net.

Ms., Cyr and her husband, Ron, along with Betsy Ludlow, have been the guiding spirits bringing the sport here. Summer residents of 30 years, the Cyrs have been introducing and playing pickleball with friends up and down the east coast, playing in regular groups when they lived in Florida and New Jersey.

Since starting the Shelter Island group, they’ve seen good turnouts on the courts, Ms. Cyr said. New players often come after hearing about the group through word-of-mouth, or even just passing the courts and seeing the fun.

“You never know who will show up,” Mr. Cyr said, adding recently a father and 8-year-old son were playing tennis, stopped and peered through a fence to watch a pickleball match. They came in to play and quickly got the hang of it, Ms. Cyr said.

Depending on the turnout, players may have to wait to play, but that’s a bonus, she said, since it’s a great way to get to know each other and socialize.

Participants on the Shelter Island courts have ranged from 8 to 75-plus. The sport is, however, particularly beneficial to senior citizens since it’s played on a smaller court than tennis, requires less running and more hand-eye coordination. The serves are underhand and the ball is lighter.

Another benefit of the sport, according to Ms. Cyr, is how social and laidback it is, a sentiment echoed by several players on the court last week.

“I always laugh here,” Ms. Coyle said.

The Cyrs and other players hope to eventually have permanent pickleball nets in place on the tennis courts. Everyone is welcome to play, and currently a group gathers at the courts every Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. until about 10:30 a.m. Other times can be are arranged, if desired. A net and paddles are always available at the FIT Center to use.

Bring some water and a hat to shield the sun, and be prepared for fun.