New Sport Comes to the East End: Pickleball!

Pickleball fever is sweeping the nation! Okay, maybe it’s not quite “sweeping” yet, but Pickleball is picking up steam in Montauk with its one-year anniversary at the Montauk Playhouse quickly approaching.

Pickleball is a game played on a badminton court. The net is lowered to 36” from the ground. The ball is perforated and plastic, similar to a Wiffle Ball, and the racket is solid and wooden, similar to a Ping-Pong paddle.

“It’s really fun,” Alison Rigby said. Rigby received her Bachelor of Science in Physical Education from Cortland where she learned how to play Pickleball. She is now the Assistant Recreation Leader for the Town of East Hampton. She runs the Pickleball program at the Montauk Playhouse gymnasium. Montauk resident Pat Shea played the game in California and brought the idea to Rigby to have the game available at the Playhouse.

Legend has it that Pickleball was invented as a backyard game by Congressman Joel Pritchard in 1965. His children were bored and wanted to play badminton. They had a Wiffle Ball, (but no shuttlecock), Ping-Pong paddles, and a badminton net. The sport allegedly got its name from the family dog Pickles, who would chase the ball after each play. From these humble beginnings would grow an organized sport with national and international governing bodies.

The sport gained popularity with seniors in California and Florida but has since expanded. Pickleball is accessible to people of all ages, from children to seniors, and recently it’s become very competitive.

Pickleball starts with an underhanded serve to the opposite box like tennis. It follows rally scoring—you can only score on a serve. The box closest to the net is a no-volley zone and players must allow the ball to bounce before hitting it in this area only. The no-volley zone is known as the “kitchen table.” And, of course, you must win by two.

As with any sport, Pickleball can be physically demanding and caution is advised. The USA Pickleball Association (USAPA) has a section on their website called the training room. The USAPA advises players to always wear proper sneakers made for court sports, and also to make sure players are aware of their surroundings and possible obstacles, and never play Pickleball on a wet court. Pickleball specific stretches, warm-ups, cool downs and injury prevention techniques are available on training.usapa.org. But it’s not just a safety site; there are plenty of tips for improving your Pickleball game, from winning strategies to serve techniques.

May 1 marks the one-year anniversary of Pickleball in Montauk and the Playhouse will continue to keep it on the calendar. Like many other events on the East End, Pickleball really picks up in April and May and this summer could be its biggest yet.

Rigby said they have a huge turnout, with 30 people signing up, and that number increases as more summer people come out. It’s coed, and younger guys in their 20s are starting to play regularly.

Aspiring Pickleballers can play for free at the Montauk Playhouse on Tuesdays from 9:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and Fridays 11 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. As Pickleball gains popularity, Rigby is working on setting up tournaments as the high season arrives. “It’d be great,” Rigby said, “It’s hard out in here in February and March, but maybe over the summer.”

For more info, visit montaukplayhouse.org.

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