VAIL — It’s called pickleball, and if you haven’t heard of it yet, don’t worry. It’s easy to learn.
Once you do learn, though, you’re probably going to want to play it all the time, says local Joe Rink.
Rink picked up the sport a few years ago in Arizona, and now he has popularized it here in the Vail Valley. It was easy to do, says Rink, because the sport — which looks like a mix of tennis and pingpong — is just so magnetic.
“It’s a fun game. ... Everybody’s laughing and having a good time,” says Rink. “Your opponents are congratulating each other on a shot; you are not ugly about it, and it just makes for a fun, competitive, reasonably — if not very much — a sport that will give you a great workout, as well. For all those reasons, I just fell in love with this game.”
Rink has recruited a handful of local players who meet nearly every day at the Golden Peak tennis courts.
Four courts there have been converted into permanent pickleball courts, something Rink says he suspects we’ll see more of in coming years.
“They say it’s the fastest growing sport in America,” Rink said. “I got a call about the 15th of June. … He said we’ve decided to build four pickleball courts at Gold Peak this year. Do you want three or four? Well, I didn’t even take a breath when I said ‘four.’ ... We are delighted with what’s happened here.”
Currently, there’s a revolving cast of 50 or so regular pickleball players, with a fraction of the total showing up on any given day ready to play.
Among them is Dr. John Gottlieb, who says the sport plays well with a large and diverse group.
“Women are just as competitive as men, which is great,” he said.
Rink says being on his feet with the racquet in his hand is what makes the sport so appealing.
“I’m 78 years old, and I’m now full of arthritis, so I can’t run and play tennis anymore,” he said. “When I found this game. … I found something other than golf to do.”
Summit County and Steamboat Springs are ahead of the Vail Valley in pickleball participation numbers right now, but Rink says he doesn’t think that will be the case forever.
“We started much later than those folks (in Summit and Steamboat). ... And because of that, I think within a year or two, we’re going to have 30, 40, 50 people out here playing pickleball darn near every day,” Rink said.
Among the goals of the local pickleball community is to make the sport a year-round activity. Currently, on their outdoor courts, the group’s play is limited to the time period beginning around mid-May and running until the end of September or so.
“There is night play now one day a week at the Avon Elementary School gymnasium, and there are quite a few people that go there, but we want to get it more than one night a week ... for those five or six months that we can’t play outdoors here,” Rink said.