Bringing Pickleball to VRSA
If you build it they will come...
While Denise and I are both avid golfers we used to play pickleball more frequently than we played golf. We would often say, “We play golf 3 or 4 times a week. We play pickleball only on the days that end in ‘y’.” My competitive pickleball days ended a few years ago following complications of knee surgery. Denise’s pickleball days seemed to end when we moved to Portugal. But she persisted…
What is pickleball?
As we started playing the sport in 2007, were active members of the USAPA (USA Pickleball Association), played in dozens of tournaments in the States, and played in Thailand, Scotland, and the Netherlands…we assume everyone knows about the game. But for those that don’t, here is your primer:
Pickleball is a court sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton, and table tennis. The YouTube video below provides a good overview.
It is played on a court the size of a badminton court, over a net that is just a little lower than a tennis net.
The sport was invented by a Washington state legislator on Bainbridge Island, 57 years ago. He wanted an easy to learn, fun sport that all generations could enjoy together.
Pickleball went crazy in the States as baby boomers flocked to retirement communities. As the court took up less space than a tennis court, many developers included courts in their communities. The sport was easy to learn and gentler on seniors’ joints. Over 4 million Americans play pickleball today and it is also played in 46 other countries.
In roughly 2015, we saw more and more younger people participating in the sport. Many were former NCAA Div I tennis players. The sport was transformed and now has two new “professional tours”.
Pickleball in Cascais
Spoiler Alert: There is no pickleball in Cascais which is where we first lived when we moved to Portugal. Denise tried to find a tennis/padel club that would consider introducing the sport…but no luck. She even took a padel lesson! Perhaps she would enjoy this sport as much as she liked pickleball. But nope..she found the additional weight of the paddle unwieldy and hitting off the walls was not her thing. She tried to convince her padel instructor to try pickleball…but then lockdown hit (in earnest) and the instructor’s interest fizzled with time.
Twice Denise drove 90-minutes to Vau to play pickleball indoors. The group was primarily French-speaking immigrants and while welcoming, the drive was just too long.
We thought there might be a possibility of introducing pickleball in VRSA for three reasons: (1) there is a large tennis/padel club that is lightly used, (2) on the roof of our new home we could squeeze in a full-size pickleball court, and (3) VRSA is the home of a huge, well-equipped sports complex that is a training facility for European Olympic athletes.
Within days of settling in VRSA Denise took a trip to the tennis club. It didn’t take long for her to get the message. She was told clearly and directly, “This is not possible. This is a tennis and padel club!” Strike one.
But each night before retiring we chanted our mantra: “if you build it …. they will come.” Then the city’s Pombaline architectural standards required us to add a fake tile roof to the front of our building which takes up about 7’ of our rooftop deck space. There went the full-size pickleball court on the roof. Strike two.
We had to find a way to utilize the sports complex facilities. But how? As it turns out, I was hanging out in the Continente bom dia parking lot with Onix, while Denise shopped inside. Behind the store, I discovered a huge covered court. It had 4 basketball hoops and what appeared to be soccer nets. I anxiously awaited Denise’s return. When she exited the store I dragged her breathlessly to the rear of the store. There it was…pickleball nirvana. We stopped at the reception desk of the Sports Complex the next day. We learned the area was called “semi coberto” (partially covered) and was available to rent. We sent an email with the YouTube video above to the facility director. Within days we had permission to rent the facility on Mondays and Thursdays from 11:00 to 13:00. We paid 240€ to rent the facility for the month of March. “If you build it…they will come.”
If You Build It
We had brought a pickleball net with us when we moved to Portugal. Denise also had packed a large box that contained balls and paddles. I sent a WhatsApp message to the Americans that participated in the language group. We also placed a few events on Facebook groups. The first week we had the people shown above. Only two, besides Denise, had ever played the sport before. But we offered lessons and encouragement and by the end of the first two-hour session, everyone was able to play on the court.
We continue to post on Facebook groups and encourage those that have participated to bring a friend. In the last two weeks, we have added 5 people to the group. We can easily fit 3 courts in the area we have rented. We own a second net and are working to have it brought to us from the States. If we can get 10 people that participate regularly we can charge a modest fee (no more than 5€ a session) to cover the court costs and create a kitty for paddles, balls, and another net. Only time will tell.
This past week a physical education teacher from the local school stopped by. He watched for a bit and then asked if we would be willing to introduce the sport to his students. After the Easter break, Denise and I will be taking our equipment and limited Portuguese language skills to the local school. Personally, I love teaching kids!
Se o construir … eles virão (If you build it…they will come).
Editor’s Update: Pickleball is also played in Oeiras (near Lisbon), Vau (near Óbidos), and Porto. For information on these locations please check the Pickleball Portugal Facebook Group. For dates and times, we play in VRSA, check the Eastern Algarve Facebook Group.
This is great news, Nancy! Way to persevere! Some day we’ll get back to the Algarve and I’ll find you guys. I am totally hooked. Pickle Ball is now the official sport of Washington State. I live in Bellingham, WA and we’re in the process of adding quite a few more city courts. It’s become very popular here, even during the winter.
My wife and I are competitive tennis players from Bainbridge Island. Haven’t played the sport yet. But we have been in the Algarve for 10 days. Hope to be back when we buy our house in the Algarve. Good luck!