Indoor racquet sports are netting a good amount of attention this fall, with two nights of badminton and another of pickleball — all sponsored by Hope and District Recreation, Culture and Airpark Services.
Monday and Wednesday nights from 6:30 to 8:30, it’s badminton in the C.E. Barry gym. Thursdays in the same time slot, it’s pickleball. All sessions are for ages 15 and up, with a $2 drop-in fee.
Pickleball officially debuted in Hope this spring, starting out at the Coquihalla gym. Due to tight end-line space, the game has been moved to Silver Creek’s gym, which offers a bit more elbow room.
Jon Nigh, who pushed to get the sport going locally said, “It’s about two feet longer at each end, now, so that helps on the long shots. The rec commission has bought us two new portable nets, as well.”
Typically, they’ve been getting six players out, so Nigh said there is certainly room for more. Eight would be ideal, to have two courts going with doubles play. If more attend, a third court could be opened up. Paddles and balls are provided.
For the uninitiated, pickleball is played on a badminton court, with the net set roughly at tennis height. The ball is a whiffle ball, about the size of a street hockey ball and the paddle is like an enlarged table tennis paddle, with a smooth surface.
Pickleball plays a lot like tennis but has its own set of rules — some of them as peculiar as the game’s name — that experienced players such as Nigh will be happy to explain.
Unlike tennis or badminton, there’s not much mechanical advantage to the paddle, so the game has a slightly slower pace. There’s still a lot of opportunity for strategy, with lobs, slices, smashes and drop shots.
“When you get proficient at it and get into rallies of eight or tens returns, you’re breathing hard and getting good cardio,” said Nigh. “If you play for a full two hours, you get a good workout. We have a lot of fun… lots of laughs.”
Nigh is so hooked on the game that he has been traveling to Chilliwack for sessions down there. Tuesday nights, he goes to the Rosedale drop-in from 7 to 9 p.m. On some Wednesdays and Fridays, he goes to the sessions at Evergreen Hall, which run from 8 a.m. till noon.
“On those days, you could play for four hours,” said Nigh. “What else can you do for four hours, for only two bucks?”
Nigh and four or five other Hope-based pickleball players travelled to Rosedale during the summer, where he said the Hope contingent made up the bulk of the players.
Badminton kept going during the summer in Hope — for the first time ever — thanks to the interest shown by Nat Baker, a local badminton enthusiast.
Mandy Arbuckle, the new assistant manager at the rec centre, said, “Nat approached me about keeping it going in the summer and the school district helped us facilitate getting into the school during the summer. We have a joint-use agreement with them.
Arbuckle sees positive trends in both sports.
“Badminton is one of the top five sports for participation by adults in Canada — and pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports.”
Brad Kurucz has been a regular at Hope drop-in badminton for the past seven or eight years and has recently been heading down to Rosedale for their drop-in sessions.
“There are a lot of great things about badminton,” said Kurucz. “It’s probably the easiest racquet sport for a beginner to play and actually have extended rallies.
“If playing just for fun, it’s very easy to get the bird back and forth, I’ve played with my 70-year-old mother and we can hit it around pretty well.
“As the skill levels go up, the game is very dynamic, with a lot of intensity, quickness, and power. There are all kinds of skills involved… footwork, tactics and deception.
“Personally, I’ve always loved smashing the bird. It feels good, like taking a slap shot, hitting a home run or driving a golf ball 300 yards. With really hard hitters, the bird can leave the racquet at over 300 km/hour.
“The skill level down in Rosedale is definitely a notch up from Hope. Doug Araki plays down there quite often, and some of the other Hope players come down now and again as well. It can be pretty challenging, but there are also some less intense games.
“In Rosedale, they play from 7 to 10. Some people play the whole night and others show up for what works for them. It would be nice if Hope went a bit later, too.”
Arbuckle said on Monday that extended badminton hours are being considered.