Pickleball craze spikes in Winter Garden

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  • | 2:18 a.m. November 12, 2015
Pickleball Jumbo
Pickleball Jumbo
  • West Orange Times & Observer
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WINTER GARDEN  When you hear “among the fastest-growing sports in America,” what comes to mind?

Soccer? Lacrosse?

Try pickleball, and Winter Garden is at the center of the game’s rise in Orange County.

Turnout for pick-up play was so high with temporary courts set up at the tennis courts of Veterans Memorial Park in Winter Garden that city officials decided to put in six permanent courts, said Dave Vander Weide, considered the game’s ambassador for the city by other local enthusiasts.

“We would put 17 people out here. We had four tennis courts (at this park.) We would take over all four tennis courts at times, and the city tracked that and … decided this was the way to go.”

Vander Weide presided over play on the new courts Nov. 2, just three days after the new courts were finished.

“Now we got at least 24, 25 (players),” he said of that day’s turnout. “There are some chalk lines — we used to chalk the courts so we could play over the tennis. We were just desperate to play somewhere.”

Winter Garden’s courts are the first public permanent ones in the Orlando area, Vander Weide said. This helps with an official tournament coming the weekend of Nov. 13-15, which could exceed the 2014 tournament’s 156 players on 12 portable courts.

“We’re already at 140 (participants),” Vander Weide said. “It generates a lot of income for the area, too, so it’s just a win-win for everybody.”

That includes anyone who wants to try the game, as many first-timers Vander Weide and friends have converted to enthusiasts will attest to. He volunteered with the city to hold pickleball instruction sessions with painted lines, developing even more players for the area. With enough paddles to share, the group welcomes newcomers of all ages and skill levels with an eye on growing the game.

“When I first was introduced to this game about five years ago, I couldn’t find anybody to play with in this area,” Vander Weide said. “Gradually, I found other people in other parts of the area — I call them my pickleball pockets, because they’re out there. They’re just small, isolated groups. Through our club, we finally decided to organize, and we call our group GO Pickleball — Greater Orlando Pickleball.”

With steady growth and support, Vander Weide hopes to have more players and courts all over the county, so everyone can go pickleball.


Think of a pickleball court as a shrunken tennis court — including nets — with dimension like a badminton court. Paddles — racquets — are composite or wooden, and the ball is like a large wiffle ball.

Serves work just as they do in tennis but must be underhand, and the split boxes serves must land in cross-court are along the baseline, not the net.

“There are some unique rules to help balance the game out,” Vander Weide said. “On the serve, it’s kind of like a bowling motion. You’ll see other motions, too — just how people are used to serving in different ways.”

The serving side must let the return bounce, too, after which players can hit the ball however they wish.

Another caveat is the non-volley zone — the rectangle at the net players nicknamed “the kitchen” — from which a player may not stand and hit the ball on a fly.

“I mean, it’s fun doing that,” Vander Weide said with a laugh, “but it’s not fair, so the ball has to bounce and touch in there before you can hit it.”

Like tennis, there is a double-bounce rule, meaning if the ball bounces on you twice, your opponent gets the point. Strategy is similar, with a mix of drops, smashes, spins and lobs.

Contact Zak Kerr at [email protected].


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