Cathy Campbell

Local club debuts pickleball tournament

Two-day tourney draws players from across Island and beyond to doubles play in Parksville

When organizers begin taking registration for next year’s tournament at Oceanside Place Arena, they may find themselves in a real pickle.

The inaugural Oceanside Pickleball Tournament drew a nearly full field of teams from Vancouver Island, the Lower Mainland and even players from Ontario for competition in three divisions of play last Thursday and Friday.

And that’s just what happened on short notice.

“We were within two teams of maxing out our entries in the men’s and women’s divisions, and we had just a few spots left for mixed,” said Valerie McNutt, Regional District of Nanaimo arena programmer. “I don’t think we’re going to have any problem filling it next year.”

And why not? Pickleball — a hybrid racquet sport that looks like a cross between tennis and ping pong — is reported to be the fastest-growing sport in North America, said Ken Holman of Chemainus.

“This sport is exploding,” said Holman, who directs the Vancouver Island Pickleball Championships each year in Fuller Lake. “Boomers are moving to this as their sport of choice.”

The two-day tourney drew 32 teams Thursday for play in men’s and women’s doubles, and another 27 teams for Friday’s mixed finals.

It came about through a partnership between the RDN and the five-year-old Oceanside Pickleball Club, which boasts about 200 members, said Tom Staite, tournament co-ordinator.

“Val came to us and said, ‘Why don’t you have a tournament?’” said Staite. “And that was just four weeks ago.”

McNutt said she merely suggested the RDN would be willing to help with logistics if the club happened to want to put a tournament together. The interest of local club members and visitors from other clubs took care of the rest.

Claudia McLean of Chemainus strikes a backhand return in a mixed doubles match during the inaugural Oceanside Pickleball Tournament at Howie Meeker Arena in Parksville Friday. — Image credit: J.R. Rardon/PQB NEWS

Lines for nine pickleball courts have been painted at Oceanside Place Arena for the second straight year. The local club also has six courts painted at the outdoor box lacrosse rink at Community Park in Parksville, and recently added eight courts at the Community Park tennis courts.

“This is a really good facility,” Holman said of the indoor venue at Oceanside Place. “There aren’t too many places to play indoors, and it’s great to have the availability for a tournament, where you know you’re not going to get rained out.”

The arena hosts regular drop-in pickleball sessions, and club play is organized by the Parksville Golden Oldies Sports Association (PGOSA). A new, under-55 group is in the process of being formed and already has more than 50 people, said Staite.

“We offer beginner lessons, too, and we’ve already run more than a hundred new players through here this year,” he said. “You can easily pick it up in three games, or lessons.”

The game, Staite said, is drawing players from across the racquet sport spectrum.

“Ken (Holman) used to be a major figure in the table tennis world,” he said. “I’m a badminton guy. It’s really suitable for anyone coming from any racquet sport — tennis, squash, racquetball.”

Holman said a big influx is aging tennis players moving to a much smaller court, with a whiffle-style ball that travels about a third of the speed of a tennis ball.

“It’s addicting,” said Claudia McLean of Chemainus, who partnered with Holman on the court Friday. “It’s a fantastic game.”

The hastily thrown-together tournament, which featured the help of 20 volunteers, did not have a title, and prizes consisted of gift cards from the RDN and area businesses.

“We’re not playing for big stakes,” Staite said with a laugh. “You try not to make it that serious; it’s mostly a social thing.”

Still, with its debut in the books, Oceanside Pickleball Club and the RDN can take their time to build on it and roll out a bigger, better affair in 2017.

“We’re going to sit down and debrief after this is over,” said McNutt. “What do we want to do? Where do we want to go with it next year?”

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