Offering exercise, camaraderie, and a lot of fun, pickleball is getting pretty popular on Cape Cod!

Pickleball, Bourne Community Center

Photographer – Dan Cutrona

While vacationing in Florida recently, Bourne resident Ric Collamore fell hard and fast; the attraction was strong and immediate. His heart was pumping, his feet were moving—and his life would never be the same. What was the object of his affection? Pickleball!

“I became addicted to the sport within a couple of days,” says Collamore, who spends his winters in Florida. When he returned to the Cape two years ago, he sought permission to use courts in the town of Bourne to start up a local pickleball program. Since then, he has taught more than 40 people how to play, and he enjoys sharing his love for the game.

“It’s evolved into this beautiful thing,” Collamore says. As of early May, Bourne has four outdoor pickleball courts on Sagamore Beach, and three indoor courts set up at the Bourne Memorial Community Center. One can enjoy pickleball all year long.

From interviews and conversations with several Cape Cod residents, it seems Collamore’s passion for this sport is not an isolated case. During the past few years, pickleball groups have been popping up all over the Cape, from the canal to Harwich, and all the way to Truro.

First things first: What is pickleball?

According to USA Pickleball’s (USAPA) website, pickleball is “a paddle sport created for all ages and skill levels” that combines many elements of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Collamore offers a more colorful description: “The best way I’ve found to describe it is ping-pong on steroids,” he says with a laugh.

The game is played on a badminton-sized court (20 by 44 feet) with a modified tennis net (it’s about two inches shorter). Each player holds a paddle that’s larger than a ping-pong paddle, but not as large as a tennis racket, and the game is played with a plastic ball that’s similar to a wiffleball. The game is most commonly played with two individuals per side. The first team to 11 points wins, but teams must win by two points. Typical games last about 15 minutes.

While pickleball on Cape Cod is relatively new, the sport has been around for more than 50 years, and is widely popular in retirement communities in both Florida and Arizona. According to the USAPA website, pickleball was invented in 1965 by three dads as a simple game to entertain their children.   

Pickleball on the Cape

A resident of Barnstable and a USAPA ambassador, George Rice started the first pickleball meet-ups on Cape Cod about a decade ago and has watched participation in the sport grow each year. “You can play it when you’re 8 years old and when you’re 88 years old,” Rice says, adding that the game is not difficult to comprehend. “You can learn and play the same day.”

While the rules are generally simple, the game is played at a fast pace and participants must be strategic. “It’s not about how hard you hit the ball,” Rice says, “it’s where you hit it.”

The game is especially popular among seniors, partly due to the smaller court size, which, practically speaking, means less running is required and there’s less strain on the body. Rice says many people have taken up the sport after being sidelined by a sports injury. At 80, Rice plays regularly despite his arthritis. “You can get sweating out there, but you don’t have to do that,” he says. “Everyone plays at their own level. You can play as much or as hard as you want.”

A welcoming community

In addition to the exercise, Collamore says there’s another aspect of pickleball that’s unique—the pickleball community. “Everyone plays competitively, but no one acts competitively,” Collamore says. “Everyone is there to have a good time and get some exercise; it’s a social sport. There’s a camaraderie on the court. At the end of the game, everyone bumps paddles at the net.”

Rice agrees. “The one thing about pickleball is no matter where they are, they are always nice people.”

Pickleball on the Cape is, generally, a pick-up activity. A group sets a date, time, and place, and players of all ages and abilities show up and rotate into different games with different partners and opponents. If someone doesn’t know how to play, other participants, or the organizer, will lend a paddle and explain the basics.

Ruth Sherman, a Yarmouth resident and a longtime racquetball player, took up pickleball for the first time this past fall. The come-as-you-are attitude appeals to her. “I like playing with a lot of different people,” Sherman says. “It makes it interesting. It’s fun to have some variety and see different styles of the game.”

Pickleball has found a foothold on the Cape, and local advocates expect the sport will continue to grow. Rice estimates that about 500 people across the Cape currently play pickleball, and during the summer, an average of 40 people turn up for his scheduled meet-up sessions. Rice encourages anyone to try the sport, but he does offer a disclaimer. “It’s addicting,” he says. “Most people get hooked after playing it!”

To find out where pickleball is played on the Cape and Islands, visit usapa.org, and click on the “Places to Play” tab.

Nancy White is a freelance writer from Hull.