This article originally appeared on qchron.com
Kathy Toner enjoyed her pickleball lessons at the Freeport Recreation Center before the Covid-19 pandemic put the world on pause.
She wanted to start playing again, but she knew her serve would be rusty after years of inactivity. She attended a beginner pickleball clinic at Commonpoint Queens Tennis and Athletic Center in Alley Pond Park to start fresh.
This time, her husband, Patrick Toner, tagged along, just to see what all the hype is about.
Glowing with exertion after a round of doubles, the Bellerose resident described it as “exercise, but not too much.”
“Tennis would be a lot more physical, and as I get older, it’s not really good,” he said.
Pickleball incorporates elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong and is played on a smaller court than tennis, so it does not require much running.
Kathy Toner enjoys watching tennis and figured pickleball would be a fun, low-impact substitute, especially for the senior citizens with whom she typically played in years past.
Gail Kahn from Forest Hills was a tennis player growing up but found that her stamina dwindled with age, making it difficult to keep up with the intense sport.
“You have to be in better shape, and tennis I think is more precision. You really have to practice and play a lot to get the moves and the serve and all that,” she said. “Pickleball is not as precision-oriented. I don’t think it’s as competitive as tennis, either.”
Commonpoint Queens Tennis and Athletic Center Tennis Director Aki Wolfson told the clinic’s 12 attendees that, while tennis and pickleball are similar in some ways, they are total opposites in others.
During her pickleball certification process, Wolfson was told she plays “too much like a tennis player” with the flick of her wrist.
A tennis background is not necessary to get started with pickleball.
Inspired by her colleagues who are seniors and avid pickleballers, Woodhaven resident Karen Cannariato tried it out for the first time at the clinic, held late last month.
“It seems very popular now, and the thing that sparked my interest in a way was that it does seem like older generations are doing it and can do it,” Cannariato said. “I’m at an age where I’m up there, and I feel like it’s probably very good exercise, so I’d like to see if I can get into it.”
“I think it’s really good exercise … and it’s not overtaxing your body,” Kahn added. “If you’re not a real athlete, you can still do it. It’s manageable … I feel good after I do it. It lifts your spirits.”
Kahn started playing pickleball several months ago — she attended another clinic at Commonpoint Queens and regularly practices her volleys with a friend, whose apartment building includes a pickleball court.
“So many people that I know who play, they just rave about it,” she said. “I have a friend who sleeps very late, ’til one, two in the afternoon, but because of pickleball, she’s getting up at 7:30.”
Ellen Kahaner advised new pickleballers to stay hydrated, wear a hat and stay in the shade as much as possible.
“It’s fun, it’s social, it’s not hard,” she said. “I think you should make sure you stretch beforehand and take a walk or take a bike ride beforehand just to loosen up, so you’re not coming in all stiff.”
Like many others, she was drawn to pickleball for its popularity — with limited space in public parks, pickleball courts are popping up in malls across the country to replace stores like Bed Bath & Beyond, Old Navy and Saks Off 5th.
“Pickleball is growing everywhere in general,” Wolfson told the Chronicle in an email. “There is a high demand for space as more and more people are getting involved in it.”
Parks in Queens are starting to meet public demand for pickleball courts.
The Commonpoint Queens Tennis and Athletic Center in Alley Pond Park boasts 10 pickleball courts, seven tennis courts and a 40-by-60-yard turf field. Rockaway Beach 102nd Street installed a dedicated pickleball court last summer.
Handball courts at Ravenswood Playground in Astoria, St. Michael’s Playground in Woodside and Louis C. Moser Playground in Jackson Heights have spaces designated for pickleball. Roy Wilkins Park in St. Albans includes four lined pickleball courts on its tennis courts, and Crocheron Park in Bayside has two permanently lined pickleball courts, though players must bring their own net.
Flushing Fields is home to eight tennis courts that can be converted into pickleball courts with chalk and a net.
Wolfson said pickleball is all the rage among older crowds, but it is suitable for all ages.
She said Commonpoint Queens wanted to host a kids’ pickleball clinic, but it did not garner much interest in the community.
“At the moment, [pickleball] is more appealing to the older community members, but more and more we are starting to see all adults gaining interest,” she said. “… Especially for the little ones, with the smaller space and lower net, it is a good way to start hand/eye coordination skills leading into playing tennis.”
Wolfson noted a lack of pickleball leagues in the area, and she hopes Commonpoint Queens can start one in the future.
According to NYC Pickleball’s website, organized leagues are a challenge due to lack of space.
This summer, Alley Pond Park is hosting an outdoor women’s pickleball league on Thursday evenings that started July 6 and runs through Aug. 17, as per LI-Kick.
With a membership, residents can play pickleball at the Al Oerter Recreation Center in Flushing, which is home to three wooden indoor courts.
Whether it’s an organized league, beginner clinic or open play in a public space, pickleball brings communities together and introduces people who may not have met otherwise.
Senior women at the Commonpoint clinic exchanged phone numbers between matches. They might meet again at a future clinic, or even an open court to play doubles.
Pickleball gives senior citizens the chance to feel young again — they can break a sweat without overdoing it, but also bond with new friends over a common interest.
“I think if you can walk, you can play pickleball,” Kahn said.
Pickleball clinic and tournament
Residents of state Senate District 15 are invited to a free pickleball instruction session and “friendly tournament” Sept. 23, hosted by Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Woodhaven).
The event will be held from noon to 4 p.m. in Middle Village’s Juniper Valley Park, at Juniper Playground Softball Field 8. There is limited space, so anyone who wants to play must register in advance by calling Addabbo’s office at (718) 738-1111.
Evan Naumann, a 2023 graduate of St. John’s University, will provide the instruction. Naumann is the winner of the 2023 Three Lakes Tournament and head coach of the St. John’s Alumni Pickleball Johnnies.
State Senate districts recently changed. Addabbo’s runs from Lindenwood through neighborhoods including but not limited to Ozone Park, Richmond Hill, Glendale, Middle Village and Forest Hills to the Long Island Expressway on the northern end. One may find a map on his Senate website.
— Peter C. Mastrosimone