National champ joins clinic for growing sport on Kauai

KALAHEO — When Alex Hamner, four time National Open Women’s Doubles Champion in pickleball, decided to vacation on Kauai, she never expected the reception she received Thursday when she showed up at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center.

“I just went to usapa.org and clicked on ‘Hawaii,’ then ‘Kauai’ for links on places to play pickleball,” Hamner said. “Jack Hodges’ name showed up and he set up this clinic and game.”

More than 50 people, including several leaders from the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, enjoyed Hamner’s comments on the most important aspects of pickleball.

“Pickleball is taking off on Kauai,” said Melanie Okamoto, the senior activities coordinator for the Department of Parks and Recreation. “When Jack first came to see us, he was assigned to me as a senior event. But pickleball is taking off for people of all ages. My daughter from Kamehameha Schools, and my son, home from the University of Hawaii, love it.”

Okamoto said park and rec is working on trying to establish programs beyond the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center, which meets from 9 a.m. to noon on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Jack Hodges, the volunteer USA Pickleball Association ambassador, said they also play at the Hanapepe tennis courts on Fridays from 8 a.m.

Ted Steinberg, the new Pickleball Ambassador for the North Shore, said following a pickleball clinic led by Hodges on May 30, there is enough interest for a group on the North Shore.

“We started playing as a group on Thursdays starting in June from 8:30 to 11 a.m.,” Steinberg said in an email. “The feedback I received was there were people who worked during the week that wanted to play, so we started a second day on Sundays starting at 4:30 p.m.”

Steinberg said there is enough interest that he is starting a group to play on Tuesdays at 9 a.m. beginning this Tuesday in Princeville.

Other possible programs could be in Kilauea using the Kilauea Neighborhood Center and in Lihue. Those efforts are being limited by restrictions such as the work being done at the Kilauea Neighborhood Center, and the shearwater fledging season in Lihue.

“The games are short,” Hamner, who has been playing for five years, said. “You hit a lot of balls, there are long rallies, and if you miss — everyone laughs. It’s a lot of fun. People play the game to hit the ball, and in pickleball, you hit the ball a lot.”

She also said the game is easy to learn for anyone from 5 to 85 years old.

Philip Eliana, a national racketball champion, said he plays pickleball because it’s fun.

“It doesn’t give me as much workout as I wanted, but it’s indoors,” Eliana said. “And it’s fun.”

Cole Okamoto, a University of Hawaii student, said the game is a cross between ping pong and tennis.

“You don’t run as much as in tennis,” Cole said. “I just started playing because it’s a fun game. I like it because it challenges me and I don’t need to run so much. I enjoy it.”

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