‘I’m not afraid of the ball’

Philip Eliana said he’s only been playing for a month, and already won his first medal in pickleball last Thursday.

Eliana finished second in the 2.0 class, which participated in a round robin tournament to get people familiar with tournament play when Kauai hosts the Aloha State Senior Olympics Pickleball Tournament March 11-13 at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center.

“It’s incredible,” Eliana said. “I already signed up because there are people coming from all the islands and the mainland to play pickleball in a state tournament which is a Tier 4 level tournament sanctioned by the U.S. Pickleball Association. This is a national level tournament and I signed up because you get to play people of all levels and areas. I just have to play in this.”

Jack Hodges, the USPA District Ambassador, State of Hawaii-West Region, said there will be a potluck for all the players on March 10 ahead of the March 11 play date when the competition will be among the men’s division. Saturday play involves the women’s division and Sunday is the mixed division.

“I just got off the phone from someone in Washington state,” said Melanie Okamoto of the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation. “Everyone is getting excited about this tournament. I recently spoke with people from Oahu during a trip there, and they just can’t wait to get here.”

Okamoto said the tournament is already sold out with more than 80 teams, including more than 100 people signed up.

“There is a wait list of people wanting to play,” Eliana said. “I’m glad I signed up early. This is incredible because the island only started playing pickleball about 10 months ago and already we get to host a national-level tournament and there is a wait list of people wanting to play.”

Hodges said Kauai is now the hub of pickleball in the state with more people actively involved than any other island.

“We have close to 250 players now playing and Monday we opened our sixth venue for pickleball,” Hodges said. “This does not include visitors to the island, many who come with their paddles packed in their suitcases. In the 10 months we’ve been playing, I have kept track of off-island visitors, which now total 221 players.”

Eliana, a national handball and racquetball champion, said he likes playing pickleball.

“I’m not afraid of the ball,” he said. “In racquetball, you’re looking at balls traveling at more than 100 mph. Pickleballs come at 25 mph, tops. I like it. I’ve even started teaching pickleball to my granddaughter who found out that it has helped her at T-Ball. When she started, she needed the T to hit. Last week, they picked an all-star, and my granddaughter was selected — she doesn’t even need the T, anymore.”

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