KALAHEO — Jason Caldeira, Kalaheo Neighborhood Center site manager for the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation, said there are a lot of people who come to play pickleball twice a week — sometimes reaching more than 100 people.
The Kauai Senior Games Pickleball Tournament started Thursday and features at least 85 teams from around Hawaii and the Mainland.
At the heart of the excitement, Jack Hodges, the USA Pickleball Association District Ambassador, juggled officiating matches, greeting players and teams, fielding questions, and playing pickleball.
This is the second year Kauai has hosted the big tournament since pickleball was introduced to the Hawaii Senior Games in 2015, the first being held in Kona.
The Kauai Senior Games Pickleball Tournament wrapped up play with men’s division games Saturday at the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center. Results will appear in a future issue of The Garden Island.
What is pickleball? Who can play?
Pickleball is a racquet (paddle) sport that has been described as a cross between tennis and pingpong.
Played on a court about a third the size of a tennis court, the game is played with a solid, composite paddle about twice the size of a pingpong paddle. The ball is a plastic, baseball-sized wiffleball. A pickeball court net is similar to a tennis court net, but is 2 inches shorter in the middle.
Anyone can play.
It is not unusual to see youngsters playing with parents or grandparents, neighborhoods playing in a driveway or at the end of a cul-de-sac, or, games going on at tennis courts or gymnasiums.
The game is not easier than tennis, but is easier on the body. At the net, the game is faster than tennis. It is a low-impact sport, but is very social and very good fun, while providing excellent exercise.
Five years ago there were approximately 100,000 people playing in North America. Today, that number is close to 3 million, and by 2018, the numbers are expected to increase to 8 million around the world.
How did pickleball get started?
The game was invented in 1965 by former U.S. Congressman Joel Pritchard at his home in Bainbridge Island, Washington.
Mr. Pritchard and friends tinkered around on their home’s paddle tennis/badminton court with wooden paddles and some wiffle balls and found they really liked the game. It reminded them of pingpong and tennis.
The urban legend is that the game was named after the Pritchards’ dog Pickles, who loved to retrieve the balls, but not return them to the players.
How did you get involved with pickleball?
I have a sister living in Arizona who loves the game.
She would always tell me that because of my tennis background as a player and instructor, I would love this game.
I was teaching and coaching at the time — at Saddleback College — in Mission Viejo, California. I was a professor in the Kinesiology/Physical Education Department and also the head baseball coach, so I was busy. I kept telling my sister that I did not have time to try another game.
Besides, the name kind of turned me off. It was an ego thing that a lot of us tennis players seem to have. I didn’t even take the time to research the game. My mistake.
My wife Stephanie kept telling me to look into the game. I might like something that was very similar to tennis, but was played on a smaller court and therefore kinder on the body. When I decided to retire in June of 2011, I took my sister’s advice and looked up the game at the Crown Valley Pickleball Club courts in Laguna Niguel, California.
The players were so welcoming and so nice. After one game (I lost terribly), I called my wife and told her, “I’m hooked.” I have been ever since.
In 2012, I became a USAPA Ambassador in Dana Point, California. In late 2012, Stephanie and I moved to Paso Robles, California, and I helped start the game on the Central Coast of California.
When we moved to Kauai in 2015, I approached Melanie Okamoto at the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation offices, and she listened to my offer to help start pickleball on Kauai.
Within a couple of months, we were playing.
Melanie is the biggest reason we have pickleball on Kauai. I am the District Ambassador for the state of Hawaii. Kauai, Oahu, Maui and the Big Island all play and the number of players is growing every day.
w Editor’s note: Ku‘ulei Takashima, the site manager for the Kekaha Neighborhood Center, said she and Okamoto had attended a day-long workshop in Manoa on Oahu (it was very hot — too hot for traveling on the airlines) and following the workshop, Okamoto posed the question — how are we going to get this out to the people? Hodges’ appearance was the answer to that question.
What is your background?
I was born and raised here in Hawaii, growing up on Oahu, but my mother’s family is from Waimea, Kauai.
I attended high school at Kamehameha Schools on Oahu. My mother also graduated from Kamehameha, and her father (my grandfather) was a member of the first graduating class of Kamehameha in 1891.
I graduated in 1965, and went on to Stanford University where I played two seasons of football and four seasons of baseball, although in those days, you had to play on a separate freshmen team your first year in college. It was mandatory.
I graduated in 1969 from Stanford with a bachelor of arts in journalism and English.
I signed a professional baseball contract with the Kansas City Royals following graduation, playing one season in their minor league system before a knee injury ended my playing days.
I decided that because I cherished all that my coaches taught me about competing and life, I wanted to help do the same. I taught and coached for 42 years, my last 22 at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, California. I finished as the winningest coach — in any sport — in Saddleback College history.
My wife, Stephanie, also retired from teaching and coaching after 30 years.
w Editor’s note: Hodges was inducted into the California Community College Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in May 2015 after building a career record of 580-362, and four ties, including 13 state playoff appearances. He finished his 42-year coaching career with 920 wins against 522 losses, and six ties.
Where and when can you play pickleball on Kauai?
You can play free pickleball every day of the week at some venue on Kauai.
Two years ago, the only venue was the Kalaheo Neighborhood Center.
Now, we have eight venues offering play — Kekaha, Hanapepe, Kalaheo, Koloa, Lihue, Kapaa, Kilauea and Princeville.
Also, there are many private venues offering play.
Interested persons can go to www.kauaipickleball.shutterfly.com to see all that Kauai has to offer.
Do you have any advice for people interested in pickleball?
As is always the case, the success of any endeavor is because people believe in — and embrace — what you are doing.
The people of Kauai (and the county’s Department of Parks and Recreation) have been so receptive to this game and what it has to offer — a social atmosphere, fun competition, excellent exercise, a chance to meet new friends, and, a chance to find elevated competition if you desire.
My only caution to all those who are interested in trying out this fun game: Be careful, you could become addicted!