Pickleball players return to courts after county lockdown restrictions ease

  • Jason Blasco / The Garden Island

    Pickleball player Eric Link, who moved to Kaua‘i from the Virgin Islands three years ago, returns a serve during a two-hour pickleball session Saturday afternoon at Kalawai Park in Kalaheo.

KALAHEO — Jules Cannon and wife Stefanie Cannon compete all over the state and island while looking for pickleball games to play in.

It is estimated they played a total of eight to 12 recreation games a week, not including tournaments, all of which were canceled during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the couple participated in tournaments on the Hawai‘i Island that included over 350 participants, including the world’s top 20 pickleball players.

Now free from the COVID-19 restrictions in place, the couple, with a small group of high-level pickleball players, played Saturday afternoon at Kalawai Park in Kalaheo.

Eric Link, a recent transplant from the Virgin Islands to Kaua‘i, has seen the positive effects of the county easing restrictions and starting the process of allowing physical recreation sports back on the island.

“(Playing pickleball) helps my emotional state 100%,” Link said. “My wife is better at staying at home than I am. I like to go hiking and swimming, and I try to stay active and walk with my wife now that there is a different level of freedom.”

Link has enjoyed his experience playing pickleball and transitioning from the Virgin Islands to Kaua‘i after deciding to leave because of suffering the effects of two massive hurricanes.

“It feels amazing because it is such a beautiful island to be on, for sure,” Link said. “People respect each other’s space, whether they are biking or surfing, and many places don’t do that stuff. It is slowly coming back. We respect social distancing, and so many other sites don’t do that.”

Chris McBride, a native of Santa Barbara, California, like many people introduced to the game of pickleball began as a tennis player.

“For those that know how to play tennis, learning the game of pickleball is real handy,” McBride said. “It’s kind of fun that people get out there in the sun and play if the weather is nice. I picked it up pretty fast, and I’ve only been playing pickleball for six months.”

McBride said he feels it is a good break for his body.

“I am just glad to be able to run around and hit balls again,” McBride said. “It’s great to be playing live again on the tennis and pickleball courts.”

McBride said he doesn’t even know how much energy he is exerting.

That is partially why pickleball, which combines elements of table tennis, badminton and regular tennis, has become America’s fastest-growing sport.

According to Wikipedia, the sport was invented in the mid-1960s as a children’s backyard game in the Pacific Northwest, and is now growing in the islands.

“You just have so much fun playing the game that you don’t realize how much you are working out,” McBride said. “It’s so much better than going for a run, because that is so boring.”

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter,can be reached at 652-2229.

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