Pickleball players have taken over the tennis courts of Merrick Road Park. On Aug. 3, for instance, in the sweltering heat, more than two dozen pickleball players gathered with friends to play. They took up five of the six available tennis courts, engaging in matches that ranged from casual to high-intensity.
“We’re here every single morning,” said Cheryl Brier, of Merrick. “Seven days a week, we’re here by 9 a.m.”
“And we’re all friends,” Carol Staub added.
Members of the group, organized by Metro New York Pickleball Ambassador Jones Wong — a Merokean himself — found lasting friendships with the people they play against daily.
“It’s great in bringing out players from all around the community,” Wong said.
Last week, the pickleballers wore smiles, and their enthusiasm could be felt on the courts.
Pickleball, as Wong described it, is simple enough for those of all ages and skill levels. The average age of the players on the court was over 60, he estimated.
“I had knee surgery,” said Nassau County Pickleball Ambassador Elvis Maduro. “I used to play tennis, but playing full matches now would leave me in pain for at least a day. With pickleball, I can play a few matches and I’ll still be good.”
In pickleball, a tennis court is cut down to 20 by 44 feet with temporary lines. The game is normally played in doubles, and the areas occupied by each player are small. Participants hit a light, wiffle-style ball with an easy-to-use paddle. The net is 34 inches high — two inches shorter than a tennis net — making it easy to quickly turn a tennis court into a pickleball court, Wong said.
Dedicated pickleball courts are hard to find. Hempstead Lake State Park is currently putting out bids to construct new courts, according to Wong. The only other dedicated courts on Long Island are in Brookhaven’s Centereach Park and Melville’s Whitman Park. While there are some indoor options, most players must adapt to public tennis courts, such as the ones in Merrick Road Park.
Pickleball is currently the fastest growing sport in America, Wong said. Its equipment is available in most sports outlets, and the U.S.A. Pickleball Association televises its annual national championships.
“It’s just a great communal sport,” Wong said. “You call up your friends in the morning and gather with them on the courts. And in turn, you meet new people. Anyone can have fun doing it.”