By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
Take a walk down 42nd Place toward the bay and no doubt you’ll hear the sharp popping sound of plastic balls being swatted with paddles.
Is it ping-pong? Not really. Tennis, perhaps? Close, but not exactly.
Seven new asphalt courts that opened on 42nd Place over the Memorial Day weekend are Sea Isle City’s new epicenter for the pickleball community.
The rapidly growing sport that combines elements of tennis and ping-pong is proving hugely popular in Sea Isle – so much so that the first ever pickleball tournament in town will be played on Sept. 18.
Tennis By Tyler, a company that provided tennis and pickleball camps, clinics and lessons under contract with Sea Isle this year, is organizing a tournament for novices and intermediate players to generate even more interest in pickleball.
“With the tournament, we’re looking to end the year on a good note,” said Tyler Stroyek, owner of Tennis By Tyler.
The city built seven new pickleball courts to meet heavier demand for a sport that is particularly popular with baby boomers and senior citizens. U.S. Census figures show that the average age in Sea Isle is 63 years old, which is right in the sweet spot for pickleball players.
Pickleball combines elements of tennis, ping-pong and some say badminton. Less demanding than tennis, pickleball is a relatively low impact sport, which makes it appealing to senior citizens and baby boomers. Sea Isle’s courts also attract young pickleball players.
“It’s a perfect mix of tennis and ping-pong,” Stroyek said. “It’s not as hard to pick up as tennis, but it’s not as easy as ping-pong. It’s a sport that is popular with all ages.”
Pickleball is played on a 20-foot-wide and 40-foot-long court about the same size as a doubles badminton court. Players use a modified tennis-style net, wooden or graphite paddles and a lightweight, plastic ball.
After a citywide search for a suitable location, Sea Isle officials decided to build the courts on 42nd Place across from the Municipal Marina on what used to be a parking lot comprised of old clam shells.
“Our new pickleball courts at the Municipal Marina have gotten a great deal of use since they opened in May,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
Sea Isle built its first two permanent pickleball courts in 2017 on West Jersey Avenue, across the street from the city’s playground and recreation complex on John F. Kennedy Boulevard. The courts on West Jersey Avenue are also heavily used.
This was the first year that Stroyek’s company provided camps, clinics and lessons for pickleball and tennis players under contract with Sea Isle as part of the city’s summer recreation program.
“It was a wonderful first year. They were absolutely awesome,” Stroyek said of the turnout for the camps, clinics and lessons.
Stroyek said his company has been talking to Sea Isle officials about returning in 2022.
“If Sea Isle asks us, we’ll be there for sure,” he said in an interview Wednesday.
Hoping to raise awareness of the sport and draw in more players, Stroyek’s company came up with the idea for the pickleball tournament.
The tournament will be divided into two groups: Beginners and intermediate players. There will only be doubles play, meaning two players on each side of the net. The cost is $70 per doubles team.
“It’s a social pickleball tournament. It’s going to be a fun event,” Stroyek said, downplaying the idea of fiercely competitive games.
Stroyek is hoping that there will be at least 20 players for each group.
Already, he is discussing the possibility of having the tournament return in 2022 – with the hope of doubling the number of players who turn out this year.
For more information on the Sept. 18 tournament, visit Sea Isle Tennis Pickleball (sictennispickleball.com), email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (484) 263-0960.