By DONALD WITTKOWSKI
No, it’s not tennis, or ping-pong or badminton. But it does combine elements of all three of those sports.
If you’re not familiar with pickleball yet, it is one of the country’s fastest-growing sports and will soon be expanding in Sea Isle City to meet heavier demand among local players.
Sea Isle is adding seven new asphalt pickleball courts that are expected to be ready by next summer, city spokeswoman Katherine Custer said.
“With this number of courts, we’re anticipating we’ll be able to accommodate beginners, intermediate and more progressed players,” Custer said.
She noted there will be no fee to play.
The courts will be built on a site that currently serves as a parking lot next to Sea Isle’s Municipal Marina on 42nd Place. It is known as the “clam shell parking lot” because the surface is made up of crushed, white seashells.
Custer said that she and Mayor Leonard Desiderio looked at public property throughout the city for possible pickleball sites and he decided that the clam shell lot would be the best location.
“These will be beautiful pickleball courts, just as we did on West Jersey Avenue,” Custer said in an interview Thursday.
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.
Especially during summer mornings, demand is high for the courts at the West Jersey site.
Al Piano, a spokesman for the local pickleball community, said that some of Sea Isle’s players have to go to Avalon, Stone Harbor and Ocean City to use the courts there because there can be a long wait for Sea Isle’s courts.
“We’ve established quite a following here,” Piano, who has a summer home in Sea Isle and lives in Hatboro, Pa., said in an earlier interview.
Pickleball seemed to be even more popular over the summer during the coronavirus pandemic because there is plenty of room on the courts for social distancing for the players, Piano said.
On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Sea Isle sets aside three of the tennis courts at the Dealy Field recreation complex for pickleball. Those tennis courts are also lined for pickleball play.
The seven new courts planned on 42nd Place will include benches and a windscreen. The windscreen will block the gusts blowing off the bay in what is now a wide-open area. Otherwise, the lightweight plastic balls would be flying all over the place in windy conditions.
Piano called the pickleball site on 42nd Place “a wonderful location.”
Sea Isle’s capital plan for 2021 includes an estimated cost of $350,000 for the courts. However, the project has not yet gone out to bid, so that figure is only preliminary.
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. Pickleball paddles are reminiscent of ping-pong paddles, but are bigger and usually made of more advanced materials.
Less demanding than tennis, pickleball is a relatively low impact sport, which makes it appealing to senior citizens and baby boomers. 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.
The new pickleball courts will be among other recreation attractions Sea Isle is adding this year, including a nearly $1 million fishing pier and kayak launch site scheduled to open in the spring on the bayfront near 60th Street.
“Our recreation facilities are very important, and the mayor and members of City Council realize that,” Custer said.