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Forget pickleball – padel is our new favorite weird sport

Padel: Get ready for your new favorite racket sport

Player holding a padel paddle.
Tomasz Krawczyk / Unsplash

Pickleball might be the most popular sport in the U.S., but padel — it’s pretty great cousin — just might give pickleball a run for its money.

Where pickleball is (generally) an outdoor sport, padel is an enclosed variant of tennis (indoors or outdoors). According to the Padel Academy, the sport arose in 1969, just about the same time as pickleball’s invention in 1965. This was about the time that Enrique Corcuera decided to morph elements of platform tennis into squash, thus creating what the man humbly dubbed “Paddle Corcuera.”

Britain’s Lawn Tennis Association explains that, in the 1800s, British cruise ship passengers passed the long days at sea smacking balls back and forth on the deck. The problem was, tennis rackets are meant to hit the ball a long way, and if a ball goes over the side of an ocean liner, it’s likely gone for good. So, paddles replaced traditional tennis rackets. In the 1910s, this new “platform tennis” planted roots in the New World, earning popularity in metropolitan centers like Washington D.C. and New York City. Today, platform tennis is generally a cold weather sport, with a heater below the raised court to allow the surface to warm even in icy/snowy conditions.

Corcuera challenged his friends to compete in “Paddle Corcuera,” and soon the sport seeped from his home in Acapulco, Mexico, to Spain and Argentina. The Padel Academy relates how his Spanish friend, Alfonso of Hohenlohe-Langenburg, created Europe’s first two padel courts in a tennis club when he returned home to Marbella, Spain in 1974. And in 1975, Alfonso’s amigo, Julio Menditeguy, brought the sport back to his native Argentina.

The sport took hold in Argentina and Western Europe. Today, the International Padel Federation (founded in 2000 in Lausanne, Switzerland) claims over 25 million players worldwide. And Lisandro Borges, president of the Argentine Padel Association, claims about 2 million Argentine people who play in 2,600 clubs on over 4,900 courts in the South American country (per Infobae). Just like tennis, there are regional, national, and world tours, a Grand Slam of padel, and celebrity adherents like soccer superstar Lionel Messi, who happens to have a padel court in the garden of his Barcelona home.

A view of pickleball courts.
Frankie Lopez / Unsplash

How to play

People who know how to play tennis basically know how to play padel. Head describes padel as “a mix between tennis and squash.” This is because, like tennis, small yellow balls are used. Like squash, though, the balls have to be somewhat deflated for less bounce. Unlike squash, padel is usually played as a doubles game, but similarly, padel is played on a glass- and metallic mesh-enclosed court that allows the ball to rebound and remain in play.

About one-quarter to one-third of the size of a standard tennis court, the game is high speed and played fast, which means covering this court as a singles player is so difficult that singles padel is rare.

Scoring and gameplay are the same as tennis, with five-point games adding towards winning sets. Three key differences define padel: players are allowed to play off the side and back walls, players can only serve underhand, and, as of 2020, the adoption of the Golden Point. In order to speed the game up, instead of going to “deuce” when opponents are tied at three points apiece, the next point — the Golden Point — decides the game.

Man with a padel paddle
Abdulrhman Alkady / Pexels

Padel in the U.S.

Despite its ubiquity in Europe, padel tennis has yet to make a major impact in the U.S. Fromuth wholesale rackets have just over 65 courts across the country. Though these are concentrated in California, Texas, Florida, and the Northeast, most coastal folks are within a few hundred miles of padel courts. And if you have access to one of these courts? Enjoy a game of indoor padel during these cool winter months.

Padel equipment

With the padel sport rapidly gaining popularity around the world, scoring equipment is now easier and more affordable than ever. You can purchase a padal racket for about $50 — on the low end — while a set of three balls costs about $6. Some more high-quality rackets can cost up to $500!

Playing padel tennis requires just two essential pieces of equipment: a padel racket and a ball. A pedal racket has holes in the striking area and comes in three shapes: round, drop-shaped, and diamond-shaped. It’s smaller than a tennis racket, but it’s slightly heavier due to its thicker body because it is made from EVA foam material.

Besides a court, of course, this is all the equipment you need to get started on your journey to playing this fun and growing sport. Enjoy!

Nate Swanner
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Nate is General Manager for all not-Digital-Trends properties at DTMG, including The Manual, Digital Trends en Espanol…
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