Paddle for the Win!
Extend your racquet sport season with this fun game, rising in popularity around the Main Line!
If you feel like everyone you know is playing paddle, you are not wrong; players and pros have seen an increased interest in paddle everywhere, including on the Main Line. But before we go on, let’s get a few things cleared up, because when it comes to paddle, things can get confusing. The paddle that is primarily played on the Main Line is officially known as platform tennis, and it is not a new game. According to the American Platform Tennis Association, the game was invented in 1928 in Scarsdale, New York. When friends James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard built a small, raised wooden court and bought wooden paddles to play in the winter.
There are other racquet games going around, including padel, played mostly in Spain, Latin America and Florida, but also growing in popularity in the United States, and pickleball.
There is a simple reason why platform tennis, or paddle, how players call it, is a growing sport. “It is so much fun,” says Emily Keleher, of Bryn Mawr, who has been playing for 4 years, since her family joined Overbrook Golf Club in Villanova. “It is an easy game to pick up.” Pros say that there are more and bigger leagues, including leagues for junior players, and those who have been playing a while have noticed that not only more of their friends are now playing, but that reserving a court is getting harder.
Paddle is a winter sport. The courts are enclosed in tight wire fencing, which can be used as another playing surface, and there can be heaters under the deck so that snow and ice don’t accumulate. The paddles are shorter than tennis racquets, around 17 inches long, rounder and with a hard surface with as many as 78 holes. The surface of the paddle is covered in grit, specks of fiberglass that help grab the small felt-like rubber ball, smaller but heavier than a tennis ball.
“Paddle is a game of strategy,” says Aimee Poduri, who plays at Waynesborough Country Club, in Paoli, “where you are constantly learning something new.” Poduri, a lifelong tennis player, started playing paddle 5 years ago when the tennis pro at Martin’s Dam Club in Wayne where she was then a member, encouraged her to try it as the tennis season was coming to an end. She loved the game and loved playing in the cold, but didn’t like getting her hands scratched against the rough paddle surface. So she sewed herself a paddle cover, and made some for friends who also wanted to protect their hands. With growing interest in the game, and the paddle covers, she realized there was a business opportunity. Through Stitched, her online store, she now sells paddle covers and other handmade accessories to players all over the country, mostly the East Coast and the Midwest, where paddle is more popular.
We can credit some of the growth of paddle to the Covid-19 pandemic as more people were in need of outdoor activity and socialization, but interest in the sport was already on the rise. Darren Schwandt, Director of Paddle at Picket Post Club in Chesterbrook, says that where there were 8 divisions in the Men’s Interclub League 10 years ago, there are now 13, each team being bigger than before. Schwandt, who says he grew up in a racquet family, has been playing paddle since he was 10 years old. He thinks the sport is more technical and more mathematical than tennis. Perhaps more importantly for those just getting into it, it doesn’t take long to learn and enjoy. In his experience there is more follow through in clinics and leagues after beginning lessons in paddle than there is in tennis.
Schwandt says that he thinks paddle could have a major surge in interest, except for the cost of building the courts. This is one of the reasons why courts are in private clubs, and townships in the area aren’t yet getting into the game. Several Main Line high schools, public and private, however, have paddle clubs that play at area country clubs.
Players and pros say that the culture that surrounds it is also fun. The courts are smaller, leading to more player interaction, the game is played in couples, and traditionally, after a match, players stay and socialize at paddle huts. If you are thinking that paddle may be good exercise, however, be advised that with smaller courts, there isn’t a lot of running, and players say that it isn’t much of a workout. This, however, may be a positive thing if you are in it for social interaction.
Paddle, Keleher says, is a multigenerational game, one that you could easily pick up with another couple, with your children or with your parents. “It is for all ages, all skills.”
Where to join if you want to play (or try to get an invite from friends who are members!)
Overbrook Golf Club — 4 platform tennis courts
Waynesborough Country Club — 6 platform tennis courts
Philadelphia Country Club — 4 platform tennis courts
Conestoga Swim Club — 3 platform tennis courts
Picket Post — 3 platform tennis courts
Martin’s Dam Club — 3 platform tennis courts
Photo by Carolyn Noll, courtesy of Stitched.