Pickleball in Central Park. It’s like tennis but smaller – West Side Rag

Scott Atkin’s photo.

by Scott Atkin

In the Mido North Handball Courts In Central Park on a recent Friday morning, there was no handball player in sight. Instead, one tennis player hit the wall himself, and nearby, Listra Balcon finished creating a pickle ball net.

Do this for the community.

You can find Listra at the handball courts near the occasional 97th Street each morning. It is one of the primary organizers of a dedicated group of footballers who casually come and go all day long. The most active playing hours are around 10am-1pm, then 4pm-8:30pm.

Pickleball, a paddle sport, is similar to tennis but smaller in size. The ball is similar to a Wiffle ball and the action – fast air balls – feels like a cross between ping pong and badminton. Pickleball has gained popularity in retired communities, but is now often referred to as the fastest growing sport in America.

“I haven’t played tennis since,” Listra says.

“There is something addictive about it,” said Listra, 55, who lives on 105th Street and bikes to the handball courts. A former tennis player, she started playing pickle ball three years ago. She was in Central Park gathering a tennis ball against a wall for herself when someone invited her to try a pickle ball. She had never heard of the game before, but she quickly became addicted. “I actually haven’t played tennis since then,” she said.

One of her favorite aspects of the sport is how she brings people together. “A lot of people I play pickle ball with – our ways would never have gotten past,” she said. Among the regulars are people who work in the media and on Broadway. Most of them are elderly, she said, but a 10-year-old is also part of the group.

Eric Ho, co-founder of the website, said the sport’s “physical accessibility” is another reason behind its popularity. New York City Pickleball. The site has resources for people to get to know the game and find a place to play. He lists the Happy Warrior Playground (Amsterdam between 98th and 99th Streets) and the Gertrude Ederle Recreation Center (232 West 60th Street) as other highlights of the bugle game on the Upper West Side.

“It has a lot to do with craftsmanship,” Listra said. “It’s not so much about commuting.”

For newcomers, Listra recommends taking a class. “When you pay for classes, you value time better and put in more effort.” She said the next best thing is to watch a free YouTube tutorial.

Eric, who teaches the lessons, also emphasized how easy it is to get started. The day we spoke, he had a group session with five people who had never picked up a pickle paddle before. “Within 10-15 minutes of teaching them the basics and kicks, they played two full games and all enjoyed themselves,” he said.

Over the course of an average day, Listra estimated that 60 players come to the 97th Street Central Park fields. Players sometimes exchange messages using a file Team Arrival app (use the code “West26” to join the group). Listra said a lot of people come to the courts when it’s convenient for them.

On weekends, she said, courts can get “very crowded.” It is common for players to have to wait in line to enter a game not only in Central Park, but at stadiums scattered all over the city.

“It’s an ongoing battle for space,” Eric said. Although the pickleball is relatively efficient — four pebbles can fit into one tennis court — he said park departments have been slow to adapt to the increased demand. Listra tries to make room for the handball players, tennis players, and tennis players who come in as well. “We have to share the space,” she said.

For a fringe sport like pickle ball, it’s often volunteers who make the nets that make it possible for others to play. “It’s a community run sport, [so it’s important to be] “I am grateful to have it here and so accessible to people,” Eric said. “Just have fun and don’t take it too seriously.”