Lob Letter

Pickleball is a little like tennis, a little like badminton — and a whole lot addictive. Photo by Tim Robison

If you want to know what pickleball is, you Google it. But if you want to live a pickleball life, you click on Paul Aaron’s blog of the same name. There, he channels every conceivable nuance of the sport, said to be the fastest growing in the country.

“Pickleball” is a competitive paddle sport that combines aspects of tennis, badminton, and ping-pong. Pickleball is most popular among players 60 years old or older; by some counts, there are some 2 million players in the U.S. alone. At the Henderson County Athletics & Activity Center, it’s been offered for four years and grown from about 20 participants to 150. Pickup games happen five days a week, with 30-35 players daily. Aaron calls the region a “hotbed for pickleball” despite a lack of dedicated facilities — a cause he often champions.

“I am definitely obsessed with pickleball,” says the 60-year-old Hendersonville resident, a retired finance guy originally from Pittsburgh. “I guess that obsession extends to the blog, since no one else that I know spends the kind of time that I do [writing about the sport].”

The use of light, hollow balls is part of what makes pickleball appealing to those wanting a less strenuous racquet sport. Photo by Tim Robison

That’s for sure. Nary a day goes by that Aaron is not posting original content or sharing content from other enthusiasts. On average, he spends about three hours a day blogging. “I will sit in my man cave with my laptop and TV every evening and work on it,” he confesses. “Weekends generally mean more work time because there are sports on the TV in the afternoon.” Admittedly, he sometimes needs a little “digital detox,” and will compile several blogs in advance. “Then I can walk away from the blog for a few days and gather my thoughts about it and other things.” Things like his wife of 37 happy years — they stay that way, he says, “because we aren’t pickleball partners” — or actually playing the sport. He logs two to three hours on the court up to five times a week, improving his game to move up from level 4 to the highest level 5. He’s also a USAPA (USA Pickleball Association) ambassador and instructor.

Despite its growing popularity, pickleball still raises eyebrows and spreads smirks of uninformed curiosity. It’s played on a course about one-third the size of a tennis court, with very similar boundary lines. But instead of using stringed rackets and bouncy fuzzy balls, players — configured in singles or doubles — use paddles and lightweight, hollow Wiffle balls. It’s a slowed-down version of tennis, making it ideal for seniors who want an active — but not too active — sport that allows for a lot of social interaction. The most common story about the name recalls that while the inventors were playing, their makeshift ball kept getting lost in the bushes, and their dog “Pickles” would retrieve it.

Paul Aaron is on the court a lot — but perhaps not as much as he’s online chronicling pickleball in his popular blog. Photo by Tim Robison

On his blog, Aaron covers all aspects of the game. There are 11 “chapters” on his site covering rules, techniques, strategies, communication, etiquette, equipment, and updates. Readers also find videos, tournament schedules and results, a list of places to play, and useful links to pickleball-related organizations.

Aaron started blogging in November 2015. In 2016, he blogged 370 times — more entries than there are days in a year. His analytics show more than 24,000 pageviews since he’s started. In February of this year, he had 4,109 pageviews. On any given day, he might have 145 views. Despite his blogging success, he plans to expand his online pickleball presence to a more-social media: “I am looking to add Facebook to my toolbox soon,” he says.

Pickleball players Nancy and Bill Rader continually check the blog for new posts. “Almost everyday there’s something worthwhile,” Bill says. And the couple insists that Aaron’s not the only one who “eats, sleeps, and drinks” the game.

Throughout the blog, there’s a lightheartedness that peaks on Sundays, when Aaron re-posts funny comments, cartoons, videos, and songs he finds online — notable shared items include “Peppy the Pickle Tips,” “David Letterman’s Top 10 Reasons You Probably Shouldn’t Partner With That Person Again,” “A Sport Named Pickleball” (set to the Johnny Cash tune “A Boy Named Sue”), and a list of must-reads: The Poacher in the Rye, Moby Dink, A Dink Too Far, Lob and Punishment, A Cat on a Court, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo Net.

“Pickleballers love the game because it’s fun,” he reasons. “They won’t be interested in reading a dry recitation of the mechanics of making a forehand groundstroke. It has to be a fun read. Besides that, my personality is to have fun. I’m convinced that better players tolerate me because I bring some lightheartedness to the court. “Higher-level players tend to be more serious about their games,” he goes on, “and I help them to loosen up. I’m surely not above self-deprecation to make others feel better about themselves.”

Visit AppleCountryPickleball.BlogSpot.com, Paul Aaron’s blog “A Pickleball Life.” Pickleball is a featured competition at the upcoming Four Seasons Senior Games on May 12 at 9am. Visit hendersoncountync.org for full schedule, or call 828-697-4884.

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