The rise that has just started needs consistency to keep the graph moving upwards. But the fact is that Indian sport still lags far behind than the West. An eyewitness to this, Sunil Valavalkar writes about how a predominantly new sport is nurtured and grown in the USA which he has experienced through his visit to Pickleball Central – the Pickleball store located in Kent.
Sunil Valavalkar is regarded as the ‘Father of Indian Pickleball’ who first played Pickleball in the USA. An avid sportsman, Valavalkar was so much impressed with the game that he started promoting it in India. In 2008, he took the initiative to form the All India Pickleball Association (AIPA), the highest national governing body of Pickleball in India. In his recent visit to the USA, he met some of the best personalities associated with Pickleball USA and brought huge reference from them about how to further grow the game in India.
If, any one has little doubt about the future of Pickleball, then I would strongly advise him/her to visit Pickleball Central (PC), a Super Store located at Kent in the USA. The Store, spreading over a massive area of approximately 20000 square feet and having 4 dedicated indoor Pickleball courts, houses a wide variety of products and resources related to Pickleball. Most importantly they have a committed team who works honestly to satisfy every customer or a new entrant to Pickleball. The amount of effort, dedication and money that David and Anna have invested in building up Pickleball Central is itself a proof that Pickleball is sure to be recognized as world sport soon.
Kent is an outlying suburb of Seattle located at King County in the Washington State of USA. Kent is also the corporate home for companies such as REI and Oberto Sausage, Boeing, Blue Origin and many others. If you are a first-time visitor to Pickleball Central like me, you may feel that you are paying an industrial visit, as PC is situated in the hub of all warehouses of all big companies.
By standing outside the gate of PC, you cannot imagine that soon after moving inside, you will witness a giant complex of Pickleball.
At the very right corner of the reception area, you will watch a carefully-preserved antique piece of ball machine. This will give you an idea about how the balls were made in earlier times. Opposite to that machine are glass cupboards displaying earlier wood paddles. Curious visitors get an idea about how paddles evolved over the past 55 years – from wood to composite and to modern days fibre paddles. The entire section is aptly and proudly been described as Pickleball Museum. The walls adjoining this Museum are full of carefully-curated frames displaying the efforts of the pioneers of this game – from Bainbridge to different parts of the world.
In the same sequence, I was pleasantly surprised to see the poster of 4th All India Pickleball Championship that was held at Jaipur in the year 2016. It was an emotional moment for me to see AIPA’s poster getting a place in Museum of Pickleball at PC.
As I moved further in a nostalgic mood, I was even more surprised by landing on the Pickleball indoor courts. For any American player, four dedicated indoor courts under one roof may not be a fancy thing. But for a person coming from India, it is surely a dream come true. To watch those state-of-the-art indoor courts is a sheer visual treat. The courts are well-lighted and aesthetically decorated and most importantly all courts are busy all through the day. Players come from remote corners of Seattle to play at PC and happily return by making new friends over one game of Pickleball.
I was lucky when I got a chance to play with Irena Tereschenko, one of the world’s top-rated woman players. It was a memorable experience to watch her play from the other side of the court. Her agility and command over the ball are just extra ordinary. Despite her charisma, she is extraordinarily humble and ready to guide her fellow players on the court.
Adjoining section of indoor courts is a huge storage of Pickleball equipment. From ball-throwing machine to chalk and from ball picking gadget and books to souvenir of Pickleball, everything is available here under one roof. This facility is well managed by humble and prompt support staff of PC. The team working in Customer Care department has given a wireless headset, so while answering the phone call of the customer they can go at the storage and from the site they can verify and satisfy the customer’s query regarding paddles or other equipment. John Cowley introduced me to a lady there who worked with Douglas Smith in Pickleball Inc, 30 years before. It is a proof of how PC has preserved the legacy of Pickleball and is nurturing it everyday.
During my short visit to their office I was offered a traditional Indian lunch by David and Anna, from a restaurant called Curry and Kebab which was equally memorable. The cuisine was authentic and the discussion we had was quite engaging. Due to that lunch with the couple, I was convinced that they have strong convictions and wide visions to grow Pickleball all over the world. Despite many challenges, David and Anna are committed to keep the fire on, till the date when Pickleball will finally be a part of the Olympics.
My visit to Pickleball Central became possible due to the timely drop by Douglas Smith and on my return I was obliged by John Cowley who took me to his home to meet his beautiful wife Sheila. While seeping locally-brewed beer we gossiped about world politics and finished our meet by a resolution that the sport of Pickleball is sure to stay and grow; that will bring communities together, will foster friendship and develop fitness in societies.