Paddle Anyone?

Photograph: Unsplash

If you live in Fairfield County, chances are you know someone obsessed with platform tennis. The sport, also referred to as “paddle tennis” or just “paddle” by those in the know, was first developed in 1928 by James Cogswell and Fessenden Blanchard in Scarsdale, NY. They were looking for a winter racquet sport and decided to build their own small, raised, wooden court. They bought spongy balls and wooden paddles at a local store, brought them home and started to play. While they enjoyed their new game, they quickly lost interest in retrieving balls out of the snow every time they were hit out of the court and decided to put up chicken wire as fencing. To their surprise, they found that being able to play the ball off the screen added even more fun to the game.

“The first court in Rowayton was created out of wood, and the ground was covered with walnut shells to get foot traction and keep it from becoming too slippery. Prior to electronic bookings, there was a 5×10 chalkboard with court signup listings. People would get in line 48 hours ahead of time to sign up, and if you came too early your name would be erased. You even had to put a quarter in a coin-operated meter to activate the lights when they were first installed,” says Greg Brasher, member and past president of the Rowayton Platform Tennis Association.

Originally in New Canaan there were six platform courts near the Lapham Community Center. By 2004, they were in need of such repair that the town decided to replace them. Four new courts were built closer to the dog park and swimming pool, and in 2018, a fifth court was added. When the Weed Beach paddle courts were first built in Darien, they were situated on a sand lot with a trailer. The present-day courts, with water views, a beach across the street, a paddle hut and outdoor firepit, are truly a beautiful place to be. It has become a “true jewel,” says Steve O’Connell, Director of Platform Tennis for the Town of Darien.

Currently, Rowayton has five courts located behind the Rowayton Library and Community Center; New Canaan has five courts at Waveny Park, and Darien has five courts at Weed Beach and is currently in the process of building a sixth. All three towns have experienced an explosion of interest in the sport over the past few years, with growth in their programs like never before. Covid created an uptick in virtually all outdoor activities and paddle tennis was no exception. Being able to socialize outside, play a fun sport and get some exercise made it an incredibly appealing option to many people who might not have been drawn to a racquet sport otherwise.

“If you’re not skiing, you should be playing paddle.”
Claire Norton, Head Paddle Pro at Waveny Park


We sat down with some of the best in the biz to learn a little more about paddle tennis and why it holds such allure.


WHY DO YOU THINK PLATFORM TENNIS HAS BECOME SO POPULAR?

“Getting outside in the winter, especially during the day, can be so incredible when the sun is shining on your face to keep you warm—even if it’s freezing. Being on the court is just fun, social and exhilarating.” 
— STEVE O’CONNELL,
Director of Platform Tennis for the Town of Darien

“So many collegiate athletes live around here and even for those who played tennis, it’s a whole new sport. If you’re an athlete with good hand-eye coordination, it’s relatively simple and you can start to play competitively quickly. Every time someone touches their racquet, they can get better. Pretty soon they have that feeling of reliving their glory days of being really good at a sport.” 
— GREG BRASHER,
Member and Past President of the Rowayton Platform Tennis Association

“During COVID, the APTA started ramping up tournaments and opportunities for people to play competitively. Tennis pros started incorporating it into their programs. The fact that it’s such a social sport and so family-oriented appealed to many. You can be a beginner or play at a very competitive level. There are so many different clinics and leagues, so it really appeals to everyone.”
— CLAIRE NORTON,
Head Paddle Pro at Waveny Park Platform Tennis


WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE A NOVICE WHO IS INTERESTED IN LEARNING HOW TO PLAY?

“There’s an old quote that I like to use when I’m teaching that says, ‘If you can think about putting an ice cream cone to your mouth, you can learn to play paddle tennis.’”
— O’CONNELL

“We have a lot of kids playing, and often their parents who haven’t previously played become interested. People love having a family sport, especially one that can be played outside during the winter.”
— BRASHER

“The first time I ever played I fell in love with the game. It is challenging but so fun and addictive. It can be more of a hit and giggle, or you can really dig in and play competitively if that’s what you’re looking for.”
— NORTON

 

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