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  • Writer's pictureBonnie Coffey

Pickleball versus Pádel, Lisbon, Portugal

What, you may ask, is pádel? We didn't know until we reached Lisbon. Read on.

After all of the hoopla of the English Open Pickleball Tournament was over, we had just over a week before we were due to be in Madrid for the Spanish Open Tournament. We chose to enjoy that time in Lisbon, Portugal. We wanted to hear a new language, and to see what many have said is one of their favorite countries. We also hoped to add a country to our list of places where we have played pickleball.

This sounds very jet-settish, but it is inexpensive and budget oriented to fly to different places in Europe. It was approximately $100 for both of us and our bags (which cost just about the same as our seats) to fly from London to Lisbon on Ryan Air. Many people gripe about the services provided by Ryan, and the airline can certainly be frustrating at times, but I'm still trying to figure out how they can possibly make their numbers work and stay in business with such low fares.

We made the most of our time in this beautiful city by staying in the Belém area, which is close to the Tagus River. This area has an inviting waterfront, and many interesting monuments and museums.

Padrão dos Descobrimentos Monument to the Discoveries celebrates Portuguese overseas explorations

Infante D. Henrique of Portugal, better known as Prince Henry the Navigator 

That's not really why we chose the area however. Can you guess how we usually decide where to stay? It is most frequently related to the distance from a pickleball court. Who would have guessed it? I searched all over the internet, in Pickleball Forum, and on Facebook pages to try to find a place for us to play pickleball while visiting Lisbon. There was nothing to be found in the area at all. Since there were no pickleball courts to be found (yet!), we booked a place fairly close to Clube de Pádel Alcântara.

Before visiting the Clube, we were out one day sightseeing in a famous park, Parque Eduardo VII, in the middle of town. We noticed a large building with courts which we guessed were for pádel. We stopped in to discover what was a very exclusive fitness club, and we were given an impromptu tour of the facility. While there we watched two groups of four engaged in playing the sport.

It looked quite a bit like racquetball, with it's four walls, the back and part of the side walls were made of glass and part of the side walls are metal fences. We did notice however, that there seemed to be no social aspect to it other than coming with your foursome and renting a court for the time you wished to play. We appreciated the tour, but frankly, we didn't get a very welcome feeling at this venue. Again however, we were there without advance notice.

A couple of days later, I sent a Facebook message to Clube de Pádel Alcântara, asking about visiting them to give pádel a try. I received a response very quickly from someone at the club, inviting us to come play. We hopped on an Uber Jump bike (a rental electric bike) and arrived in just minutes to an interesting location under the 25th of April Bridge.

This spot under a main bridge gives it shelter from wind and rain, but it is a bit noisy when a train goes over it.

Eduardo, a co-owner in the business, was very busy attending customers at the small bar/cafe, and due to employee vacations, he was doing everything himself. He motioned to us that he would be with us quickly. In the meantime we watched a couple of groups playing the game. One foursome looked quite new and expertly inept, and the other looked slightly more coordinated, but they were still floundering around quite a bit.

In due time, Eduardo switched roles and came over to invite us back to the small pro shop where he generously loaned us two "paddle bats" and some pádel balls which are equivalent to slightly deflated tennis balls. These were made by Head. He explained the rudimentary rules and objectives to us, and gave us a few important pointers and set us on our way to hit the ball around and get a feel for them. The game is played with doubles and scored exactly the same as tennis, with love and all!

After about 20 minutes of getting a feel for the weight and bounce of the ball, and the slightly heavy paddle with holes in it, we were pleased to meet a couple from London who were also brand new to the game. They were avid tennis players, and they had the advantage of being young and quite fit. We invited them in to knock about the ball for a bit. It didn't take long until the four of us were in an all-out competitive match, complete with lots of laughter at our ineptitude in the game. An inability to really predict where the ball would careen off of a glass wall, or more erratically, off of the metal fence walls, produced some slapstick moments. I'm really not trying to brag, but I think they were fairly shocked when we two old folks beat them two out of three games. They were all very close games though. The skills from pickleball definitely translated well to help us play pádel.

Ali & Inga from London

While it's difficult to be completely objective because we love pickleball, have played it so much, and have a higher skill level at it, I'll do my best to compare and contrast the two sports.

Pádel tennis (or just pádel ) is a racquet sport played extensively in Spain, Europe and LatinAmerica. It originated in Mexico in 1969 on a repurposed squash court. The game is played on an enclosed court about half of the size of a tennis court with glass walls and fencing. Pádel has been likened to “tennis with walls”. It is a sport that combines the best elements of tennis, squash and racquetball.

Pickleball originated in the US in 1965 on a repurposed badminton court. It is a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong. It is played both indoors and outdoors on a court the same size as a badminton court, with no walls.

Pádel and pickleball are both most commonly played as a doubles game. Pickleball is played by many as singles as well, but singles is typically played by people who are especially fit, and who frequently have a tennis background. The size of the pádel court restricts it to doubles games.

Pádel has grown quickly in Europe, with an estimated 3 million people playing in Spain alone. More than 18 countries play pádel and the number of players is estimated to exceed 8 million. The Padel Academy lists 4,000 clubs in the world, but it is difficult to get information on how many courts have been built.

According to USAPA, in 2015, there were 12,668 pickleball courts in North America, with an average of 76 new places to play pickleball debuting across the U.S. and Canada each month. By the end of 2018 there were 20,933 courts according to USAPA.

According to the Sports & Fitness Industry Association’s (SFIA) 2017 Pickleball Participant Report, pickleball had 2.815 million players in the US alone at the end of 2017. Since then, there has been a consistent and rapid growth. There are currently 18 member countries having membership in the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP). It is played, and is growing rapidly in many additional countries as well.

Pádel courts are 32' 8"wide (10 m) and 65' 7" (20 metres) long, ( 2,152 sq. ft.) enclosed by walls. A net divides the court in two, it has a maximum height of 35" (88 cm) in the center raising to 36 in (92 cm) at sides.

Pickleball courts are 20 feet wide (6.10 m) and 44 feet long (13.41 m), (800 sq. ft.) for both singles and doubles matches. The net is 36 inches (0.914 m) high at the sidelines and 34 inches (0.86 m) high at the center of the court.

Pádel courts are significantly more expensive to build than pickleball courts due to the additional size of the courts plus the cost of the glass and fence walls as well as the turf and silica surface. Cost varies widely for both types of courts, but some initial estimates show that pádel courts typically cost approximately 50% more each than pickleball courts. This is dependent of course on the cost of land, whether the courts are new and purpose-built, or refurbished tennis courts, the number of courts being built, etc, lighting and other amenities.

Pádel seems to be played primarily by younger people roughly between 16 - 50 although there are certainly younger and older players. Pickleball was popularized by an older demographic, but it has spread quickly to all ages as schools of all grades are teaching it as part of their P.E. curriculum, and professionals are now making some money in tournaments. People of every fitness level can enjoy pickleball.

In my opinion, the equipment for pickleball is lighter and easier to handle, which is good for young children and older people who may have less strength than others.

In pádel, adult paddles weigh between 12 - 13 oz. and juniors' paddles weigh in 8.5 - 10 oz.

The balls weigh about 2 ounces, the same as a tennis ball.

Most composite or graphite pickleball paddles weigh from 6 to 9 ounces. The original wooden pickleball paddles, which are still a low cost alternative, weigh from 9 to 11 (or more) ounces. The balls are lightweight whiffle balls, with the heaviest outdoor balls coming in well under an ounce.

The difference between getting hit by the two is quite significant due to the additional weight of the pádel ball. Eye protection is a good idea for both sports.

There are various price points for the equipment of both sports, both ranging from $30 for a low end paddle but pickleball paddles typically top out at about $160. Pádel paddles top out at about $400. Pádel paddles are thicker, and a possibly a bit more complicated to manufacture with the holes bore through the paddles. The balls vary in price depending where you buy them. Buying pickleballs in Europe and buying pádel balls in the US is quite expensive. If you buy either type in their "native" countries they are somewhere from $3 - 4 each if purchased in small quantities.

365 Euros = about a whopping $407! Would it make me play better?

One other major benefit of pickleball is that it can be set up temporarily on any flat sport surface such as a tennis court or basketball court. Pádel with its specialized walls is only available on purpose built courts.

Pádel and pickleball are both addictive games for anyone who tries them. They are both easy to learn, and they both can be enjoyed at every fitness and ability level. Both games can be played with mixed couples, among all family members, seniors and and children. Both pickleball and pádel, without involving large risk, provide wonderful health benefits to those who practice either sport. In pickleball, there are quite a number of families with three generations playing the game together.

Pickleball and pádel both give players the opportunity to socialize easily and encourage them to participate in social sportive events, tournaments and championships, but from my limited exposure, pickleball seems to be the more social activity. Pádel players seem to stay in their groups of four in contrast with pickleball players who rotate in and play with many different people in one session.

My conclusion is that I will stick with pickleball, and I'm happy that I found it first. If I had first learned pádel, I might have come to a different decision. It is also my opinion that more people will ultimately play pickleball than pádel due to the lower cost, lighter equipment, publicly available courts (many of them free in the US), and the higher level of sociability. Only time will tell however, and in the meantime, they are both great sports. Anything that gets people moving and healthier is a great outcome. Play on!

Please give pádel a try if you have a chance. I would love to hear if you have any other points of view about the two sports which I have neglected, or let me know if you have a different opinion.

Next stop, Madrid, Spain.

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