I fell in love with paddle-racquet games more than two decades ago on a rocky beach in Provincetown when a stranger generously lent me and my best friend, Matt, a set of “beginner paddles” and suggested we try playing some “fierce Kadima.” (Kadima is the most well-known brand of paddles — the ubiquitous wooden set available at drugstores and surf shops.) I am a former professional squash player, so the cushion of introductory paddles was, let’s say, slightly unnecessary. In no time, Matt (a skilled tennis player) and I were standing 30 feet apart, whaling on the small rubber ball for rallies that lasted minutes.
The Kadima was fierce, I assure you. But there’s one problem with Kadima and so many similar paddle games that require you to keep the ball afloat without letting it bounce: They’re difficult for beginners to play because the true pleasure comes from extended rallies, which take some skill. I have made countless attempts to engage non-sporting friends in various recreational paddle games on beaches and in parks across the world, but most times those people are happier watching (or reading a book) because they can’t hit the ball on the fly. That’s why I have always been on the lookout for paddle sports that can get me — and folks with far less experience — playing like we’re fighting for one of squash’s biggest trophies at the British Open or, you know, on the grass at Wimbledon. In other words, games for those who prefer, or need, to let the ball bounce as it does in squash or tennis.
As someone who spends a decent amount of time thinking about racquet sports, I’ve developed relationships with others who share my passion for paddles. One of them — Marcel Straub, whom I had first met at the World Student Games back in 1996 — emailed me not long ago to say he created a new game called Street Racket. Like traditional Kadima, Street Racket uses wooden paddles and a ball. Its yellow ball, though, is not only bouncier than others but can also be bounced as you play. Street Racket has simple rules for those who wish to follow them: You begin by drawing your own court (usually with chalk) onto concrete, the side of a building, or even in the dirt — literally whatever relatively hard surface is available. (The spongy ball is so bouncy that I’m told you can even play on hard-packed snow or ice, but living in Los Angeles, I can’t say I’ve tried.) The rectangular playing field is divided into three squares; players stand in the two outer squares and compete over the middle square, which essentially functions as a net. You score a point when your opponent either misses your square or is unable to return your shot from within their square, kind of like tennis. But you do not need to volley the ball on the fly, and because of its soft bounce, even beginners have enough time to react and knock it back.
Here’s the other nice thing about Street Racket: The rules and dimensions of a court aren’t hard and fast. Advanced players can chalk up larger courts for an additional challenge. Solo players can chalk a court against a wall. Four players can draw a court in a cross shape for competitive or cooperative play. The heft of the ball gives Street Racket a more “real sports” feel than pickleball. What’s more, the game doesn’t require the ferocity or technique (or private courts) that can make other paddle-racquet games forbidding and inaccessible. From the broken sidewalk outside my house in inner city Los Angeles to the exterior wall of the kitchen-supply store down the block, I’ve happily drawn my own court and rallied with my 6-year-old, who has no trouble keeping the ball going — which, instead of scoring points, is how we prefer to play. That I, a former squash pro, can compete with my kid is what makes Street Racket so delightful. Soon enough, she’ll be beating me, she swears. And I don’t doubt that some fierce Street Racket is in her future.
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