To Dink is Divine: Pickleball in Lunenburg

On any given Sunday, the Lunenburg Community Centre is a place of worship for the world’s fastest growing sport. 

Fear not, those with lingering nightmares about high school gym class and accompanying stress hygiene. This isn’t dodgeball, nor is it a sea of rippling muscles and pent-up angst. Well, maybe a little bit of angst. 

In this congregation, beer bellies outnumber six-pack abs, and knee braces are de rigueur. Playful competition, friendly banter, and kindness are the word. 

And, the word is pickleball. 

Of course, pickling in Lunenburg also happens outside of the Sunday time slot. 

There’s a Women’s session on Tuesdays, and a 70+ gang on Wednesdays. Everyone is also welcome Monday mornings, Tuesday evenings, and Friday afternoons. Outside posted hours, you’ll also find players gathering for coffee – the second favourite pastime of the group’s natural leader – a local Minister who brings cheek, guidance, wisdom, athletic skill, Dad jokes, and dare I say, a ‘fatherly’ component to the flock.

“He’s a Minister?” is often muttered by puzzled newcomers – victims of a wicked spin serve and hockey-worthy heckling from the man of the sweaty cloth. “Yep”.  

There’s irony in that devilish grin as he yells, ‘Go Habs!’ after a lopsided game. He’s also the administrator of the group’s Facebook page, a patient teacher, a caring food (and hug) distributor, and the first one to check in when someone’s missed a game day or two.    

Once viewed as a game for retirees and those deemed ‘too old for tennis’ – pickleball is anyone and everyone’s game now. An estimated one-million Canadians are playing the ridiculously-named sport, described as a cross between tennis and ping pong. 

Once-cynical naysayers – tennis players – have seen the light. (If you missed the recently televised McEnroe-Roddick-Agassi-Chang pickleball exhibition matchup – it’s worth a YouTube search.) 

Tennis courts across North America are slowly being converted into a sea of 44 x 20 ft pickleball courts, and savvy entrepreneurs are snapping up empty retail spaces to open pickleball clubs.    

There are dandelions thriving between the pavement cracks at Lunenburg’s makeshift outdoor pickleball court – ragged lines drawn out behind the school, where sea breezes relentlessly topple the lightweight, portable net. 

Around the corner, the Lunenburg Tennis Club, founded in 1910 is currently fundraising to resurface their three hard courts ringed by candy coloured historic houses. 

Neither of the current mayoral candidates have pickleball or tennis on their platforms – so it seems shiny new racquet facilities are, at present, a low priority in the UNESCO hamlet.       

While there’s no denying the sound of a hard plastic pickleball hitting a paddle is far less resplendent than a fuzzy tennis ball bouncing off strings – it hardly matters to the local player who routinely forgets her hearing aids. 

But don’t let that same seventy-something with the new hip fool you. She’s ‘got game’ – as do the adorable young, identical-twin deckhands who have literally cruised into town. New to the sport – they happily rotate with players of all ages, shapes, sizes, temperaments, and walks of life. 

Artists. Gardeners. Students. Lawyers. Grandmas. Labourers. Politicians. And, one refreshingly shy Japanese woman – in town to study English – who wasn’t fooled into believing “shit” was the appropriate word to shout when you missed a shot in Bluenose country.

Played well, pickleball is a blend of soft, finesse shots called “dinks”, angles, patience, power, strategy, and remembering to stay the hell out of the kitchen or “non-volley zone”. Stepping in to strike the ball in the 7ft area on either side of the net is a sin – unless the ball bounces in the kitchen first. 

Confused? Don’t worry. The Minister’s occasional sermon from court three is reserved for beginners, and the affable players in Lunenburg are more than happy to guide those picking up a paddle for the first time. 

Those with any form of hand/eye coordination will find banging a holey, high-drifting pickleball easy – but it takes practice to master the divineness of the dink. Think about that sentence, will ya. Even the 3-digit scoring system makes sense… eventually.

Less than ideal compared with fancy pickleball clubs and modern spaces, the Lunenburg Community Centre’s gym floor has a myriad of faded lines for a variety of sports. Jaundiced-looking after years of sweat, wax, and polish, it’s also hard to see the yellow ball against the honeyed wood – but no one cares, nor complains as they offer up three Loonies for the bucket, before heading out like school kids at recess. 

Note the absence of fancy gear, logoed headbands, and protective eyewear. Heavy work socks, jeans, flannel shirts, and inappropriate footwear are just fine for many athletes on the South Shore. 

Here, in the space where farmers and fisherfolk flog kale and cod on Thursdays – the first serve automatically goes to the team on the ‘unfortunate’ side of the court, where a big backswing or long shot will have you smashing into the antiquated metal wall heaters. It’s truly humbling, in the sweetest possible way. 

We, the community, the province, the world, the planet, are dealing with a seemingly endless string of heartbreaking burdens lately. Even the broadest of shoulders get weighed down. And, not everyone has faith. Letting go and laughing like a carefree kid on the playground is beneficial, and essential on so many levels. 

So, it’s uplifting that on any given Sunday, you can wander like a lost sheep and be welcomed into a warm, poorly-lit, but funny fold. A beautiful, sweaty, empathetic family of believers playing an intoxicating game with a silly name. 

Amen to that.


One response to “To Dink is Divine: Pickleball in Lunenburg”

  1. What a great insight into this wildly popular newish phenom.
    Cindy has such a great turn of phrase and writes with her heart on her pen.

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