Professional coach offers weekly instruction on fast-growing game

By Danny Ritz

The fact that anyone can play pickleball is what drew Capistrano Beach resident Buzz Buster to the similar-to-tennis sport. Buster, who is 81 years old, wanted to maintain his active lifestyle.

“I’ve played sports my whole life. I’m 81 now, and it’s hard for people in my age bracket to continue to play sports like basketball and tennis. Pickleball has been wonderful. I play all over the area,” Buster said.

Pickleball resembles life-size ping pong, or tennis in slow motion. Pickleball’s smaller court, which is roughly one-third the size of a regulation tennis court, requires less ground to be covered during gameplay. The game is also easy to understand, which allows newcomers to play immediately. The size of the court, along with the subtle mix of technique, strategy and athleticism, allows Pickleball to be competitive and fun for a wide range of players, including its rapid growth and appeal to the baby boomer generation.

San Clemente residents are embracing the sport of Pickleball by taking weekly instructional classes. Photo: Danny Ritz
San Clemente residents are embracing the sport of Pickleball by taking weekly instructional classes. Photo: Danny Ritz

San Clemente could quickly find itself at the center of a pickleball frenzy – one that appears to be taking shape throughout Orange County–thanks in part to former professional tennis player, president of the United States Professional Pickleball Association and San Clemente resident Raudel Barba. Barba believes the sport has major potential to take flight in town.

“With Pickleball, it’s so easy to have fun and remain competitive. I think it’s why it is so appealing to the baby boomer generation,” Barba said. “The very nature of the game allows for multiple skill levels to play together. You can’t say that for a lot of other sports.”

Due to its growing popularity and ease of play, Barba offers instructional Pickleball classes through the City of San Clemente Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department every Wednesday at San Gorgonio Park.

San Clemente resident Kathy Masters, who picked up Pickleball three months ago, quickly fell in love with the sport after attending Barba’s instructional classes.

“I’m not a gym person. I’ve always just gotten my exercise from being active outside,” Masters said. “I love Pickleball because I forget I am getting such a good workout. It’s so easy to have a good time.”

Masters, along with many others, have taken lessons with Barba through the City of San Clemente Parks and Recreation. Barba believes around 200 people have attended the weekly sessions in San Clemente since the class began.

Dana Point, Laguna Niguel, Mission Viejo and Laguna Woods are some of the surrounding cities with devoted Pickleball followings. Some cities even have official Pickleball courts, which is something Barba would like to see happen in San Clemente. Currently, Raudel and his players have to outline Pickleball courts in chalk on the San Gorgonio Park tennis court surfaces.

Aside from offering a fun physical outlet for participants, Barba said a social aspect of Pickleball is an added bonus to the class.

“We come and we play and then we get together afterwards, maybe grab dinner or a beer and talk,” Barba said. “We’ll have 15 to 20 people all go out together after a practice session or tournament.”

Starting Wednesday, Sept. 6, Barba will offer two, distinctly different four-week Pickleball classes. Cost for the beginner class is $60. The strategy and round robin class, designed for more intermediate players, is $82. Cost includes four weekly classes. Classes will meet on Wednesdays at San Gorgonio Park. Beginner classes are from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m., and intermediate classes are from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. Sign up is available only through the City of San Clemente Parks and Recreation website.

Currently, Barba is offering Pickleball drop-in classes every Wednesday at San Gorgonio from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. Cost is $15 and can be paid on-site. For more information contact Barba at 954.647.6305.

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