When you talk about living life to the fullest in a community like Callawassie, a few key recreational buzzwords rise to the top. Golf. Tennis. Kayaking. Giving them all a lighthearted run for king of the course, court, or causeway is the most popular pastime up for play: Pickleball. Often followed by the word “mania,” the leisure sport that’s sweeping the nation has landed on Callawassie, and while it’s a blast, it’s also getting serious.
Rampantly referred to as “the fastest growing sport in America,” part of the appeal is that’s it’s not entirely the fastest moving activity. So say players and club leaders Tom Blaskowski and Brian Freed. Former Tennis Club president, and later Racquet Club chairman, Blaskowski walks newcomers gingerly through the idea that pickleball is indeed for beginners. “[Freed] and I are experienced pickleball players of all of three months,” Blaskowski jokes of the newest club in the Callawassie roster, “but it’s addictive.”
“It was the first activity I got back into when the doctor said, ‘no restrictions,’” Blaskowski says regarding his return to the court after recent knee surgery. I was able to jump into pickleball because you don’t run as much, and there’s not so much of what I refer to in tennis as ‘slamageddon.’”
‘Less running’ is because pickleball serves up a smaller court. Add to that a featherweight wiffleball, a 7oz paddle that weighs in lighter than a tennis racket, and you’ve got a gentler game at hand. Freed has the same take regarding the physical approach explaining that “tennis is more about shoulder rotation and racquetball and pickleball are more wrist and elbow – it’s more of a soft sport. Once in a while, you get an opportunity to hit a power shot, but the transition is easier. Pickleball is a finesse.”
Like any club at Callawassie, a measurable part of the fun is the connections made in and out of play. “Social events and socializing in general are different in pickleball than tennis,” Blaskowski says. “There’s a sense that where tennis is more intense, pickleball is more relaxed, which could change as we introduce league play but who knows.”
The club held its first “pickleball-only” sporting event on Saint Patrick’s Day 2022, which was also in memory of Dieter Bose who was in part responsible for “getting the courts lined up.” The courts in mention may be new to Callawassie, but they set the island up as an example to follow for other area communities who are working to keep up with “jonesing-for-pickleball.” Moss Creek is still in the planning stages and watching the island developments, Palmetto Dunes’ 24 courts are well-established, and Hampton Lakes has added 4 to try and keep up with the 1000 sprawling homesites. Callawassie meanwhile has found the center “balance” by having the foresight to change the original 2-court plan for a set of 4 to accommodate the 500+homes in the picture-perfect island community.
Jumping into pickleball is just as easy as the game itself: Just show up. Open play is Tuesday and Thursday from 2-3:30 and no equipment or experience is needed. You can pick up paddles and balls in the pro shop where Bill Hoppe (Callawassie Tennis Director of over 25 years) and Andy Sklarin (who’s been playing pickleball longer) are often on hand to answer questions, provide guidance, and talk round-robins for upcoming events like the Kentucky Derby Party, where tennis and pickle pair well together.
Everything “pairs well” in pickleball, as Blaskowski and Freed agree. “Everybody you meet is having fun,” says Freed. “I’ve never been there when someone’s yelling or mad. It’s generally a friendly environment. Everyone’s laughing and having good time on the pickleball courts.”
How can you not, with an ‘addictive,’ light-handed, proliferating pastime like pickleball on the island of Callawassie?