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Originally published Friday, July 12, 2013 at 11:15 AM

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It's skill before age on the pickleball court

The sport, featuring elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis, began on Bainbridge Island.

Special to The Seattle Times

Where to find your game

Seattle community centers that offer pickleball:

/www.seattle.gov/parks/athletics/pickleball.htmFor more information on pickleball:

www.usapa.org/

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A FORMER tennis player might think before entering a pickleball court that she has this one in the bag. You know, hand-eye coordination, decent footwork, confidence she can smash that little Wiffle ball pretty hard.

Then she might start whiffing with the shorter paddle, regularly violate the no-volley zone known as the "kitchen" and pre-emptively rush the net.

"It's OK!" my partner and pickleball guide Renee Knowles chirped every time I did one of the above.

I've played a few rounds of pickleball with wooden paddles on a cement court at a friend's childhood home. And I knew that many locals are proud of the fact that pickleball originated on Bainbridge Island. But then there is the Seattle-area pickleball scene.

At the Asian Resource Center, where I got my introduction, there were a few players twice my age and far better than me. I got a little nervous when Mitsu Clark, a tiny spitfire in a tennis skirt, stepped onto the court opposite me. She's 64.

Pickleball uses the same court as badminton, but the net is lowered to 34 inches.

Knowles, a friend of my editor, walked me through the basic rules of the court and the game. She learned from experience that some places are hyper competitive. Seattle's Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center is a good place to start, she advised.

Pickleball has elements of tennis, badminton and table tennis. The sport requires a hard paddle — the good paddles are composite — and use a hard, perforated plastic ball similar to a Wiffle ball. In pickleball, there also is a supremely satisfying thwack that is addicting.

Most of the rules felt familiar, although it took me awhile to get the hang of who was serving when, where to put myself on the court and letting the ball bounce once on each side before rushing the net. It's a net game, which means it moves fast, so be ready to get your volley on.

The really good players get into a "dinking" game, Knowles said, a risky strategy because if you send the ball up a little too high, your opponents will smash it at you. I opted to hit as hard as I could. Offense first!

Like any racket sport, it's vigorous with a lot of stops and starts. It's relatively low-impact, too; thus the draw for older players.

And it's fun when you play a real game. We never lacked for partners, with people offering to team up regardless of their play level.

It took me a couple of games to get the hang of all the rules, and I kept stepping in the "kitchen" near the net, which technically is a fault. Good players run you around plenty, and I had to keep my wits about me to volley. After three games, and a 1-2 record, I was ready to put my paddle down.

Pickleball is an affordable way to stay fit. Once you get a paddle, most community centers charge around $3 for court time. I can't think of a better way to stay fit and have fun. My advice: Paddle up and stay out of the kitchen.

Nicole Tsong teaches yoga at studios around Seattle. Email: papercraneyoga@gmail.com. Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific NW magazine staff photographer.

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