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County to add more pickleball courts amid struggle for space

Tennis and pickleball players say there’s not enough to go around

Kihei’s Sana Ngalu follows through on a shot in front of brother Vili Ngalu during a pickleball match Oct. 21 against Cynthia Tongi and Lika Tongi at Waipuilani Park in Kihei. “It keeps us active and its fun,” Sana said of the increasingly popular sport. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

Four pickleball courts will be added in Kihei this fiscal year to help with the growing sport as users of hard court recreational spaces continue to struggle to find spots to play in Maui County.

“There is a need for hard surface courts for basketball, tennis, volleyball, wrestling, futsal, air riflery and pickleball. Also everyone loves recreation and wants more of it for their sport,” Department of Parks and Recreation Director Karla Peters said this week. “We work hard to balance several requests fairly and equitably across the board.”

For years different recreational groups, especially those in tennis and pickleball, have argued over space and say courts are hard to come by. In 2019, a letter-writing campaign and petition was started to urge the Maui County Council and parks department to build separate facilities due to overcrowding and the difference in court size, court lines and equipment.

Some pickleball courts have been added since then, but not enough to fill the demand.

At a Maui County Council Human Concerns and Parks Committee meeting earlier this month to discuss the issue of hard surface courts, the parks department said it is conducting an assessment of its facilities that will also include looking at facility usage.

Marty Guerriero prepares to smack a return in front of doubles partner Kim Trujillo during a pickleball match against Chrissy Kersey and Zach Charles Oct. 21 at Waipuilani Park in Kihei. All four players are from Kihei. — The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

David Yamashita, planner for the parks department, said at the meeting that the assessments will likely take up till 2022, with data available in 2023.

Peters acknowledged this week that the department is also likely to conduct a countywide community survey next year to update a mail survey the department did in 2015.

The previous survey included 22 questions on topics such as participation in activities, use of facilities, reasons for recreation, satisfaction and obstacles to recreation, Peters said.

But in the meantime, Peters said four additional pickleball courts will be added at Waipuilani Park.

“The Department is considering different options to accommodate the needs of the community with limitations such as funding and available space,” she said this week in an email. “By conducting a survey, it will allow us to better plan for these additional facilities in the future as well as determine the recreational needs of our Maui community.”

There are currently 25 permanent outdoor pickleball courts in the county, 47 tennis courts and 31 outdoor basketball courts, according to parks department data shared at the committee meeting.

Since 2019, 17 pickleball courts have been added in the county, four each at the Lahaina Civic Center, Napili Park and Lanai 5th St. Courts, and five at Waipuilani Park.

Peters noted that there are also tennis courts that are currently designated by the parks department as multisport facilities and that there are private pickleball and tennis courts throughout the county.

Both tennis and pickleball players say each should have their own court, although some say they are OK with sharing, according to testifiers at the meeting.

Cathy Nicoloff, a longtime tennis player and coach who holds leadership positions at the Maui Community Tennis Organization and U.S. Professional Tennis Association, spoke out against taking away tennis courts and converting them to pickleball courts, noting how she has seen the loss of tennis courts over the years to pickleball.

Nicoloff, who also teaches pickleball, said she has nothing against it but that tennis and pickleball should have separate courts. She noted the court lines and the net height are different, and that making adjustments between the two courts is difficult.

The two sports should also not be side-by-side, she said, noting that pickleball is noisier.

“(It’s) kind of like you don’t want to be playing golf and having basketball next to golf,” Nicoloff said.

Laurie Loney, one of Maui’s pickleball ambassadors who also plays tennis, said she respects the “tennis players’ rights to their court” and how protective they are.

She told committee members that she was lobbying to start budgeting for pickleball courts, which would be a “win-win” situation for players in both sports.

“In the meantime we have no where to play, I’m afraid,” she said. “We are using some tennis courts right now, as we have no place to play.”

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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