In a pickle: Tennis, pickleball players fight over court usage

As the sport of pickleball spreads rapidly across the island, the need for court space follows close behind.

According to the Maui County website, there are around 16 locations on Maui with public tennis courts, and four of those have converted pickleball courts — four pickleball courts fit on one tennis court.

Not all are happy with the county’s court conversions.

The Maui News recently received emails from nearly 20 members of the local tennis community who opposed the encroachment of pickleball onto Maui’s tennis courts due to damage on the surface of current courts, the confusion with overlapping court lines, noise intrusion and nets not being raised back to tennis-height.

“We need to come together as a community, work together rather than provoking anger and dividing the community by pushing to convert tennis courts to pickleball courts,” said Pearl Rocket, who has been playing tennis for 35 years. “I do not oppose the sport, but I strongly oppose tennis courts being converted to pickleball courts. Not now, not ever.”

A letter-writing campaign is underway and petitions are being circulated, urging the County Council and the Department of Parks and Recreation to build separate facilities due to overcrowding and the difference in court size, court lines and equipment.

Despite the ongoing fight for court space, there are currently no plans or money in the budget to build designated and separated pickleball courts, according to sources from the county Parks and Recreation Department who requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly on the issue. Converted pickleball courts are located at the Lahaina Civic Center, Waipuilani Park in Kihei and War Memorial Complex in Central Maui, which have specific days and times when play is permitted.

Multiple requests for official comment from Department of Parks and Recreation officials were not returned.

The outdoor tennis courts at Eddie Tam Complex in Makawao were initially offered to pickleballers, but due to frequent rainy conditions, Eddie Tam Gym is open for indoor pickleball from 8 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

While there are no specific pickleball lines at the Kula Community Center tennis courts, pickleball play is permitted as long as everyone abides by the court rules, such as wearing appropriate shoes and keeping dogs and bikes off the court.

“It’s the fastest growing sport in the world,” said Greg Smith, an ambassador of pukaball, as pickleball is commonly called locally. “Pickleball is a very warm, open environment. … It’s just so much fun, and it’s shocking to me that after all this time, that people would create a fuss about it and say we’re ruining the courts and pickleball is bad.”

Fellow pukaball ambassador Laurie Loney says she has “no desire to fight with the tennis community.”

“I played tennis competitively for almost all my life and I love tennis,” Loney said. “This is not just a problem on Maui, but all over the country with pickleball versus tennis.

“We as a group are highly respectful of the tennis players and courts. We can’t speak for a few individuals who don’t follow the rules.”

Allegations of court damage aside, there is still the problem of availability.

With junior tennis tournaments, Maui Interscholastic League tennis matches and practices, pickleball tournaments, pickup games, physical education classes and everyone in between, residents and visitors are getting frustrated with finding room to play.

“I am a longtime tennis player and I am firmly against converting any tennis court to pickleball,” resident Lori Tanaka wrote via email. “We have year-round tennis leagues, and there are not enough tennis courts to accommodate both the leagues and regular tennis players.”

Tanaka added that her daughters and friends were kicked off of the War Memorial tennis courts last year due to overcrowding.

“They couldn’t use Wells Park because of MILs and KCC (Kahului Community Center) was being used by Maui High for their practice,” she said.

Other areas have been suggested for pickleball use, such as Pukalani Park, Waiakoa Gym and Haliimaile, but pukaball ambassadors pointed out that they are “very windy areas” and are in “major need of repair.”

“Wind is very challenging to pickleball as the whiffle ball is very light,” Loney said. “The ultimate solution would be to have the county build separate courts for only pickleball use.”

While there are many in the tennis community that are supportive of pickleball, it comes down to whether or not there’s enough courts on island to accommodate everyone.

“At times it has been difficult for some of our high school players to play on the War Memorial courts,” Kihei Charter tennis coach Rachel Christopher said. “I’ve played pickleball, it’s fun and a great sport; however, I believe they deserve to have their own facilities for their ever-growing, popular sport.”

* Dakota Grossman is at dgrossman@mauinews.com


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