Published on November 20, 2012 | by Richard Wilder0
Squash in the sun
For many people in the UK, the sport of Padel is an unknown quantity. But with 12 million people playing the game worldwide, and with it being the most participated sport in both Spain and Argentina, it was only a matter of time before the emerging racket sport reached the shores of the UK. With this in mind, I went to explore PadelClub London, the first dedicated Padel club in the UK, at Canary Wharf, to find out more about the game and the emergence of what the Spanish call “squash in the sun”.
The game began in Acapulco in Mexico in 1969, which explains the Latin influence behind the sport. The name Padel reflects the game’s use of a stringless racquet, bringing together a combination of other racket sports such as tennis, badminton and squash into one addictive game.
The modern game of Padel was introduced into Europe through Marbella in Southern Spain during the 1970s. Since then the game has grown in popularity and is now finally catching on in Britain, after a group of private investors got to launch the sport in 2011. Many earlier attempts had proved unsuccessful.
Padel is played typically in doubles, the ball used and rules are identical to tennis, the differences being only the size of the court, the high walls of toughened glass surrounding the court, the racket and the serve technique.
The average size of a Padel court is 20m long by 10m wide, half the size of a tennis court, giving you a much more intense and exciting game. The glass walls help give the game its unique features, enabling shots to be played both on to and off the wall, in much the same way as squash. The ball must bounce on the opposition side before it hits a side or back wall, just as the ball must bounce inside the court lines in tennis.
The serve, which focuses much more on spin and placement instead of power, must be served under-arm and bounce within the service area. The racket is a lot shorter than a tennis or squash racket and its thickness can range from 36mm to 38mm. The frame is typically made from carbon or glass fibre, with the face made from soft material such as foam or polystyrene.
In a gigantic warehouse in Docklands, overlooked by the iconic Canary Wharf tower, the club is the largest Padel centre in the UK and has been running for six months, with the number of players growing quickly and rather unexpectedly, according to managing director Tom Murray.
“We’re in a good area, so we have a lot of corporate interest. We’ve got a corporate challenge and corporate leagues, so we get companies like Barclays and HSBC coming here. Then, through word of mouth, the game has spread. At 5pm, you can’t even get a game, it is always fully booked. We’ve been open six months now and we have had about 2,000 people come down and play, which is amazing, phenomenal. We thought it would take at least 18 months to get those sort of numbers.” Tom Murray
But even with the new Padel centre in London attracting big interest, it is still proving difficult to get British people involved, according to Murray, who believes more awareness is needed for the sport to take off, as it has done in other parts of the world.
“We have a lot of interest from the Spanish community which has really helped, I would say 60 per cent of people that come here are Spanish, so it’s now just about converting all the Brits and getting them away from squash. Publicity is the main aim and also commercial partners. We partner with Dunlop Sport, they’re our main sponsor, and it just gives recognition for your users having a household brand name, making people think it is more popular than it is.”
A key factor to the slow emergence of the game in the UK could also be down to the British climate. The game is ideally played outside, under a warm sun, unlike squash. The uncertain weather and lack of outdoor courts mean the game is different in the UK. Despite that, Murray believes Padel is perfectly suited to being played indoors and does not see it as a problem to participation levels.
“In Spain they refer to it as ‘squash in the sun’. It’s definitely nice to play outdoors in places like Spain, but here, like tennis, badminton and squash, it has developed indoors. This is the perfect indoor sport, so why not?”
The success of this summer’s Olympics here in Britain means now is perhaps the perfect time for a sport like Padel to be introduced, capitalising on the buzz that was created by inspiring British athletes. Could the game become an Olympic sport in itself one day? There does seem a good chance of that.
“I wouldn’t say we’re ready for it to become an Olympic sport in Brazil 2016, but definitely the next Olympics after that in 2020, wherever that may be. It’s going to take that long for it to be introduced. We were hoping to potentially introduce it here in London this year, because we had a lot of interest after we ran a number of tournaments running up to the Games, but officially you need to present the idea a long time before the Games start. More than12 million people play Padel worldwide now so we are ahead of a lot of other sports that are Olympic. It’s just a matter of time, I think we just need a few more nations to pick it up,” Murray said.
PadelClub London has also been trying to do its bit for the community with special programmes being run during the daytime when the courts are quieter. This helps keep people fit and healthy, and improves participation levels, while players perform a “back wall boast” or “bandeja” which are both shots used in Padel.
“During the day it’s pretty empty here at the moment, so we’re trying to build school programmes and do things like ladies’ mornings and a few social games to gradually build up the numbers of people playing. It’s been a challenge because it is a new sport in this country, but I think it will pick up and take off. There are a lot of racket enthusiasts here.”
Padel is “the most social sport” because it is always played in doubles. It is easily accessible for people of all backgrounds, with prices realistic and affordable. Games are always charged per person at a one-off price for one hour’s play. To play during the day up until 5pm costs £4 each per hour, meaning you are paying only £16 for the court. To play after 5pm this increases to £7 each per hour, meaning you are paying only £28 for the court.
“It’s not a bad price, but we have a lot of other incentives to get people engaged, like the social mixings we have on Friday nights, which is 7pm to 9pm, where people can come and play, even if they don’t know other people, pay £10 and play for two hours with everyone there. We also do that on a Sunday as well and we have an agreement with a local Spanish restaurant, where everyone can go over and enjoy a Spanish paella with a bit of a Spanish vibe afterwards.”
I found Padel fast-paced, exciting, social and surprisingly easy to pick up. New players, of all ages, will find it easier and less demanding than other racket sports. However, for more advanced players, Padel can be demanding because it requires new skills and disciplines that set it apart from the rest.
If you enjoy racket sports, I would highly recommend this fascinating game. I can assure you, you will soon become addicted in the same way that I did.
To play Padel at PadelClub London, check out the website www.padelclub.co.uk or call 020 7617 7132 to book a court.