Padel is growing at a crazy speed


Padel is growing at a crazy speed

Three things get BOUWER BOSCH through this challenging country every week: faith, hope, and love for padel.


EVER since I can remember, my biggest dream has been to be like Wayne Ferreira. I wanted to represent South Africa at Wimbledon with my moustache and Afrikaner calves.

But then a McDonald's opened in Potchefstroom when I was 16. I then had to choose: would I continue working on my dream or start eating my emotions? Let's say I still have that “most loyal customer" certificate they gave me.

Fast forward 30 years to 2022, when the first padel court in South Africa is being built, and I find myself dreaming again at the age of 38: “Maybe I can be the Wayne Ferreira of padel!"

Now, you're probably asking yourself about this “padel" I'm talking about. Is it yet another new type of belief that everyone is buzzing about? Will Rodney Seale soon warn us against addiction to this new craze?

Since there seem to be more padel courts than NG churches, it may border on a cult. It is indeed the most expensive new cult in your area. But let's be honest with each other: how harmful can a cult be when you're sweating, hanging out with friends and meeting new people?

If you thought the fastest-growing sport in South Africa was “flag-waving” outside courts, as seen in Groblersdal, you are wrong. It is padel.

Spain alone has more than 20,000 courts, and 57 countries play padel. As soon as 75 countries have joined in, it can qualify as an Olympic sport.

So yes, it's growing at a crazy speed. Faster than the AWB's TikTok channel is growing. Yes, you read that right: the AWB has a TikTok channel.

Anyway, padel originated in 1969 when the Mexican Enrique Corcuera decided to modify the squash court at his house so he could try some new things. And as any good cult needs a figurehead, today Enrique is seen as the father of Padel.

Lees hierdie artikel in Afrikaans:

Image: @bouwerbosch

Now, what is “padel" exactly?

It is a sport and part of the tennis family. It's like tennis's stepchild, but the stepchild is in a Curro school and walks around with his father's credit card in the tuck shop. Yes, it is something of an expensive hobby.

Booking a court for a 60 or 90-minute match costs from R150 to R200, depending on where you play. The fancy Cape Town courts, where you can see the colonialism and the mountain that looks like a table only from one side, cost a little more than the courts in Secunda, where you have to play with a gas mask.

Also, if you don't have your own racquet — which costs between R1,500 and R5,000 — you can rent one for about R50 a game.

You book matches on an app called Playtomic. I think the name is sexy. It doesn't say, “I am going to book a padel match" at all. Nevertheless, the app works a lot like Tinder.

Thousands of strangers who, like you, want to serve someone else are on it. Each person on the app has a rating which determines who you can play against. The app is not always that accurate. I've played against guys whose ratings are higher than mine, but it felt like I was on an outreach and the person had never seen a tennis ball. And then, I was also humiliated by someone who was playing for the first time.

You can also choose whether you want to play a “friendly" or a “competitive" game, and afterwards you register the result on the app. This is how your rating goes up or down.

Image: @bouwerbosch

You and your friends can reserve a court and play a closed match or with strangers if the game is open to the public. Companies often use padel as a teambuilding exercise or even for their year-end functions because padel courts are often next to restaurants.

I think that's why padel has become such an attractive sport. It's sociable and an easy way to meet new people. Because the court is about half the size of a tennis court, I call it a “low-skill sport". You don't have to hit hard and the rules are straightforward — so people like me, from public schools, are smart enough to keep up with the rules.

The scoring system works precisely like tennis. Directly against the fence or glass is out and you have to serve underarm. The ball is also a bit smaller than tennis, but you won't even notice.

Padel is not about speed or strength; it's about patience and tactics.

This year, I turn 40. Am I going to be the Wayne Ferreira of South African padel? I can't promise that because a new KFC opened three blocks from my house. And what kind of South African will I be if I don't buy local?

But will I continue to serve friends and strangers on the padel court every weekend? Definitely.

Because if there's one thing I realise more the older I get, it's that you don't have to be good at something to enjoy it.

♦ VWB ♦

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