Pick up a paddle, pickleball is moving indoors! The trendy tennis-badminton-racquetball hybrid taking over the city’s recreational spaces will come to new, state-of-the-art courts at Life Time at SKY starting February 20.
The pickleball program at the high-end gym, located at 605 W42nd Street and 11th Avenue, will feature open play, classes, one-on-one coaching and even a future league with tournament matches for Life Time members. Pickleball is available for signature premier members at $299 per month and a $60 fee for an hour of play. We spoke to Hell’s Kitchen’s newest pickleball pros about the fast-growing sport’s future and even took a mini beginner’s lesson.
For some pros, the move to pickleball came after a lifetime of athletics. “I’ve been in and around sports my whole life — I’ll play anything with anyone, anywhere, at any time!” said coach Andy Peeke. After playing college football for the University of Colorado followed by a stint in the European professional league, Peeke embarked on a career as an actor, model and host. In 2017, he tried pickleball for the first time and quickly became hooked.
“During the pandemic, a lot of my work slowed down,” explained Peeke. “Because of that, I started playing a lot of pickleball. And then when I got better than the guy that was coaching me I thought, ‘Oh shoot, I should become a pickleball coach — I’m having a blast!’”
Peeke quickly got certified with both the Professional Pickleball Registry and the International Pickleball Teaching Professionals Association and has since been playing and coaching around town, including at the basketball gymnasium at John Jay College. “If you really try, you can find a spot to play,” he said, “but finding courts of this quality that are totally dedicated to pickleball is quite a blessing.”
The courts offer plenty of room to learn and hit a few stray balls into the locker room, per this reporter’s experience. “A lot of us coaches say it’s easy to learn and difficult to master,” said Peeke, something that fellow pros Simon Perry and Barry Smith echoed before our first lesson. “Learning golf, learning some other sports, are really hard to do in an hour,” said Perry, who coached at courts in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey before working with Life Time. “Pickleball is something that you can pick up quickly, and that makes it really inclusive.”
Perry and Smith explained that pickleball is about letting go of the notion of the high-lift “tennis swing” and returning the natural energy of the ball’s force with an underhand serve, while staying close by but still behind the (appropriately named!) “kitchen,” or center quadrant of the court. A few volleys in, we were still hitting the odd shot into the net, but the easy rhythm of play and the light, wiffle-esque weight of the ball quickly demonstrated how easy it is to become accustomed to the style of play.
It’s a welcoming aspect of the sport that Perry, Smith, Peeke and the other pros believe will draw veteran players and newbies alike to the shiny new courts. “If you build it they will come,” said Peeke. “It’s a sport that really goes across age, gender, culture. We’re at the beginning of something and we’re going to keep on growing.”