The battle appears on the SF court space

San Francisco He hasn’t done a great job picking up the silver linings of the pandemic and turning them into long-term improvements for our city.

We’re still wrangling over the few miles of road closed to cars to make way for cyclists and pedestrians, we’re still wrangling over the fate of Slow Streets and we’re still debating what makes the perfect park.

Add pickle – and Its spread in popularity During the pandemic—to the silver lining the city hasn’t fully exploited to make life in our struggling city more enjoyable.

legions of basketball fans Want more space to play, But many players who serve as casual spokespeople for the sport said they are fighting for courts with tennis players and are frustrated with the city’s recreation and park management. Some cities are quick to turn unused tennis courts into pickleball courts – like Cincinnati Spent $500,000 to remodel 24 tennis courts Which attracts dozens of players every day and will host a big tournament next year.

San Francisco, on the other hand, has taken its typical approach: It has a pickled working group—yes, really—that has been talking about the need for more pitches for four years.

In that time, the city has gone from zero stadiums for beacons to 11, which means they are adding fewer than three stadiums per year. Six were former tennis courts, and five were built from scratch.

Jimbo Oaks, 82, plays pickle ball at the Presidio Whole Pickle Ball in San Francisco.

Jimbo Oaks, 82, plays pickle ball at the Presidio Whole Pickle Ball in San Francisco.

Yalonda M. James, Staff / The Chronicle

It actually has 48 tennis courts that have pickleball lines drawn as well, but the courts don’t have pickleball nets – sort of providing a basketball court without rings. (Six of these are in Stern Grove and are temporarily closed due to construction.) Meanwhile, the city offers 139 tennis courts. And yes, they have networks.

The city has introduced some portable pickle ball nets, but it is often up to individual players to purchase and stock their own nets. It’s always easier to find tennis courts in the city to book online than it is at the Blackpool because there are so many of them.

“We’re moving at record speed here,” said Tamara Apparton, a spokeswoman for the Parks and Recreation Department, which is probably true given that San Francisco’s usual speed of making change is like watching a tennis match in very slow motion.

She said the city would add six to eight more stadiums dedicated to the game of bugle “in the near future.”

“Backleball has really skyrocketed in popularity, and we are working hard to keep up,” Apparton said. “It’s still hard to keep up with the demand while also balancing the needs of the tennis community.”

She noted that tennis players in the city have already been exposed to the bottom of 24 courts after one of the tennis clubs in South Market closed to make way for them. office campus – A construction project that has not started yet, but it has made it difficult to find a space in the city to play tennis.

To report on this column, I agreed to play pickle ball for the first time – it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I met Suzy Safdie at the playgrounds near the Presidio Wall, and they were already full of passionate pickle ball players who seemed to be having more fun than you’d expect on a foggy morning.

Safdie, 61, a resident of Merced Heights, said a friend introduced her to pickles a year ago, and she was addicted. She now plays four times a week – sometimes for six hours at pop.

“Everyone smiles when you play, even if you lose,” she said. “I always say, this is a better transfer venue than a bar! There are all these guys and girls out there, meeting each other and exchanging numbers. It’s all about sports and having fun together.”

Pickleball rackets rest on the field at the Presidio Wall Pickle Ball Stadium in San Francisco.  Many players loyal to this suddenly booming sport are battling City Hall to stop giving so much space to tennis players and start turning some stadiums into a pickle ball.

Pickleball rackets rest on the field at the Presidio Wall Pickle Ball Stadium in San Francisco. Many players loyal to this suddenly booming sport are battling City Hall to stop giving so much space to tennis players and start turning some stadiums into a pickle ball.

Yalonda M. James, Staff / The Chronicle

I noticed that the nearby tennis courts were empty. And that’s no shade for tennis players: I played tennis on my team in high school and loved it, even though my skills went the way of my hairy greys and were gone.

Pickleball is similar to tennis – but with courts about a quarter the size, smaller rackets, lighter balls, and shorter games. It’s easier to learn, and people of all skill levels and ages can play together. Pickleball often functions like basketball – players often appear in small games rather than finding people to play with beforehand.

But its popularity means that the city’s few courts are overcrowded, especially on weekends.

“You can watch 100 pickleball players on Saturday, and then you see four tennis players in the other two courts,” Safadi said of the Presidio space. “The city needs to do something faster and not keep putting us off.”

If that Monday is any indication, the hoopla of the pond creatures isn’t going anywhere. Random players kept approaching me, telling me how much they love this sport, which is believed to be the fastest growing sport in the country.

Amar Anand even made it his profession, giving up his tech job at Twitter to become a coach. His income has dwindled, but he has lost 50 pounds and is much happier.

“It really changed my life,” he said. “I have to play pickle ball all day!”

Bill Lafferty, a retired firefighter, gave me an impromptu pickle ball lesson and is an evangelist for the sport. He said the city favors tennis players in its allotment of courts and that some tennis players are rude to newcomers.

He said, “If you talk to tennis players, they will tell you, ‘These are our courts.'” No, they are community courts. You need to share. “

Jim Oakes, 82, is a chair tennis referee, but said he hasn’t picked up a tennis racket in three years. He said watching tennis is more fun, but basketball is more fun to play. He even qualified for the National Pickleball Championships next month in doubles and mixed doubles in his age division.

He plays across the country in and out of a group of cities that are moving more quickly than San Francisco to give pickleball players more pitches.

He likened the pitch battle between pickleball and tennis players in San Francisco to “Hatfields and McCoys fighting with each other,” but said it was the city’s responsibility to make the space division fairer.

Then he said a common dilemma among San Francisco residents when it comes to solving all kinds of challenges.

“The city, it just has to deal with,” he said.

Heather Knight is a columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: hknight@sfchronicle.com Twitter: hknightsf

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