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Tom & Dinah, Global Pickleball Ambassadors

Thanks to Landings residents Tom and Dinah Zapatka, pickleball is taking off in New Zealand. The game was first introduced in the North Island city of Rotorua in 2015, by Americans, Claire Spackman and David McNamara. The Zapatkas are largely responsible for introducing the game to the South Island in 2018. They did it with the help of a number of Landings picklers. Jim Emory provided a net, while Ted Copeland, Tim Sampson and others helped by donating paddles and balls.

Tom and Dinah own a house in Wanaka, a picturesque resort town of about eight thousand in the Otago region in the southwest part of the island. They bought the house in 2005, became regular visitors in 2011, and now spent several months there every winter.

In 2018, Tom and Dinah met with Penny Batchelor, the sports director at the local recreation center to ask if she’d be interested in having them introduce pickleball. Penny agreed. Unfortunately, December through March are summer months in New Zealand, so while a net was put up on the indoor courts, few were interested. As summer ended, home-schooled students from the surrounding area began to show interest. Dinah met them at the rec center every Thursday to teach them the game. It took time, but eventually pickleball began to take hold in Wanaka.

Sheep Paddock Pickleball (Photo: Tom Zapatka)

At the beginning of this year, the sport began to explode in popularity. The town now boasts sixteen indoor courts. There is one outdoor court, which a homeowner built in a sheep paddock on his own property! Open play in the rec center is three days a week and courts can be booked any time. The courts are regularly full, so it is reasonable to assume more courts are forthcoming.

Noting the growing interest in pickleball, when the Zapatkas returned last November, Dinah offered to conduct clinics. Forty-seven people participated in her first clinic. Most of the players were playing a game more similar to tennis. They stood at the baseline and hit the ball as hard as they could. Dinah introduced the importance of the dink, getting to the net, and the soft game. The Kiwis are keen to learn so they work hard to improve their games. To that end, Dinah has been asked to create a league, and while there are not any ratings yet, she says most players are in the in the 2.0 – 3.3 range.

Dinah teaching (Photo: Tom Zapatka)

At one point, Tom played with a woman whose primary sports are soccer and rugby. She was so used to using her body to play that she kept trying to chest bump the ball over the net. Clearly a great deal remains to be learned about the finer points of pickleball.

One thing is clear, pickleball is exploding in New Zealand. Dinah has been invited to play in tournaments, and while the dates haven’t worked for her, she will no doubt have plenty of opportunities in the future. This might be a perfect time for Dinah to corral several of her Landings regulars to travel to Wanaka for a series of exhibition matches. How about it, Amy Paderewski, Scott McKessy, Adam Hecht? Think you’re ready for the international stage?



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