Pickling on the river’s edge

National pickleball champions Christine Barksdale and Wesley Gabrielsen felt right at home on the Hathaway Park courts.

They were just two of the 75 players from Washougal, Camas, Vancouver, Stevenson, Hood River, Portland, Hillsboro and McMinville who gathered for the first Washougal River’s Edge tournament Friday through Sunday. The Columbia River Pickleball Club organized this event to help pay for remaining construction costs on the city’s new pickleball courts.

“Any opportunity to play pickleball is a great day, especially when it’s this close to home,” said Barksdale, who lives in Vancouver. “You can come here on a Monday and all the courts are packed with 20 people waiting. It’s amazing.”

Steve Paranto has seen pickleball blossom before his eyes. The 59-year-old Hillsboro, Oregon, resident and national champion has been playing since 1974.

“There were pretty much no players back then. Now, there’s thousands of players across the nation,” Paranto said. “It’s so nice that people now know there’s a sport going on that you are passionate about and they want to be a part of it.”

In 1975, Paranto played in the World’s First Tournament in Seattle. His partner, Dave Lester, beat him for the singles championship. Lester and Paranto came up short in the doubles championship match.

“He’s the world’s first pickleball champion, and I’m the world’s first loser,” Paranto jokes. “We were inventing shots back then. A lot of nuances have changed. How you hold the paddle and strike the ball.”

Paranto said he enjoys the rallies on the court and the social aspect of the sport.

“The rallies are longer, and there’s variety to them. It’s dink, dink, smash until somebody pops it up,” he said. “You can have a competitive match with someone and then meet for a beer afterwards. Your nemeses, and the guys you battle with at nationals, those are the ones you can’t wait to see again.”

Columbia River Pickleball Club president Mike Hoxie encourages people of all ages to give the game a try. Members play every day starting at 8:30 a.m. There are extra paddles available to newcomers, and teachers on hand to walk them through the rules and strategies of the game.

“Expect to become addicted,” Hoxie said. “Even after the first hour of play.”

Gabrielsen agrees.

“By the end of the first hour, most people can make contact, know the score and have some rallies,” he said. “And, it’s so social. Even in the heat of the battle, you can still talk back and forth.”

Club treasurer Mike Wolfe believes this event is just the start of something special along the Washougal River’s edge.

“I hope they are going to say ‘we want to go back and play another tournament in Washougal.’ That’s what it’s all about,” Wolfe said. “Every day I come here, there’s a new person trying pickleball. Our group of friends just keeps growing.”