NORTH MYRTLE BEACH, SC (WMBF) - The North Myrtle Beach Paddle at the Beach Pickleball Tournament is underway, the popular sport for seniors is expanding on the Grand Strand.
The tournament started Monday morning at the J. Bryan Floyd Community Center and organizers say the event has a big impact on the local economy.
The Paddle at the Beach Tournament has been going strong for the past two years, with the first tournament being held in 2014, and two tournaments in 2015. It is growing in popularity, not just with local residents but with pickleballers from across the country.
Local pickleballers say the sport has become a great way for seniors in the community to still be active, socialize and have fun.
Fiore Bergamasco, a North Myrtle Beach resident, has been playing pickleball since 2010, and he says he loves everything about the game. "You get to a certain age, you retire a little bit, you want something else to do," he said. "You don't want to sit on the couch and I think this is a game that a lot of people can play and you can play at your own pace."
Those that play the game, which is considered a cross between tennis and ping-pong, say the it is about socialization, as they feel is less intense as playing tennis. Christopher Thomas, a tournament participant who traveled from Florida to play the game, has been playing the sport for the past seven years. "It's fun, very easy to learn, the game was not built for speed and power. I've seen three generations of the same family playing pickleball on the same court," explained Thomas.
The North Myrtle Beach tournament is growing just as fast as the sport itself, according to Erica Hertzer, Sports Tourism Coordinator for North Myrtle Beach Parks and Recreation.
"This year we had to cut it off and put teams on waiting lists," said Hertzer. She says there are more than 135 participants in the tournament.
"It's the fastest growing participant sport in North America, in fact, I just came back from an international tournament in Madrid, Spain, there was a 126 people there from 10 countries," said Thomas.
In North Myrtle Beach, the local tournament drew participants from all across the United States. Hertzer said some pickleballers have come from Texas, California, even Alaska.
Organizers aid as the summer tourism season winds down, the tournament is looking for ways to make an impact on the local economy. They say they have strategically arranged games matches to ensure the tournament visitors have time for other activities outside the tournament.
"We might have a pool that plays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. so they can have the rest of the evening for themselves, or we will do a another pool from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. that way they can have the morning free," Hertzer said. "That way they can get out enjoy the beach, enjoy the restaurants and see the area."
Also, for the first time North Myrtle Beach tournament proceeds another popular annual pickleball tournament that will be held this weekend in Myrtle Beach. Hertzer said the goal was to get pickleballers to participate in both tournaments extending their stay on the Grand Strand.
"They will stay those two extra days in the middle of the week and then go on to the Myrtle Beach tournament. So it just kind of brings them in and lets them stay longer rather than just coming in for the few days for our tournament," said Hertzer.
Many of those participating the tournament in North Myrtle Beach will travel to Myrtle Beach, and will enjoy the area for a couple days, a reason many decided to come to the area.
The Paddle on the Beach tournament ends Wednesday, September 30, before the Myrtle Beach Seaside Classic Pickleball Tournament kicks off on Friday, October 2 at the new Myrtle Beach Sports Center.
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