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Anyone for padel, the world’s fastest-growing mashup sport? – Padel Africa’s James Baber and Craig Ireland
Padel, a sport that blends elements of tennis and squash, has taken the world by storm, particularly in Spain, Sweden, and Portugal, where it has gained more players than traditional tennis. Some have likened the sport that originated in Mexico in the 1960s to “squash in the sun,” while others call it “tennis with training wheels.” Despite only a few years of development, padel has already amassed a big following, leading to a significant demand for equipment such as rackets, balls, and accessories. Footballers, high-profile tennis champions like Serena Williams and Andy Murray, along with celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, have become fans of the game. Around 25 million people worldwide play padel, with Spain boasting six million players. In South Africa, the sport is also rapidly taking off. James Baber and Craig Ireland from Africa Padel told Biznews that the sport was virtually unknown in South Africa until 2020, when the first court arrived, and now corporates are starting to organise padel days instead of golf days. – Linda van Tilburg
Some extracts from the interview:
Why padel has become so popular
I think it’s a very sociable sport. One will get to the courts so that before you play, you can have a bit of banter and then have your game. In the morning, you have coffee, and in the afternoon or late afternoon, you have a couple of beers with your mates and maybe a pizza or something. So, it’s a very sociable sport. It’s also a lot easier to play than tennis, less technical than tennis, and it’s much easier to play with people who aren’t necessarily at the same level as you are. Tennis is difficult to play. A decent game of tennis for someone who isn’t nearly as good as you. Padel is different, and it is easier to pick up the pick it. You pick it up much quicker than one plays a decent game of tennis.
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Padel has been described as an ‘online dating service’
Thing is that the game is very nice to play mixed doubles and you can have a very nice game. The way the game is played it allows different levels of competency on the court, and it’s a much more engaging social sport than tennis. As a result of that, more people get to meet each other. There is a particular tournament or competition that they call Americana. It is a tournament where you can enter as an individual and meet up to 20 to 30 people playing in a tournament where you get to play with different partners for about 2-3 hours. So, I suppose, funnily, it could be a dating service, but one that’s active on the court.
A huge expansion in South Africa with 200 courts and growing
There are probably around 200 courts in the country. Given that the sport was only introduced here 18 months to two years ago, there’s been a huge expansion in South Africa. It’s certainly growing daily. From an Africa Padel perspective, we opened our first court in Camps Bay in Cape Town in May 2022 and now have ten clubs, a total of 40 courts. We plan to continue to build out; in fact, we are building one club a month for the balance of this year and certainly for part of next year. The growth list you have in our group is between 120 and 160 courts, and I am sure by that stage, there are probably between 400 and 500 courts in the country. So, huge growth, and everyone is excited about what the sport can do for the community.
Sharing the cost of playing like you share a ride on an uber, rackets can be rented
Most of the clubs operate on an app platform, and the way you book for courts is through an app. We use an app called Platonic which is very similar to Uber, you can share a ride with an Uber. If you take the cost of the court and hour, it seems expensive, but the whole way it works is that each player pays for an hour, so if you divide it by four, it becomes very affordable to each player. If you feel you want to spoil your friends and pay for the whole court, it is a little bit more expensive, but mostly it is a very affordable sport.
It does look like a bigger, thicker beach bat, but it is quite a technical piece of equipment; most are made of carbon. In rand terms, they range from R2000 – R6000, there is a big selection within that range. The racket is the most expensive part, the rest is like tennis… You don’t have to buy a racket, we do offer a racket rental service.
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Corporates are organising padel days instead of golf days
We are finding that it is becoming very in demand from a corporate point of view. There are a lot of corporates that are organising padel days rather than golf days. Golf days are a much longer engagement. Padel is between an hour and an hour and a half. It is a day for the family. The husband or wife is not disappearing for a whole Saturday on their bicycle or with a set of golf clubs.
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