What a racket!

An up-and-coming sport in the Netherlands, padel is a racket sport that originated in Mexico in the 1960s. It was invented by Enrique Corcuera, who wanted to create a new game that would be suitable for his children to play on the limited space available in his backyard. Padel quickly gained popularity in Mexico, and its success there led to its spread throughout Latin America and eventually to Spain.

In Spain, padel became immensely popular, with an estimated six million people playing the sport on a regular basis. The Spanish government recognized padel as an official sport in 1991, and it has since become one of the country’s most popular sports. Padel is now played in over 50 countries around the world, with the International Padel Federation (FIP) serving as the global governing body for the sport.  The number of padel courts throughout Europe has grown exponentially in recent years from just over 2,800 courts in 2016 to nearly 8000 in 2021.  In addition to Spain, Italy and Sweden are true hotbeds of the sport.

The popularity of padel has been attributed to several factors. One is its accessibility. Padel is played on a smaller court than tennis and requires less physical exertion, making it a suitable option for people of all ages and fitness levels. The game is also relatively easy to learn, and it can be played as either a singles or doubles game.  The walls surrounding the court also add an extra element of strategy to the game, as players must anticipate and adjust to the ball bouncing off the walls.

Another reason for padel’s popularity is the social aspect of the sport. It is often played in doubles, which encourages social interaction and teamwork.  Padel courts go to great lengths to enhance the social dimension with most courts featuring bar and in some cases, food services.  At least one padel center in Amsterdam features a “padel and pizza” night.   The sport has become particularly popular with expatriates.  Players can easily get teamed up with other players of similar ability and the mixed doubles game lends itself well to these ad hoc sessions.

Padel is also a sport that travels well.  There are courts to be found throughout the world and new ones are popping up at a rapid pace.  It is estimated that the number of padel courts in the U.K. will double in this year.  Given that a padel racket should fit in a carry-on bag and your court and padel mates are a click away on an app such as Playtronic, you can take your game on the road and meet new friends at your holiday or business destination.

In the Netherlands, padel was introduced in 2010 and has since experienced rapid growth. The Dutch Padel Association (Nederlandse Padelbond or NPB) was established in 2014 to promote the sport and develop it further in the country.   While the padel bond is now a division of the KNLTB, the Dutch Lawn Tennis Association, the vast majority of the approximately 200,000 players in the country participate without federation membership.

 There are now approximately 200 padel installations in the Netherlands, with many tennis clubs and other sports facilities adding padel courts to their facilities. The sport is played at both recreational and competitive levels, with the Dutch Padel League (Nederlandse Padel Competitie or NPC) being the country’s national league. The NPC has both a men’s and women’s league, as well as a mixed league.

Padel’s growth in the Netherlands has been attributed to its accessibility, social aspect, and the fact that it is a relatively new and exciting sport. It has also been helped by the fact that it can be played both indoors and outdoors, making it a year-round option for Dutch sports enthusiasts.

Padel does not require expensive equipment although, like tennis, you can shell out plenty for a top-of-the-line racket – luxury brand Prada offers one for about 1,500 Euros!   Most padel players wear tennis or court shoes when playing.  Some players also prefer to wear shoes specifically designed for the synthetic grass courts, which may offer additional features such as an increased grip on the court surface.  The choice of apparel seems to be dress to the environment.  Some players in an urban setting we encountered were not that far removed from street clothes!  Rest assured, as the sport continues to grow, haute couture can never be far behind.  Several designer lines are popping up in the padel cages including one from ex-professional footballer Robin van Persie.

There are several types of padel rackets available, each with its own unique characteristics and advantages. The most common types of padel rackets are power rackets, control rackets, and hybrid rackets. Power rackets are designed for players who want to hit the ball harder and generate more power, while control rackets are designed for players who want to have greater control and precision in their shots. Hybrid rackets are a combination of both power and control rackets, offering a balanced approach to both.  The head can be round, diamond or tear drop in shape.  Other factors to consider when choosing a padel racket include weight, balance, and grip size, all of which can have an impact on a player’s performance on the court.  According to Dragana Radasic, one of the owners of padel specialist webshop The Padel Outlet, one should expect to replace and upgrade their racket on a yearly basis.   They feature only European-made rackets coming from Spain and Portugal.  Its seems that Portuguese expertise in crafting canoes translated well into good padel rackets.

Padel seems here to stay in the Netherlands but there may some competition on the horizon.  Pickelball, a similar concept but with its roots in the USA, is also up-and-coming in the low countries.  Arnoud Fiolet, director of RSI Sports Group, who supplies a padel court solution called Instapadel believes that Pickelball will also become popular in the Netherlands.   One thing is certain, the new wave of racket sports is here to stay and if you are looking for a great way to stay in shape and socialize, you should definitely be giving it a whack!