New Zealand is famous for its beautiful landscapes, Maori culture and Lord of the Rings. It's a great place for thrill seekers, backpackers and anyone who appreciates gorgeous vistas. But until recently, there was one area where it fell short—pickleball!
Clearly this problem had to be remedied, which is why Sharon Fleet took it upon herself to help spread the word (and supplies).
New Zealand is something of a 'baby' when it comes to pickleball, having only started the development of local stores and clubs in June 2015, but it's spreading quickly thanks to the efforts of Sharon and her friends.
Sharon was kind enough to spend some time explaining how pickleball made the trip to New Zealand and how she got involved in its growth. Click the links to jump to specific sections or read in full below:
A Warm Welcome
Claire Spackman and David McNamara were the first New Zealanders to take the initiative to set up a pickleball group after playing it in the U.S. The couple were local players at the Rotorua Badminton Club, so they turned to Sharon (as a chairperson) to see if they could start offering pickleball at the facility.
Sharon had wanted to start future-proofing the Badminton Hall, so she was open to ideas that could help generate more fun and income. The three had a meeting to discuss pickleball as a new opportunity, and she saw its potential right away.
The trio introduced pickleball to the rest of the committee and established a club which could operate out of the 6-court badminton hall to attract newcomers. It's clearly seen success, as the Rotorua club just celebrated their 1st anniversary on July 25th this year and continues to go strong.
Feeding a Healthy Addiction
In addition to her work with the Rotorua Rec Committee, Sharon runs a store called Pickleball Essentials that helps provide people with a local resource for pickleball equipment and assistance when setting up clubs.
'Recognizing this is a completely new sport to New Zealand, I started doing some research and quickly established that apart from eBay, no one was selling pickleball gear locally or nationally. You really need equipment to start a new sport, and since I already have an importing business set up in the automotive area, I was familiar with what was required.
'My goal with Pickleball Essentials is to supply quality pickleball products at reasonable prices, and help foster the creation of multiple pickleball-playing locations around the country. We're seeing steady results!'
Places to Play Pickleball in New Zealand
Despite her entrepreneurial background making the process a bit more straightforward, Sharon explains that it still takes a lot of work to establish a fresh organization:
'Marketing is number one. How do you introduce a new sport with a crazy name!? At the same time as David, Claire and I started Pickleball Rotorua (our local club), we recognized the need to set up an association under which other locations could be unified. As such, Pickleball New Zealand was born.
'David secured the website, developed the logo and maintains it with current events and news. We also have a Facebook page under the same name: Pickleball New Zealand.'
You can find a full list of New Zealand locations to play pickleball on the site, but to sum up, you can find courts in:
- Kumeu - NW Auckland
- North Shore
- Snells Beach
- Wellington - Hataitai
- Wellington Hutt Valley
The Pickler Connection
Many players become aware of pickleball after coming for badminton, then end up taking advantage of the courts for both sports. But it's not simply a case of, 'Build it and they will come!'
Sharon says that David and Claire have been instrumental in introducing pickleball to groups and badminton associations around New Zealand, as Claire plays competitively. Sharon also explains that:
'A number of locations have started up because people are familiar with pickleball and are keen to put local groups together. Currently we don’t have a great deal of interlinking with the other clubs, but we've started talking about inter-town challenges, etc. As New Zealand's pickleball scene grows, so will travel between the sports centers.
'Introducing pickleball to badminton groups as an alternative income stream has been a slow process, but it's helped along by people who have played the game overseas. It's been wonderful to welcome visiting picklers from America and Canada—we treat them like royalty!'
More Fun and More Funds
Sharon's main hope and passion is to continue seeing pickleball grow in Rotorua. They currently have two club sessions, one on Monday evening between 7pm to 9pm and one on Thursday morning from 10am to 12 noon. She says that Monday evenings attract 30 - 40 players while Thursdays are more low key.
'I've found pickleball to be a fun, social game. It seems to create a lot of noise and camaraderie among players. It's also been a very welcome activity from my perspective as a committee member, due to the increase in activity and visitors.
'Regarding my own pickling schedule, due to a torn Achilles I haven't been able to play since October last year, and this has considerably restricted my mobility. I just started back at badminton, and next Monday I will be playing pickleball again. YEAH!'
New Zealand's Treasures
Beyond the flourishing pickleball scene, there are a ton of fun things to do in New Zealand, and in Rotorua specifically. According to Sharon, 'Rotorua is a tourism mecca and an adventure playground with a plethora of activities to enjoy, along with some of nature’s most fascinating gems.'
We're inclined to agree! Here are just some of Rotorua's exciting offerings:
- Tamaki and Whakarewarewa Maori Villages: To learn about Maori culture and get a firsthand look at some of their traditions, you can visit these living villages to hear songs, watch warrior displays like the haka, learn the poi (swinging tethered weights) and enjoy a delicious traditional hangi (slow cooked in a covered pit) meal.
- Lord of the Rings Hobbiton Tour: The location of the Hobbiton set is in a nearby rural town called Matamata, and there are several tours that will take you there from Rotorua. You'll travel through the scenic Kaimai Ranges until you reach the Shire and get to see charming hobbit holes, The Green Dragon Inn, the Party Tree and more LotR landmarks.
- Geothermal Spas: Rotorua has a lot of geothermal activity like hot springs, geysers, mud pools and terraces. If you want to treat yourself and have a luxurious, healing moment while soaking in one of these natural wonders, check out a big list of your options at Rotoruanz.com.
- Wingspan National Bird of Prey Center: Dedicated to the conservation of the Karearea New Zealand falcon, this center rehabilitates injured wild birds and releases captive-bred falcons to support local populations. You can get a close-up look at these incredible birds and even see them in action during the flying displays that take place daily.
Many thanks to Sharon for her hard work in the name of pickleball and for sharing a slice of New Zealand with us!