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How to get into pickleball if you’ve got no one to play with

Pickleball leagues around the city host what’s called “open play,” where anyone can show up and jump into a game with strangers. Usually, there’s at least one court reserved for beginner players, with the rest split between intermediate and advanced. Some places charge a small fee for open play; at some locations it’s free. Most open-play setups will have a pickleball “ambassador” on-site to answer questions and help you find the right court.

Mike Koss is one of those ambassadors. He’s a certified coach with the Professional Pickleball Registry and runs Westchester L.A. pickleball. The Westchester league hosts open play six days a week for $7 a player at the Westchester Recreation Center. Courts are designated by player level and coaches walk around to give pointers and make sure everyone is in the right place and having a good time. The league limits how many players can be on the courts, so it’s a good idea to register online ahead of time. If you’re eager to socialize off the court, Koss said open-play players typically hit a local bar like Cinco, the Hotel June or even the nearby Elks Lodge after Friday night sessions.

Marshall Pura is a pickleball ambassador at Pacific Park in Glendale. He started playing the sport 13 years ago (“I was hooked in 15 minutes”) and says it’s changed a lot since then. Pickleball “used to be just a grandma-and-grandpa kind of sport in the senior community center,” he said. “The last few years it’s down to about 38 years old in terms of median age.”

At open play in Glendale, loaner paddles and balls are available for anyone who needs them. Technically residents need an activity card from the Glendale Parks Department to play ($25 for people ages 18-59, $10 for people 60 and older) and visitors to the city pay a $2 fee, but Pura says he likes to let people try out the sport and the venue first. Glendale has open play on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

Pickle Pop in Santa Monica hosts open play several days a week. Pickle Pop’s co-owner and CEO, Stephanie McCaffrey, said she sees brand-new solo players all the time. The schedule varies, but typically there are options for beginner play and all-level $5 open play. Pickle Pop has paddles available for rent for $6. You don’t need to become a Pickle Pop member to sign up for open play.

Also in Santa Monica, the Santa Monica Pickleball Club runs open play seven days a week at Memorial Park. It’s free and no preregistration is required. At more popular times, like weekend nights, it’s so popular that you might have four players on a court with eight more waiting to play, says club president Lynn Soodik.


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