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Pickleball pros' demonstration adds ‘buzz’ to competition

Award-winning pickleball professionals will be playing exhibition matches at the Meridian Credit Union Arena in Virgil today; 'We have some of the biggest names in the sport coming'

The Niagara-on-the-Lake Pickleball Club’s head professional Adam Eatock is agog with excitement over the three-day Pickleball Classic in Virgil this weekend. Especially for Friday night’s professional exhibition at the Meridian Credit Union Arena, which he had a hand in helping to arrange. 

Eatock will be taking to the courts as one of eight pickleball pros Friday in a series of competitive matches that he hopes will build up the buzz for the rest of the weekend’s competition.

“We have some of the biggest names in the sport coming,” Eatock tells The Local. “Matthew and Jessica Kowamoto from Hamilton are like the first family of pickleball. They are two of the Kowamoto triplets, all of whom play the game at a high level.”

Eatock has taken on most of the seven visitors at professional tournaments since earning his pro credentials in 2020. He earns his living as a pickleball instructor, teaching the game to players in NOTL and St. Catharines and accepting invitations from other municipalities and clubs to run clinics.

The former martial arts instructor who holds a second degree black belt took up the game at the suggestion of his competitive badminton doubles partner six years ago. 

“He told me he had tried this game that was a mix of badminton, tennis and ping pong,” remembers Eatock, “and he promised me that I would love it. He warned me, though, that the older folks would kick my butt. Sure enough I got my butt kicked.”

Despite that butt-kicking, he was instantly addicted, a sentiment common within the pickleball community. 

“A lot of pickleball is drop shots,” he explains about the strategy of placing the ball just over the net and into the non-volley zone, preventing your opponents from mounting a quick attack. “And you’ll hear the terminology called ‘dinking’, which is a type of drop shot. It’s more strategic than tennis, where there’s a lot of whacking the ball and driving toward the net. That’s why people love it.”

As an instructor he finds that the soft part of the game, the finesse element, is what resonates with newcomers, and what leads to their pickleball addiction. 

There will be a lot of ‘dinking’ from the professionals Friday night, as competitors such as the Kowamotos are known for their mastery of the finesse side of the sport. 

“For Jessica, her consistency is her huge strength,” Eatock says. “She doesn’t try to earn the point quickly. She uses consistency as a weapon. With Matthew, his strength is deception. You don’t know which shot he’s going to do. That can really catch a lot of people off guard.”

The 30-year-old ran into the pair at last weekend’s first ever Canadian National Pickleball League’s eastern Canada tryouts held by Pickleball Canada in Ottawa. He now awaits the results of the upcoming western Canada tryouts to find out if he has made the league’s cut.

Eatock competed at the national competition in Kingston in 2022, and plans to compete again this year in Regina, Saskatchewan. He is also looking forward to booking himself into tournaments across Canada and the U.S. to close out the 2023 season.

As a club professional as well as a competitor, the Port Weller resident is dedicated to growing the game he loves. 

“I’ve seen a big progression,” he says. “So many people of all ages are coming out to learn the game. And this tournament will go a long way toward growing the sport’s popularity. At 30 my reflexes might be faster than some older players, but many of them challenge the younger folks with their patience and composure. Anyone can play this game.” 

The Governor Simcoe Secondary School graduate says he expects to recognize many members of the NOTL and St. Catharines clubs in the stands as spectators for Friday night’s professional exhibition. 

“They are so excited to see the pro players in action,” he laughs. “I can’t even tell you how many have told me that they can’t wait to see the pro exhibition. There is a huge buzz about this.”

And he’s elated that YourTV will be carrying Friday’s action, as well as the amateur competition on Saturday and Sunday. 

“It’s so great that they were willing to do this,” he says of Jack Custers and the Cogeco-YourTV team. “Having people able to see this, to learn about pickleball, it should lead to them learning about their local club and getting involved in the sport. It’s super important to get the message out there.”

Admission to Friday night’s professional exhibition is $10. The NOTL Pickleball Club is hoping to pack the seats in the Meridian Credit Union Arena. Club president John Hindle promises a 50/50 draw and door prizes and has even arranged VIP seating on the floor next to the courts for some special guests. 

Players from ages 17 to 77, 300 of them, will be coming to town from Alaska, California, Florida and everywhere in between. The tournament continues on Saturday and Sunday with six courts in both arenas. Almost 100 volunteers, mostly from the NOTL club, will be working hard all weekend to ensure things go smoothly. 

Men’s and women’s doubles matches are Saturday from 8 a.m. until 6 p.m., while the mixed doubles competition
runs Sunday from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m. Admission to those events is free. 

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Mike Balsom

About the Author: Mike Balsom

With a background in radio and television, Mike Balsom has been covering news and events across the Niagara Region for more than 35 years
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