Once you get past the name, this sport’s well worth taking a second look at.

It’s called ‘pickleball’. By some accounts it’s the fastest growing game in North America. And now it’s come to the Nicola Valley.

“I really like the game. It’s one that anybody can play, regardless of their age or level of ability,” said longtime Merritt resident Sylvia Dafoe.

Sylvia and her husband, Brian, are introducing the sport to locals after discovering it during their winter sojourns in Mexico.

“All ages can play, but it’s become a real ‘hit’ with the 50+ age group as it’s easier on the body than tennis, squash or racquetball. All you need is a good pair of runners, a racquet and a few balls,” Dafoe said.

The Dafoes have booked the Bench tennis courts from 9 to 11 a.m. on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays for drop-in sessions of pickleball. They welcome any and all participants and observers, and even have extra raquets to lend out to first-timers.

A pickleball clinic has been organized for this Wednesday, May 27 at the Bench courts, with two sessions — from 4:30 to 6 p.m. and from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

The clinic will be conducted by Manta Sports out of Kamloops. The cost of the clinic is $10 per person, and raquets will be provided. Should a participant wish to purchase a raquet, then the cost of the clinic will be waived.

A raquet sport that combines elements of badminton, tennis and table tennis (a.k.a. ping pong), pickleball is played by two, three or four players. It was first invented back in the mid 1960s as a backyard pastime for kids, but has rapidly become popular among adults — especially seniors.

A pickleball court is similar to the one used in badminton in terms of dimensions and markings, while the net rules and height are comparable to those in tennis. The soft paddles of wood or polymer are much like ping pong raquets, while the ball is analogous to a Wiffle ball used by children.

The objective of pickleball is much the same as that of its racquet-sport cousins: to successfully get the ball over the net and win points off rallies.

All serving is underhand and diagonal across the net. Games are played to 11, 15 or 21 points depending upon the event, and games must be won by at least two points.

For safety and fair-play reasons, there is a no-volley zone at the net (strangely called ‘the kitchen’).

According to Wikipedia, the game of pickle ball was conceived back in the mid 1960s in Washington State as a backyard activity. A group of friends returned from a round of golf to find their fellow family members bored one Saturday afternoon. They attempted to start up a badminton game but nobody could find the shuttlecock. They improvised with a Wiffle ball, lowered the net, and fashioned some paddles out of plywood from a nearby shed. The rest, so to speak, is history.

As for the innocuous name – now that’s another story.

For more information about pickleball, the weekly drop-in sessions and this Wednesday’s clinic, contact the Dafoes at 250-378-7452.