Pickleball Magazine 1-3 | Page 19

two new European Pickleball Associations (Pickleball France and UK Pickleball) into the IFP. I’m confident it won’t be long before all of the European countries have an official Pickleball Association. While football (soccer) is still the reigning king of sports in Europe, pickleball is slowly but surely taking root throughout the continent. Spain currently has several hundred people playing regularly between the schools, universities, public sport centers and private sport clubs, and private courts are popping up throughout the country. While Madrid currently has the most courts and players, we’re gradually expanding through our Pickleball Ambassador Program, following the successful USAPA model. Spain has always been successful in the world of tennis, and another paddle sport called “padel” (similar to platform tennis) is very popular throughout the country. Padel uses a paddle similar to the pickleball paddle. As a result the Spanish tend to adapt to pickleball immediately. Once they learn the strategic aspects of the sport they’re extremely competitive because many have already mastered the technique playing the other racquet sports. Tell us about “Viva Spain Pickleball Tours.” Hess: Pickleball players vacationing in Spain were constantly asking me to organize some type of tour that combined pickleball with an immersion into the culture of Spain – as a result, “Viva Spain Pickleball Tours” was launched in 2014. The tours allow pickleball addicts to continue playing their favorite sport with the locals while traveling in an amazing country. And having enthusiastic players visit really helps boost the profile of the sport here. We’ve been fortunate to have some world-class players and coaches take part in the tours, including Jennifer Lucore, Bob Youngren, Timothy Nelson, Chris Thomas, Jeffrey Shank and Prem Carnot. The local players learn a lot and everyone enjoys the experience of making new “amigos” from across the globe. In 2016 pickleball tours are planned to Barcelona in June and Madrid in September. well as inspiring for other Spaniards to pick up the sport. There’s no doubt Europeans will be competitive, but it’ll take a while to catch up with the North Americans. Come to think of it, Marcin Rozpedski (reigning open singles champion) was born in Poland, right? I know Marcin has been living in the U.S. for some time, but Europeans are proud to call him their pickleball champion. Hopefully he’ll be joined by other Europeans on the podium before long. In the meantime, we’ll definitely continue introducing Europeans to this wonderful sport and contribute to making it the fastest growing sport in the world.  • How will the International Federation of Pickleball (IFP) advance the sport? Hess: The IFP is the world governing body of pickleball and will play an essential role in taking the sport global. We’re at the initial stages of establishing our strategies and members, and as we evolve the impact the organization will have on pickleball’s growth and recognition will be tremendous. I have no doubt pickleball will eventually be an Olympic sport, as well as one of the largest participation sports in the world. There’s simply no better sport for all ages and abilities in my opinion. Do you expect Europeans to be able to compete with the North Americans soon? Hess: When John Gullo visited Spain on a pickleball tour he offered an “all-expenses-paid” trip to our top player, Carlos Perez, to represent Spain in the “Tournament of Champions.” Carlos didn’t win a game but the experience was amazing as JUNE 2016 | MAGAZINE 17