Underwater pickleball this week became the latest leisure activity available on Blacktip Island. (photo courtesy of Steven James Hall)
Sports enthusiasts on Blacktip Island this week welcomed the small Caribbean island’s first underwater pickleball court near the public pier, the Chamber of Commerce’s latest ploy to lure post-pandemic visitors.
“This adds another outdoor activity to our island,” chamber president B.C. Flote said. “It being under water makes it all the more unique. It’s the first of its kind, and people’re already lining up to play. We’re calling it ‘Cukeball’ in honor of the sea cucumbers that’re all over the place out there.
“Pickleball’s one of the most popular sports these days, and we’re taking advantage of that,” Flote said. “The rules’re simple and anybody can play without fancy lessons or expensive gear. And now it’s a sport for every scuba diver.”
Organizers say the game required only moderate alterations for underwater play.
“We built the court by the public pier, where the coral’s all dead anyway,” Underwater Paddle and Pickleball Association president Lucille Ray said. “We had to modify the balls so they’d bounce properly underwater, and we put holes in the paddles to reduce resistance. We tried underwater pingpong, but the balls kept floating away.
“To stay down, most folks just strap dive weights to their feet,” Ray said. “A couple of people use lead boots from old hard-hat diving suits. It works better than we thought. The worst part’s clearing the sand off the court between games.”
Players praised the new facility.
“It’s great, low-impact aerobic exercise,” Frank Maples said. “And with a lot of us getting up there in years, it’s a great way to get a workout without stressing our hearts too much or having to worry about getting hurt falling.
“The games can get pretty heated,” Maples said. “Usually the winner’s the first one to get 11 points, but people go at it so hard, we had to implement an out-of-air forfeit for when folks run out of air and have to emergency-ascent mid-game. Happens more often than you’d think.”
The activity was not without its critics.
“Why can’t people be happy with just swimming around looking at fish?” Chrissy Graysby said. “This continual effort to make scuba diving a competitive sport is ridiculous. And how do they know coral wasn’t trying to re-establish itself on that court? It’s a reef, for Pete’s sake, not an underwater amusement park.”
Flote plans to expand the activity, despite the criticism.
“Cukeball’s all about socializing and camaraderie,” he said. “If that gets more people interested in the reefs and in protecting them, that’s a win for the environment. Chrissy needs to take an ease-up pill.
“Going forward, we have plans for a competitive league,” Flote said. “It’s proving popular for locals and tourists alike. We got a court reservation list a mile long.”
Cukeball t-shirts, caps, paddles and lead weights are available at the Chamber of Commerce shack onshore.