That’s the surprising sound that comes off my perforated paddle as I hit a ball with it for the first time. I’m expecting a lighter noise, something like the click you get in ping-pong, or the echoey pop we know—and don’t always love—from pickleball. This is a more solid sound, and so is the feeling in my arm when the paddle and ball make contact.

It’s a muggy summer morning in Manhattan, and I’m having my first hands-on experience with padel, the latest racquet-sport craze to—possibly, potentially, hopefully—begin sweeping the United States. Up until a minute ago, I didn’t even know how to say it. I had always said puh-DEL; the game was invented in Mexico and is played mostly in Spain, so I assumed it was pronounced with a different emphasis than in English. But according to my instructor, Pablo, a former professional player from Spain, “padel” is pronounced just like “paddle.”

However you say it, the first thing you learn about this sport is that it’s a workout.

Pablo feeds me balls rapid-fire. They’re the same size and color as tennis balls, but slightly lighter. Ground strokes are shorter than in tennis, and volleys a bit longer. In either case, there’s not much time for an elaborate backswing. A padel court is 12 feet shorter, lengthwise, than a tennis court (66 to 78), and the ball is constantly ricocheting off the glass walls that surround it. Much of the time, all four players are at the net trading high-speed volleys.

“It’s explosive,” Pablo says, as I sit down, huffing and puffing.


We’re at Reserve, Manhattan’s first padel club, which is located in the toweringly scenic Hudson Yards development. When you look up to hit an overhead—or a bandeja, as they say in this sport—you feel like you’re at the bottom of a skyscraper canyon.

Reserve was started last year in Miami by Wayne Boich, one of the U.S.’s foremost padel enthusiasts. Now it has expanded with a three-court facility here. The hope is to follow pickleball’s lead and create a space for another racquet sport that’s doubles-oriented, but more athletically challenging. According to Boich, “pickle did padel a favor” by proving there was room for more racquet sports in Americans’ lives.

“It’s an amazing time to get involved in a sport in its beginning stages,” Boich told CNBC when Reserve opened in New York this spring.

The sport may be just taking off in the States, but padel had its beginnings in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1969, when a businessman and racquet-sport enthusiast named Enrique Corcuera had the bright and fairly complicated idea to blend squash, tennis and platform tennis. It has been a fixture for decades in Spain, where its pro tour is based. Popularity is rising in Sweden, Argentina, Portugal, Italy, Japan and the Gulf States, among other places.

Promoters have even taken a page from the pickleball playbook and started to call padel “the fastest growing sport in the world.”


Padel has a net and service boxes, and the scoring is the same as in tennis. But you can play the ball off the walls like you can in squash and platform tennis. The walls are padel’s version of tennis’ lines; if you hit one of the walls on the fly, the ball is out. You can also run in and out of the court’s two entrances—called “the door” even though they’re open—and play a ball that bounces outside the walls. Padel is almost always played in a doubles format.

Rallies, as my teaching pro said, can be explosive and lengthy. Raw power isn’t rewarded the way it is in tennis, because a ball hit with maximum pace can rebound off the back wall and into a good position for your opponents. Hence the bandeja (pronounced ban-DAY-ha), an alternative to the overhead that you slice, rather than smash, into the corner. If you’re looking to work on your lob, the padel court is the place to do it. Outside of the volley, it might be the most common shot in the game.

“The beauty of padel is the ability to feel very athletic very quickly,” Boich said.

Half an hour into my lesson, I can see what he means. But I can also see that it will likely take years to master all of the sport’s angles and tactics.


If padel has the edge over pickleball when it comes to shot-making and exercise, it has some catching up to do as far as convenience goes. To play it, you need to get three other people to join you, rather than just the single opponent you need for tennis. And whereas a pickleball court can be set up on just about any hard surface, padel courts are something of a luxury item. They cost $25,000 to build at the low end, and there are only a few hundred in the U.S. so far, many of them at private homes.

But there’s a push to change that. The USTA has installed four padel courts at its National Campus outside Orlando, Fla. A four-court club called Padel Haus has opened in Brooklyn, with expansions in the works. A much bigger development is planned for Raleigh, N.C., where the Swing court-construction company has broken ground on a campus that will include 28 tennis courts, 25 pickleball courts, and 16 padel courts.

“The idea is to bring all these racquet and paddle sports together under one roof and really democratize all these sports and lean into their differences and their own cultures,” Rob Autry, Swing’s founder, told The New York Times.


In the future, will we stop saying “I play tennis,” and start saying “I play racquet sports”? Rather than fighting each other, can tennis, pickleball and padel find common ground at clubs and public facilities, where players can move from one to the other? It’s notable that pickleball and padel both offer a healthy amount of fast-moving net play, something that has largely vanished from singles tennis in this century.

Ed Sarausad, a Seattle real-estate executive, played in USTA tennis leagues for years, before adding pickleball to his racquets resume. Now he says he’s caught the padel bug.

“You have to plan ahead,” he says of the challenge of getting four people together. “But it’s dynamic and athletically challenging; you do trick shots, you learn how to use the wall.”


Rather than fighting each other, can tennis, pickleball and padel find common ground at clubs and public facilities, where players can move from one to the other?

Many in the tennis industry have held out hope that pickleball can become a gateway sport for tennis, but Sarausad thinks padel is more likely to play that role, and tennis may do the same for padel.

“When I mention padel to pickleball players, the reaction is usually, ‘Whatever, not interested,’” Sarausad says with a laugh. “But I think padel has an appeal for higher-level tennis players.”

By the time I’m done with my padel lesson, I’m converted—tired, but converted. I want to hear more of that “BOOM!” sound off my paddle as soon as possible.