Imagine tennis remade by the minds behind mixed martial arts. The surface is as rough and gritty as sandpaper. The court, shrunk to about a third the size, is enclosed in a 12-foot-tall perimeter of chicken wire supported by steel beams and festooned with bright lights. However, it isn’t blood and carnage that awaits you inside the cage, but a great way to have fun and stay active in the cold.
When the golf course is under four feet of snow and taking out the boat requires an assist from an icebreaker, platform tennis becomes the outdoor sanctuary for fresh-air lovers. One part sport, one (big) part fun, it was created in 1928 in Scarsdale, New York, and takes its name from the raised surface on which it’s played. The structure allows for more efficient snow removal and for heaters (typically propane powered) to be installed under the floor. That heat provides little warmth to players, but is essential for melting ice or snow. The surface grit is for traction, and the chicken wire keeps (most) errant shots from leaving the playing area.
The game has elements of tennis (albeit with only one fault per serve, but balls that hit the net and land in the service area are in play) and racquetball (balls can be played off the screen). Played almost exclusively as a doubles game, the contests can be fast-paced and enormously entertaining.
The sport is often called paddle tennis for the solid racquet it requires. With more holes than a chunk of Jarlsberg, the paddle has enough grit to impart great spin on a shot. The spongy, heavy ball is a concession to the lack of space.
While once limited to country-club venues, “The sport is growing at a record pace,” says Cort Irish, vice president of marketing for Viking Athletics, which has a dozen models of racquets for sale and claims to be the No. 1 producer of platform tennis equipment, with 20 percent annual growth.
The American Platform Tennis Association counts 13,500 members, and sanctions nearly 200 tournaments annually. Play is expanding from the traditional pockets—the East Coast, Park City, Utah and parts of California—into Chicago and the South.
Social skills can be as important as tennis acumen, with drinks on the sidelines between games being a familiar ritual. “You don’t need to have the athletic ability to play high-level tennis,” says Irish. “There’s a social element. You see kegs tapped, you see people smoking cigars,” he says. “It’s a party.”
Visit vikingathletics.com and platformtennis.org