The pickleball phenomenon is a well-documented national fervor, becoming America’s fastest growing sport for three straight years, according to 2023 reports. Molokai, likewise, has recently sprouted a pickleball fandom of its own.
Adrian Canencia has over 30 years of tennis teaching experience. Now he’s channeling that knowledge into pickleball, leading classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at the tennis courts in Kaunakakai.
“Pickleball is a sport where anybody can play, any age can be compatible,” said Canencia. “It’s fun for everybody.”
Currently, Canencia teaches a kupuna class on Mondays and a junior class on Wednesdays.
The sport, especially with kupuna, has really taken off.
“The reason why [pickleball] is better suited for kupuna is because the court is so much smaller,” said Canencia.
A pickleball court is about half the size of a tennis court. Additionally, the paddles are lighter and the ball travels slower, making it “easier for everyone to learn,” he explained.
The Molokai Rural Health Community Association’s Kupuna Program introduced pickleball as an activity back in late August. Now, as many as 25 kupuna from the program are playing.
“It’s fun but also allows them outing time to gather with others and socialize,” explained Kupuna Program Director Ku’ulei Arce.
One of the major concerns with pickleball nation-wide has been the rising injuries associated with it. Pickleball injury related costs for 2023 are estimated at around $400 million nationally.
“There are always worries about injuries, especially with kupuna. Their minds say they can, but their body may not feel the same,” said Arce. “We highly express, if the ball is out of reach, let it go!”
Under the tutelage of Canencia, the kupuna have improved their pickleball skills. They’ve focusing on how to grip the paddle, hit shots with spin, and pickleball-specific rules like no volley shots around the net.
“Don’t underestimate our kupuna,” said Arce. “Some of them are amazing on that court. I see them improving so much since day one.”
Outside of the Kupuna Program classes, Canencia trains a group of middle schoolers. He explained that right now that group consists predominantly of one family who was interested in learning the game, but Canencia sees high growth potential.
“A league of some sort would be a lot of fun,” said Canencia. “I think it would take off.”
A group of pickleball regulars, outside of Canencia’s classes, have started playing almost every morning.
All you need to join in, according to Canencia, is “a pair of tennis shoes.”
Currently, pickleball courts are open at the community tennis courts at the Mitchell Pauole Center Monday and Wednesday from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. and all-day Friday.