Monica Williams, an athletic 73-year-old and a tennis player of 50 years, stumbled upon a new passion two years ago.
She and her husband were visiting friends in Arizona who were enthusiasts of pickleball, a paddle game played on a small court with a 34-inch to 36-inch tall net.
"They kept telling us, 'Play pickleball,'" Williams said. "I thought it was a card game like pinochle or something. But they taught us to play, and I haven't picked up my tennis racquet since. It is just so much fun."
Williams is an evangelist for an enthusiastic and growing local cadre of pickleball players, who drop in on weekends at the Mitchell Park tennis courts next to the Magical Bridge Playground.
On a recent Saturday, dozens were in motion on the two tennis courts that organizers had re-taped to mark the much smaller pickleball court boundaries.
"You can fit 24 players on two tennis courts," Williams said.
In two years, the local pickleball group's participant list has ballooned from eight to more than 150.
Former tennis players are well-represented among the pickleball players, who span all ages but include a significant over-50 contingent, and so are former racquetball, paddle tennis and softball players. But Williams insists pickleball is so easy to learn that even nonathletes can pick it up quickly.
"You don't have to run so far and it's low impact because the paddles are lighter and the balls are lighter than a tennis ball," she said. "But the game is quick, and it keeps you very, very mobile.
"A lot of us over 50 get to a point where we don't move so fast and we have aches and pains. The good thing about this as opposed to tennis is that a senior citizen can play a teenager and the senior citizen can win because there's a lot of finesse to it."
During the weekend sessions at Mitchell Park, Williams issues friendly invitations to passers-by to join the game, and many have taken her up on it.
Ron Albrecht of Palo Alto often walked by the courts, and Williams would invite him to play.
"About the third time I finally said to my wife, 'I'd like to check out that game,'" Albrecht said.
Now he's a regular.
"I needed something because I had played senior softball in Redwood City for 12 years," he said.
Longtime Palo Alto resident Susan McConnell played soccer for years, and then tennis. She took up pickleball several months ago and has become a devotee, playing two to three times a week as often as she used to play tennis.
"I actually captained tennis teams for years, but then I couldn't play because I had bone on bone and ended up with a knee replacement," McConnell said. "Plus, my husband had Lewy body dementia and I had to take care of him. I also fractured the patella in my other knee.
"When you have so many injuries you can't play tennis you can't cover the court. But this I can actually play and it fills my life with joy it makes me happy," McConnell said.
Palo Alto residents Carrie Chiang and Ed Gong are also recent recruits to pickleball, although Gong continues to play some tennis as well.
Chiang was bereft after having to give up tennis because of a bad knee.
"I was so sad no tennis, no friends and Monica said, 'Come try pickleball,'" Chiang said. "I realized I can use all my tennis gear my shoes, my clothes and now I see my tennis friends showing up here too. We hang around here every weekend and get the exercise we need."
The Mitchell Park pickleball group originated two years ago with Tom Foladare, a longtime player of paddle tennis.
"It became harder and harder to get (paddle tennis) games together because we were all getting older and getting injured," Foladare said. "I saw pickleball in San Diego when I was visiting my father and I realized it was more accessible for people who are nonathletes and seniors because the ball doesn't move as fast and the impact of the ball isn't as hard on the joints.
"One day I bought a pickleball net and invited my paddle tennis friends out and said, 'We're switching sports.' That's really how this group got started, and there were just four people that day."
Charles "Chuck" Kaspar of Mountain View first heard of pickleball from the sports director of the El Camino YMCA, where he is on the board of managers.
"The sports director said he was thinking of bringing in pickleball, and I'd never heard of it so I went and did some legwork," Kaspar said.
He has since become a regular player at Mitchell Park.
"There are 75 million baby boomers, and that explains a lot of this," he said. "They play tennis and so forth and people have gotten older. They have arthritis and knee, hip and rotator cuff issues, so this is a natural. What we've seen here is tremendous growth even though awareness of the sport is very low."
Several Mitchell Park players said they were attracted to the drop-in nature of pickleball. "You don't have to email anybody and you don't have to be on time it's all drop-in," Chiang said.
Additionally, said Williams, "It's a very social game because we normally play doubles. You wait for somebody to finish, and whilst you're waiting, you're sitting around and visiting. I know a couple of people who started who'd lost their spouses, and it's given them a whole new lease on life."
Williams, who now teaches pickleball on Wednesdays on courts at Rengstorff Park behind the Mountain View Senior Center, has been pushing the City of Mountain View for some tennis courts to be painted with "blended lines" faint lines marking pickleball boundaries.
"We had an Introduction to Pickleball class in May and 40 people showed up," she said. "We said we'd like to continue giving sessions but we can't possibly tape that many courts."
Foladare has been visiting other West Coast pickleball communities and said some tennis courts have been converted for pickleball playing in Cambria, Paso Robles, Simi Valley, Tustin and Walnut Creek.
"It's all about places with older people," Foladare said. "As our population grays, pickleball is perfect."