Tennis, racquetball, pingpong, pickleball, even badminton: If a game involves swinging something at a ball, I’m into it. So when I received an email from Robert Gurolnick inviting me and a few colleagues to come play a game called padel at Parker Racquet Club—host to the state’s only courts made for the sport, which is growing quickly across the globe—I was intrigued.

Co-founded by Barry Riddle, a former University of Northern Colorado tennis player, in 2019, the club has six indoor and three outdoor tennis courts, three outdoor pickleball courts, and, as of October 2023, four outdoor padel courts. The space was originally slated for platform tennis—a winter derivative of the game that’s popular on the East Coast—until a Spanish friend told Riddle about a sport that was exploding in his home country. Although Spain is the epicenter of padel, with pro leagues starring most of the world’s best players, the International Padel Federation estimates the mostly doubles game (boosted by the pandemic, much like pickleball) is now played in more than 130 countries by over 25 million people.

On a sunny February morning, as Gurolnick, the club’s director of padel, leads me and three fellow 5280 staffers onto one of Parker Racquet Club’s courts—one-third the size of a tennis court, with a low net across the middle—he gives us a brief history of the game. Technically pronounced PAH-del (but often spoken as pah-DEL or even like “paddle”), it was invented in Acapulco, Mexico, in 1969 by an industrialist named Enrique Corcuera whose grounds weren’t quite big enough for a tennis court. Crucially, he also enclosed it on all sides with concrete. That introduced playing balls off the walls, à la squash and racquetball—a big part of what makes padel arguably more exciting than pickleball, a game that now feels to Gurolnick like “watching paint dry.”

After completing a beginner’s session with Gurolnick, here are my top reasons you should visit Parker Racquet Club to give padel a try.

5 Reasons Pickleball Enthusiasts Should Try Padel

Parker Racquet Club's padel courts
Parker Racquet Club is home to the state’s only four padel courts. Photo courtesy of Parker Racquet Club

1. Padel, like pickleball, is easy to learn—especially if you’ve played tennis.

After some brief instruction on how to hold the perforated paddles to optimally connect with the balls—which look just like tennis balls but are slightly smaller and less pressurized—Gurolnick runs us through a few drills and promises to have us playing within 30 minutes. We practice the serving motion, talk a little positioning, and sure enough, we’re off.

We start tentatively, but soon we’re sprinting to scoop balls hit off the playable glass walls (across the back of the court and extending four meters from each corner) and experimenting with lob shots. Although Gurolnick says he frequently has to remind former tennis players not to try to overhead smash the ball every time, the game will feel more immediately familiar to tennis players than pickleball does, starting with the fact that it uses the same scoring system. (Andy Murray, Marta Marrero, and Novak Djokovic are among the tennis stars who now play padel and/or have invested in the sport. Rafael Nadal even runs a padel academy on Mallorca.)

2. Padel is a serious workout.

Similar to pickleball, padel is low-impact and friendly on the joints: The surface of outdoor courts is a soft, sand-filled artificial turf. But in padel, the ball moves faster over a larger area, and opportunities to play shots that bounce off the walls call for more speed and athleticism. It’s also easier for players to lob the ball over your head and force you back off the net than in pickleball, and points tend to last longer.

3. Mixed-gender groups can easily compete.

Padel, played almost exclusively as a doubles game, lends itself to greater gender equity than a lot of sports, thanks to the emphasis on technique and finesse over pure power. (Our group consisted of two men and two women, and although Gurolnick wouldn’t crown a winner, in this author’s opinion, one of the women—I won’t say who, but she shares a last name with the Karate Kid—was our best player.) Serves are underhand, and the ability to play hard-hit balls off the walls takes away some of the strength advantage you see in other racquet games.

4. Padel is quieter than pickleball.

While pickleball’s rapid-fire pop-pop-pop soundtrack has gotten courts located in residential areas in trouble, padel balls come off the paddle with a much more muted (but still extremely satisfying) pock.

5. At Parker Racquet Club, padel is (relatively) cheap.

Outdoor padel courts at the Parker Racquet Club
Outdoor padel courts at the Parker Racquet Club. Photo courtesy of Parker Raquet Club

Gurolnick offers free Padel 101 clinics (weather permitting) on Tuesdays from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 5 to 6 p.m.—and also runs 90-minute shuttles ($10 for members, $20 for guests) almost every day of the week. Just like he and Riddle did, people tend to get hooked, he says. Parker Racquet Club’s affordable drop-in and court rental fees ($24/hour for members, $40/hour for guests) are in stark contrast to how the sport is growing in places like New York City and Miami, where private clubs charge high-powered professionals big money for the privilege of networking over a padel sweat sesh. And even if the sport proves popular here, we can’t expect public courts to proliferate quickly: Unlike pickleball courts, which can be put up over the top of existing tennis courts, padel courts can cost around $50,000 each to build. Still, industry groups expect the sport to pop off in the United States in the coming years—so now’s a great time to get in and get good before your current pickleball buddies do.