Four blue courts and a giant yellow tennis ball welcome downtown Miami residents to the largest pádel club in South Florida.
Pádel is played in doubles and has elements of tennis, racquetball and squash. The court, smaller than the tennis variant, is surrounded by glass, much like a racquetball court. Players swing a small, heavy racket that has no strings, but a strong holey surface instead.
The sport is most popular in Argentina, Brazil and Spain.
After coming to the United States in 1993, pádel made its way to Miami in 2009. In just six years, three pádel clubs and 10 courts have opened in Miami-Dade County.
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AB Sport Club and Miami Pádel were the first clubs to open in South Florida. Real Pádel Miami followed, opening its courts last year.
“A lot of people, who’ve never heard of the sport before, come play at our club,” said Luis Ibáñez, 62, owner of Real Pádel Miami. “I’d say the majority of the people who aren’t from Spain, Argentina or Brazil find out about our club, or pádel in general, through word of mouth.”
Ibáñez and his son, Luis, 33, moved here from Spain in October 2013 to start a club.
Ibáñez built courts in Spain, and after vacationing in South Florida and realizing how “international” Miami is, he and his son decided to create a club in the United States.
Italian Andrea Diotallevi, 39, who recently moved to Miami, quickly discovered the game.
“Back in Italy, I always wanted to play tennis, but pádel is much easier and more fun,” he said.
Pádel courts have no specific color, but the Ibáñez family chose to make theirs blue.
“We chose blue because we want blue to be the color of pádel in Miami,” said the younger Ibáñez.
About 15 miles from Real Pádel Miami’s downtown courts, off Ives Dairy Road near Aventura, lies another club: Miami Pádel, with three courts.
Gustavo Roque, 48, the owner, who played pádel professionally during the 1980s in his native Argentina, treats the venture as a hobby and welcomes clients as if they were friends.
“I’ll put on some music and turn on the barbecue, so it can be like we’re having fun and hanging out.”
But Roque says fun just isn’t enough.
“For Americans, pádel is like bowling,” he said. “Thousands might say they go bowling, but how many of those go bowling every week?”
Miami Pádel was set to be the first pádel club in Miami, but days earlier AB Sport Club opened its doors.
“My husband loved playing pádel in Argentina,” said co-owner Natalia de Biasi, 33. “We decided to open up a club because my husband couldn’t believe a city with so many Latin Americans didn’t have a single pádel club.”
Shortly thereafter, the club grew from two to three courts. Today, it has three indoor pádel courts, a café, fitness area and spa.
“We’re not just getting clients from Latin America, but Europeans and [North] Americans are coming too,” de Biasi said.
Antoine Dons, 44, is from the Netherlands. He moved to Miami 15 years ago and was introduced to the sport through a friend.
“I hate exercise,” said the Dutchman. “But this [pádel] is lots of fun.”
The clubs fall under the United States Pádel Association, the governing body of the sport in this country. The USPA’s priority is for the sport to grow, so it organizes and sanctions tournaments throughout the country. It also handpicks players to represent the U.S. national team.
Mike May, USPA president, said the priority for the clubs should be promoting the sport in the United States.
“Some clubs are too business oriented,” said May. “They don’t want to collaborate with other clubs and that’s not good for the sport.”
But he believes the sport can only grow.
“If it’s so successful in other countries that are so tennis dominant, like Spain and Argentina, then why not here?”
“People sweat and exercise a lot while playing pádel,” said the elder Ibáñez. “But the most important thing is they have fun and when people have fun, they want to come back.”
If you go
Real Pádel Miami
Where: 1739 NE Second Ave., Miami
Price: $15 per person per hour
Where: 1475 Ives Dairy Road, Miami, FL 33179
Price: $6 per person per hour
AB Sport Club
Where: 15781 NW 7th Ave, Miami, FL 33169
Price: $9 for members for 1.5 hours, $18 for non-members for 1.5 hours (after 3 p.m.)
Price: $6 for members for 1.5 hours, $12 for non-members (before 3 p.m.)