Pickleball players Marc Sommer and Bev Anderson are making the Fuller Lake courts home base this winter. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Pickleball players Marc Sommer and Bev Anderson are making the Fuller Lake courts home base this winter. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Snowbirds settle for winter pickleball at home

Chemainus couple makes the most of conditions to keep playing the sport they love

In a normal non-COVID year, Marc Sommer and Beverly Anderson would have been playing pickleball under the warm Arizona sun in Tuscon.

Instead, the recent residents of Chemainus, via the Comox Valley, and grounded snowbirds are staying at home and enduring slightly cooler conditions – weather permitting – in order to play their favourite sport at Fuller Lake Park.

“We kind of moved here for the pickleball,” said Sommer. “There’s pickleball in Comox, but the high level pickleball is limited.”

They didn’t, however, plan on playing pickleball here from October through March or early April. It’s been an adjustment for Sommer, 60, a retired commercial fisherman, and Anderson, 66, a retired health care worker.

“I don’t think we’ve spent a year in Canada for 20 years,” laughed Sommer.

They used to winter in California for about five years before setting up headquarters in Surprise, Arizona and then Tuscon.

“It’s big,” said Anderson of pickleball in those regions.

Pickleball consumed their time “six hours a day, seven days a week,” Sommer added.

Their schedule hasn’t been filled quite as much here, although “we come down every day,” said Sommer.

Both have extensive sports backgrounds and actually met at a squash club. Sommer was a scratch golfer as well as a ski and snowboard instructor and high-level squash player.

But the pickleball phenomenon of the last decade proved to be the perfect match for them.

“Pickleball just took over,” acknowledged Anderson. “People used to think even five years ago it was just for old people.”

But since many people have gotten over the stigma of the name, it’s a game that’s captured the interest of athletes from many different backgrounds – especially other racket sports – because of its fast pace.

Anderson is currently a 4.0 sponsored pickleball player for TMPR Sports and Sommer a 5.0 sponsored player for Team Selkirk. That means they receive paddles and clothing from the companies.

Anderson and Sommer have combined their winter pickleball activities with extensive travels. They managed to complete one particularly long circular trek of 55,000 kilometres, going all across Canada to Sydney, Nova Scotia doing pickleball clinics and then heading south to cover the perimeter of the United States all the way back to Arizona.

“Everywhere we went we found pickleball and made very good friends,” noted Sommer.

He said their stops in Prince Edward Island and the New Orleans area were particularly memorable.

“We were lucky to get it in before COVID,” said Anderson.

They drove their truck and pulled a travel trailer. Unfortunately, they haven’t been able to retrieve the trailer left in Oregon yet due to the closure of the U.S.-Canada border. And Sommer doesn’t expect it’s going to be opened any time soon.

“I think everyone’s going to have to make adjustments with snowbirding,” he said.

That just means this winter may become more the norm for them until restrictions ease.

“It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, but we haven’t had a bunch of snow,” Sommer indicated.

His body can feel the difference, but that’s the reality of their climate change.

All snowbirds are in the same boat, so to speak, with travel restrictions and the crunch is especially noticeable on Vancouver Island being the purported best spot for weather year-round in Canada.

“A lot of the R.V. parks are booked solid and hard to get into,” observed Anderson.

Home base is just a little different for Anderson and Sommer, but they’re making the most of it. They’ve been in Chemainus now for five months since last August.

“One of the reasons we moved to Chemainus there’s a lot of culture,” said Sommer. “There’s music, but with COVID it all gets scrapped. We’ve made a lot of friends here. The people have been super welcoming.”

First and foremost, they’re sold on the local pickleball environment that’s been everything they expected.

“The Fuller Lake courts are in a good location for pickleball,” added Sommer. “I would like to see it enhanced. Noise is not an issue.”

People who play here come all the way from Saltair to Mill Bay in the south.

Right now, play is restricted to singles only and within the same household, with the middle courts closed off for social distancing that leaves just four courts available. Anderson and Sommer have added the necessary equipment for winter play tucked away in the back of their truck.

“We bought rollers, squeegees, court shoes, track pants, wool socks, a leaf blower,” chuckled Sommer.

They’re well equipped to keep the courts cleared for uninterrupted play.

One of the hazards of winter pickleball has also been cracking paddles and the switch to rubber balls necessitated by the cracking of the traditional plastic ball.

Through it all, the growth of pickleball knows no bounds.

“One thing about the pickleball, any age can play,” said Sommer.

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Marc Sommer and Bev Anderson moved to Chemainus in part because of the pickleball scene here. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Marc Sommer and Bev Anderson moved to Chemainus in part because of the pickleball scene here. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Bev Anderson watches her footing on the Fuller Lake pickleball courts when they’re slick. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Bev Anderson watches her footing on the Fuller Lake pickleball courts when they’re slick. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Bev Anderson goes low to the court to return the ball. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Bev Anderson goes low to the court to return the ball. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Marc Sommer added pickleball to his already lifelong list of impressive sports credentials. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Marc Sommer added pickleball to his already lifelong list of impressive sports credentials. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Marc Sommer hitting the ball around at Fuller Lake with wife Bev. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Marc Sommer hitting the ball around at Fuller Lake with wife Bev. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Bev Anderson and Marc Sommer haul out the equipment to keep the pickleball courts at Fuller Lake in playing condition. (Photo by Don Bodger)

Bev Anderson and Marc Sommer haul out the equipment to keep the pickleball courts at Fuller Lake in playing condition. (Photo by Don Bodger)