Created in 1928 in Scarsdale, New York, platform tennis combines elements of tennis, squash, racquetball, and a snowball fight. Played mainly during the snowiest months, when the heating elements under raised courts keep rubber balls bouncing, the doubles sport has become popular among athletes looking to get outside during the off-season. The American Platform Tennis Association currently sanctions more than 180 tournaments a year and, though many are highly competitive, the focus remains firmly on having a good time.
"If you go out to play in a men's match or tournament, the keg is going by like 11 am," says Mark Parsons, who, with his partner Johan du Randt, won the 2013 APTA National Championship. "It's much more laid-back than tennis."
Parsons attributes the camaraderie to court size. At 44x22 feet, a platform court is about one-third the size of a tennis court. It's also surrounded, MMA-style, by wire mesh. In tennis, Parson points out, conversations with an opponent are all but impossible. "In a platform match," he says, "you're right next to them." And because the game is more forgiving than traditional racquet sports – balls can be played off the screens – players have an easier time rallying with opponents of varied skill levels.
"Sheer power cannot necessarily win the day," says APTA Executive Director Ann Sheedy. "If I go up against somebody who's going to absolutely destroy me in tennis . . . and I've learned how to play the screens, I can compete with them."
And finding a court is not as hard as you might think. There are public courts in 19 states and active leagues in 14 states (and Canada). Though the sport continues to be most widely played in the New York tri-state area and Chicago, it has an increasingly high profile in Southern cities such as Charlotte, North Carolina, where the Olde Providence Racquet Club christened its first court this fall. According to Parsons, the sport's rise in popularity is largely due to its appealing culture.
"I've hit balls at Nationals that have been two inches wide, and no one's seen it, and I go, 'Hey guys, I missed it,'" he says. "That doesn't happen in other sports."
More information: The APTA keeps a list of all publicly accessible courts in the United States. Paddles can be purchased at most major sporting goods stores, including Sports Authority.