World Pickleball Tour

For the past 3 and a half weeks, I have been traveling around the world playing, coaching and starting up pickleball in new locations. It’s been quite the adventure and I met some incredible people along the way.

I began my journey in Hua Hin, Thailand where I taught two pickleball clinics and played with the local club members. Next year, Pickleball Trips will bring a group of Americans to Thailand to play in a tournament and see the country, so I wanted to experience it firsthand. The beaches are pretty, the weather is warm and the food is delicious. What is there not to love about Thailand? After Hua Hin, I traveled to Bangkok, where I visited my friend Greg for a night and saw a band perform. Bangkok is ok but like most big cities, I try to get out as quickly as possible. Next I flew to Chiang Mai, where I played with the club there for a couple of days. Chiang Mai is a great city, loud and noisy but full of delicious food, things to see and just enough chaos. The players here are also among the best in Asia.

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From Chinag Mai, it was off to Singapore, where I had never been before, for 5 days of clinics and way too much food. On my list were chili crab, lakhsa, chicken rice and Singapore noodles, all of which lived up to their hype. A huge thank you to Janet and David Lye for hosting me, driving me around, being my tour guides, and organizing the pickleball in Singapore. There is no way I could have done it without them. I feel like I saw a lot of Singapore in the short few days I was there.

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Onto India. Wow, my impression and expectations about India changed drastically in the week that I visited. When I went almost 15 years ago, I was overwhelmed by the pollution, the heat, the mass of humanity all around me. Perhaps because I have seen more of the world and lived in other places, now it just seems like a developing country. Traffic is bad and there is poverty but it is growing and changing fast.

Speaking of growing, that’s what pickleball is doing rapidly in India and it’s exciting to see. Thanks to the dedication of Manish Rao, India has the largest population of pickleball players in all of Asia. I played with them in Mumbai and Jaipur, and their excitement about pickleball is obvious. Manish and Niraj (pictured below) showed me around some beautiful places in Rajastan in the Northwest including Uddaipur and Jaipur. We are also considering a pickleball trip to India sometime, please stay tuned.

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Finally to Kenya. I lived in Kenya for 2 years, where a majority of my posts on this blog were written. It had been 4 years since my last visit though. It was great to be back and meet with some of my best friends in the world. I also met new friends through pickleball, which tends to happen a lot. We played at Amani Gardens Inn and JD Tennis Academy, the latter of which is going to continue playing on a regular basis. I was also visiting potential locations for the Safari Pickleball Trip to Kenya, where we will play pickleball in Nairobi and go on Safaris around Kenya. It’s  going to be an awesome trip, please check it out on pickleballtrips.com in the near future!

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A Few Updates

I set a goal for myself to write a blog post at least once a month this year. So here it goes

I spent the first three weeks of April traveling around Japan. First, I visited Kyoto to attend a friend’s wedding, which was beautiful. A traditional Shinto wedding, the bride and groom were in dressed in Japanese kimonos and the cherry blossoms were in their full glory. Plus going to Kyoto is always fantastic.

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After the wedding, I headed to Tokyo to start a tour all over Japan. The customers were great, the weather was amazing and it was good to be back on the trail.

After the Nakasendo, I visited Takayama, where a friend had asked me to volunteer at the annual Spring Festival. Each section of the city has its own ornately decorated festival float that is paraded through town. Flute playing, street food and tourists are in no short supply.

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I volunteered in a house recently renovated by an architectural design company. They use it for employee vacations but also open it up during events and donate the proceeds from selling drinks. I don’t know that much about architecture, but I can say that there is something uniquely appealing about the simplicity of Japanese design done well. It was also fun just doing something totally different from my everyday life.

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From Takayama, I began another Nakasendo walk, this time only 3 days. The nice thing about Spring in Japan is that different blossoms flower during different points of the season. This walk featured the multi-colored plum blossom and green starting to sprout everywhere.

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After this travel, I returned home, exhausted for some R&R, as well as planning for my upcoming tours. Namely, the Spring Japan Pickleball Trip! Jennifer Lucore, is coming along and it’s going to be a fantastic time. Please check out pickleballtrips.com for more information on future trips and camps. We have a lot of new trips coming in 2019!

Finally, I was involved last summer in filming a new series with Duke from Quick Pickle. The idea is to give students of pickleball in-depth lessons from pros, not just a short 5 minute video. If you’re interested, particularly in learning drop shots from me, please check out the website, quickpickle.com and click on my course, Drop Shot Domination. You can also click here, https://quickpickle.com/pages/courses.

I am sad to be missing this year’s US Open Pickleball Championships, which are happening now. I hope to make it next year but we shall see.

The Last Snow Country

For their latitude, Japan’s Northwestern coast and mountains, known as the Yukiguni (snow country) are the snowiest place on earth. At 36 degrees North, I live at the approximate latitude of Las Vegas and the South of Spain. Needless to say, we get a little more snow than either of those places. Cold winds blow down from Siberia, hitting the warm Sea of Japan and dumping massive amounts on Japan’s snowy backbone. It effects are spectacular. The snow and the mountains are big reasons why I live here, why I continue exploring.

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I just completed what could be my last Walk Japan tour ever: the Snow Country Trek. The people were fantastic, I enjoyed my time, and I have sort of been asked to continue doing winter tours, which is the reason I say could. My own businesses (Nagano Ventures and Pickleball Trips) have become busier and I am guiding for some other companies, but I realized that I truly enjoy working for Walk Japan. As a tour leader, I don’t do much besides walk, explain food and talk about Japan, all of which I love, so it can feel more like vacation than work. It does depend on the customers though 🙂 I am grateful to the company that hired me as a young tour leader, trained me and allowed me to grow in so many ways. We will just have to see where life leads.

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When traveling around Nagano, I often look around and stare, awed by towering mountains all around. Especially when covered in snow, mountains are a deeply inhospitable place. I personally know three people who have died here and one that was lucky not to. Yet being close to them provides a sense of comfort as well. They carve up this confusing and messy world into manageable pieces. What’s beyond the mountain is irrelevant because the world becomes only what is in front of you, one village at a time. I sometimes envy people from these villages for having such a compact world, for having such a simple life. I wonder what my life would look like had I been born in similar circumstances. It’s an impossible question to answer, but it’s fun to ponder.

Even though Yuzawa, where I am writing this post, has a bullet train station connected directly to Tokyo, I can still imagine its former isolation in Winter. Yasunari Kawabata wrote his Nobel-winning novel, Snow Country from a Ryokan in the village. The opening line reads, “The train came out of the long tunnel into the snow country” and rest of the novel takes place here, cut off from the rest of the world. I recommend the novel highly, not for the story, but for its beautiful descriptions of snow and ice. Another quote reads,

The road was frozen. The village lay quiet under the cold sky. Komako hitched up the skirt of her kimono and tucked it into her obi. The moon shone like a blade frozen in blue ice

What made this region unique is that the snow was so vital to life in Japan’s snow country that every aspect of traditional culture was connected to it or influenced by it. The summer was about preparing for the long winter. The traditions, foods, festivals and way of life were all connected to this obtrusive yet vital thing. Art forms developed while buried by snow in your own home. It made for a culture that is distinct from anywhere else in Japan. Nowadays, people do their best to keep these traditions alive but inevitably, connectivity causes change. I believe that Japan’s national culture is growing closer together, just like globally cultures and becoming less distinct. While there are positive changes, some traditions ought to be preserved.

Yet the biggest driver of change might be environmental. When Kawabata wrote his novel, the snow country routinely received 5-6 meters of snow at one time. Today, we are lucky to have 3. The average snowfall decreases every year, and soon the snow country could disappear altogether. It makes me sad and forces me to seriously consider how I live my life. The resources I consume contribute to this problem, and if I don’t change my lifestyle, I cannot expect anyone else to. I don’t want to be the generation that sees the last of the snow country.

Thank you for reading

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Thank you for reading