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BI’s game that anybody can play

  • Friday, July 30, 2021 1:30am
  • Sports

Jordan Rowe of Bainbridge Island has always loved paddle and racket sports.

He’s played tennis, racquetball and pickleball. He’s also played Fresco Bol, a Brazilian sport played on the beach with participants hitting a ball back and forth with paddles. “I have an interest in unconventional foreign sports that aren’t corporatized,” Rowe said.

In 2018 he decided he wanted to create a hybrid of all those sports that would have universal appeal. He and co-creator Clint Roerig, also 37 of BI, invented what “Frescotennis.” “Fresco” means “open air” as Rowe wants to get people “outside.”

“Screens can be dangerous long-term. My goal is to get people disengaged from their (computer and TV) screens and get them outside where they can make some real connections again” after COVID, he said. “I know in my heart we have a winner.”

The Bainbridge Island Metro Parks & Recreation District must think so. It plans to offer classes this fall for youth and adults to learn the game.

Julie Miller, recreation sports manager for parks, said she found out about the game by finding one of their fresco balls on a court when she was playing pickleball. It piqued her interest so she looked up their website. Talking about it she found out a co-worker is one of the top fresco tennis players on the island. So she contacted Rowe.

When she found out how easy it is to learn and that “anybody could do it,” she thought it would be great if parks could offer some classes to show locals how to play. She compared the strategy of the game to volleyball. “You put it where you want and create a little chaos if you can,” she said. Like pickleball, she likes that there’s a social aspect to the game as well. “This has the potential to do the same thing.”

Frescotennis brands itself as “The Future of Dynamic Rally Sport.” It’s an alternative paddle sport for two to six players competing on a tennis court. It includes strategy, sprinting, cardio, teamwork and core fitness training. It’s played with handmade Brazilian fiberglass and carbon fiber paddles, along with high-velocity 50mm rubber balls.

Rowe said Frescotennis can be just for fun or super competitive – like in Japan, South Korea and the Philippines, foreign countries they are targeting. “There’s a universal appeal there for rally sports,” he said.

Along with those countries and Washington state, Frescotennis is also being marketed strongly in Florida.

“It appeals to older people who can’t play tennis anymore,” Rowe said. “There are long-term consequences” with injuries such as tennis elbow. “People get dismayed when they can’t play tennis anymore.”

And, like many sports, it’s also good for “mental acuity,” Rowe said. “It enhances brain function” as there is a lot of strategy involved.

Easy on the body

Frescotennis is much easier on the body. Players who can’t serve anymore in tennis, “get their serve back,” with Frescotennis. “And the service game is so important. You can rack up a lot of points,” Rowe said.

Rowe’s career is in international investments, but marketing Frescotennis is quickly becoming his full-time job.

Florida, where the Frescobol is made for that beach game, is quickly taking to the sport. The owner of that company grew up in Brazil, but no one played the game when he moved to Florida, despite its high hispanic population. The popularity of that game is now branching out to include Frescotennis, Rowe said.

Roerig said since there are few sandy beaches in Washington state they’ve changed the game, making it so it can be played on tennis courts that are available here.

He said his main contribution is “seeing what was fun. I wanted it to be enjoyable with health benefits. This checks all the boxes.”

Roerig said he would play with Rowe and give him feedback. “He would decode the message I’m trying to tell him” and tweak the game accordingly.

He said people don’t even need to keep score to have fun. He recently played with a hurt foot and just enjoyed knocking the ball around. It feels good “just to hit the ball really hard.”

He said it’s been a fun process getting involved in something new, and now he wants to help build the sport and watch others enjoy it. Roerig said he wants to teach the sport and watch others get better, possibly even forming leagues.

“I’m exciting about getting people involved in something new, and help them develop skills in a new paddle sport,” he said.

The game was developed to be played in not-always-so-great Northwest weather. The balls and paddles can be used in the rain, and the balls are small and hard enough they cut through wind.

“We’re not going to let the weather keep us from playing,” Rowe said, adding that rain actually makes the serve increase in speed – “taking off like a rocket ship.”

Rowe said they play the sport year-around, “Even in the snow, when it wasn’t sticking.”

The game can be played with singles, doubles and even three on a side.

Anyone can play

“We don’t want to hold anybody back from playing,” he said, adding with three on a side if one player is not as strong he or she could guard the back line. But if they are strong, they could play the “striker” position at the net. Rowe recommends anyone playing that spot wear protective gear because of how hard the ball sometimes is hit.

Rowe said it can be hard for people to visualize the game without seeing it. “We want to get people on the court,” he said, adding that’s when they fall in love with the game.

Rowe said, “The rules have been meticulously refined and tinkered with over the years,” to make the game interesting for competitive players, but also easy enough for anyone to play “to make the sport the most smooth and enjoyable experience possible. It’s been a long process of fine-tuning – like designing the Swiss watch.”

Rowe and Roerig tested all types of paddles, and, like Frescoball, they decided on composite, wood, carbon fiber and fiberglass. “It’s up to the person to decide,” Rowe said.

“The ball is a whole new story,” he added.

They tried many types of balls. They started with racquetballs, but they were too big. About 18 months ago they decided they needed a high-velocity ball. They ended up making a brand new ball 55 mm in size.

“It was a multi-thousand-dollar process,” Rowe said, adding they broke down every little thing about the ball and continue enhancing it. “It completely changed the game.”

Rowe said except for tournament play, any tennis court will do. He said there are many unused tennis courts around that could be used with some chip seal or court resurfacing.

“I love tournament play, but some people just want to do it for the exercise aspect. Some people just like to meet up on the court and just get a hell of a workout,” he said, adding some don’t even keep score. Players can burn 400 calories an hour, their promotional material says.

Roerig added: “I know people are watching us. What is this game? Is it even a real game? What do I need to play?”

Contact info: Website: www.frescotennis.com; Email: IFL@frescotennis.com

By Steve Powell

Move over pickleball – make way for another sport invented on Bainbridge Island.

I first played pickleball in the eighth grade. My PE teacher, Mr. Taylor, said it was going to be the next big thing. He was right but it took about 40 years to reach that level. I’m predicting Frescotennis is going to be the next big thing, and it should not take 40 years. I played recently with the co-creators of the game, Jordan Rowe and Clint Roerig.

I’ve played a lot of sports over the years, and this one is much easier to learn than pickleball or especially tennis.

It’s played on a tennis court. After doing paper, scissors, rock to see who serves first, you line up at each end line. The serve has to come to you so that you are able to hit it on the first bounce. After that you actually have two bounces before you have to hit it. That’s not as easy as it might sound. The ball moves very fast.

There are so many things to like about the sport.

The ball is awesome in that it can cut through the wind, unlike a tennis ball. And because of its material you can even play on a wet court, again unlike tennis. So its a great sport for the Pacific Northwest.

It’s easier on the body than tennis. You don’t have to be in perfect position and have perfect form to get off a good shot. It’s more like racquetball that way. Keep it in play, hit it hard and you have a chance.

It’s a great game for older people, I’m 64, because of that. We don’t move around as fast as we used to. I find it more fun than pickleball because it’s a better cardio workout. But like pickleball and tennis there is a lot of strategy involved in where to place your shots. Like Rowe says, it’s a hybrid of all these other great games – taking the best things about them and putting them into one.

When I first started playing I was using my top spin tennis swing, which did not work. The ball needs to strike solidly on the paddle to get power. Since the ball is between a ping pong and racquetball in size, you need to focus on the ball and watch it strike off the racquet.

I tried to serve with a high toss, like in tennis. Again, not a good move. It’s easier to just toss it slightly above your head.

Playing at the net is tough because of the small ball and how fast it moves. But it can be done sporadically to catch your opponents off guard. I’m not sure why but the ball doesn’t seem to go into the net a lot like in tennis or pickleball, and I liked that aspect of it, too.

First player to five wins the set. It takes four sets to win a match. Service alternates every set. You don’t switch sides, so it keeps the cardio going and you don’t waste time chasing down balls.

It’s a great game to play for competition or just for fun. I highly recommend it. Give it a try by taking one of the parks department classes this fall.

Steve Powell is editor of the Bainbridge Island Review

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Jordan serves. Courtesy Photo
Clint drops the ball to prepare to hit it. Courtesy Photo
Women also enjoy playing the game. Courtesy Photo
Doubles is a really popular option for the game, especially for beginners and older players. Courtesy Photo
Paddles and balls are especially made for the game. Courtesy Photo
The game is played on a regular tennis court. Courtesy illustration
The rules of the game are made so anyone can play it. Courtesy illustration
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