Hawaikirangi passionate advocate of pickleball

Annie Hawaikirangi has not looked back since taking up pickleball two years ago. PHOTO: GREGOR...
Annie Hawaikirangi has not looked back since taking up pickleball two years ago. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
For Annie Hawaikirangi, pickleball has been "life-changing".

The former professional beach volleyballer grew up playing everything from netball to martial arts and took her love for being active into her career as an aerobics instructor and personal trainer for Les Mills.

But when she was 40, Hawaikirangi, of Auckland, was diagnosed with osteoarthritis, leaving her with no cartilage in her knee, and had mesenchymal stem cells put into her knee to help her walk again.

Fifteen years later, pickleball has become one of her favourite sports, helping her remain active, after being introduced to it by her friends about two years ago.

"I had a paddle in my hand, denied it for about a year, turned up to play and now it’s the main sport I choose to play," Hawaikirangi said.

Pickleball — a combination of tennis, table tennis and badminton, played on a badminton court with a wiffle ball made of hollow plastic — attracted more than 100 competitors at the Masters Games this year. It is making its Games debut here.

Hawaikirangi, who plays at a national level, enjoyed the sport as it was easy to pick up. She was mixing with different individuals and seeing more people playing in the over-50 age groups.

"This is kind of new playing in my age group and it’s really awesome to see that.

"I advocate for women to stay active and we all have a chance to come back and play another game."

Hawaikirangi, who drew inspiration from her father, avid tennis player Jake Pere-Hawaikirangi, who died when she was 8, met new players through the Games.

She joined forces with Jo Guise, of Gore, for the women’s doubles, and former rugby league player Grant Chambers in the mixed doubles.

"I just love that we have this connection, even though it’s an American sport.

"We can use our prowess, whether it be [as] past tennis, squash, badminton [players]."

Pickleball is the fastest-growing sport in the United States, but Hawaikirangi pointed out it was "exploding exponentially" in New Zealand as well.

In Auckland, churches put pickleball courts in their halls. She travelled to South Auckland to join, and believed it was only getting bigger.

"I don’t think it will go away any time soon.

"We just need one great big venue and I’m almost 99% sure we will attract overseas people."

"I just want to advocate it’s a life-changing sport that you can incorporate for generations and we are already doing it.

"I would love to see the tennis fraternity, squash, badminton — any real estate — that we join forces together and we roll down more lines.

"We could have more and more of it so then everybody can have a happy life and a happy pickleball [experience]."