PORT ANGELES — Have fun. Don’t fall. Be nice.
Those were Cindi Berry’s simple rules for the inaugural Esprit-Port Angeles pickleball tournament, and the 50 who participated Monday — including some who fell — maintained a spirit of friendly competition.
“I thought it was spectacular,” said Berry, an Esprit conference planner and tournament organizer.
Community members were paired with Esprit ladies for the round-robin doubles tournament, which was meant to celebrate the longstanding partnership between Esprit and its host city.
Esprit is the longest-running transgender conference on the West Coast. The 30th conference began Sunday and runs through this coming Sunday.
Jennifer Tan of New Jersey and Maille McDonald of Seattle defeated Yanjing Chen of Port Angeles and April King of Camano Island 15-10 in a hotly contested championship match to win the “all fun” tournament.
“My partner here did it,” said McDonald, who learned the sport hours beforehand.
“No, it’s a team,” said Tan, who played tennis daily before trading her racket for a paddle one year ago.
When asked what keyed their success, McDonald said: “Me staying out of the way.”
Pickleball is a rapidly-growing paddle sport that combines elements of tennis, badminton and ping-pong. It is played on a badminton-sized court with a lightweight perforated ball.
Many who participated Monday were playing pickleball for the first time.
“A lot of people from the community wanted to come learn,” Berry said.
Diane Chung and Nita Davidson of Port Angeles dispatched pickleball newbies Andrea Whitlow of Spokane and this reporter to claim third place in the consolation match.
Whitlow carried her playing partner — who crashed to the court chasing a well-placed shot in the preliminary rounds — with accurate returns and volleys.
Whitlow moved gracefully in a floral summer dress and was the only player in the tournament without shoes.
“Going barefoot on the grass in the morning gives you an incredible amount of energy,” said Whitlow, who has played other paddle sports and does an “incredible amount of yoga.”
“I don’t own a pair of whatever you call these things, tennis shoes.”
The tournament was paused midway though the competition for a group photograph at Elks Playfield.
“The community turnout has been so wonderful,” Port Angeles Mayor and pickleball player Sissi Bruch said in a later interview.
“It acceptance of diversity, and that’s really important in this day and age.”
Whitlow is attending her first Esprit conference this week. She traveled to Port Angeles two years ago on a scooter and found the area to be accepting of the transgender community by Googling “Best places in the U.S. for transvestites.”
“It’s a beautiful part of the world,” said Whitlow, who grew up in England and has traveled the world.
“It’s been a long journey getting here.”
While most of the Esprit events are reserved for those who identify as transgender, community members are invited to an Esprit talent show at the Elks Naval Lodge, 131 E. First St., at 8 p.m. Friday.
The public also is invited to a Saturday-night social with music and dancing beginning at 8 p.m. at the Port Angeles Red Lion Hotel, 221 N. Lincoln St.
The transgender band The Nasty Habits will play their popular glam, punk, rock and dance covers at the Metta Room. 132 E. Front St., at 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
Alice Berry of Hillsboro, Ore., cruised the sidelines cheering for her wife, Cindi Berry, and the other pickleball players wearing a green pickle costume.
The Berrys have attended Esprit for nine years.
“There were a lot of new trans folks here for Esprit for the first time, and somehow being in this pickle, they were more open to talking to me,” Alice Berry said after the tournament.
“So I made some really good connections with them. Who knew a pickle would be safe? But it broke down some barriers and allowed them to really share and talk with me, so that was a really great thing.”
Alice Berry added that the community members she met “really loved the spirit” of the tournament.
Proceeds from the tournament and other Esprit events will support Volunteer Hospice of Clallam County.
In other pickleball news, it was announced Tuesday that Port Angeles will host a second annual July 4 pickleball tournament at The Landing mall.
The mixed doubles tournament will be played on three courts on the upper level of the mall from about noon to 3 p.m.
For information on the Fourth of July tournament, call Steve Bennett at 360-460-7424.
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].