Why hybrids like pickleball and surfskating are the future of sports

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This year, I’ve surfed on some unexpected surfaces. Sure, I checked off the usual water, but I also surfed on concrete with a surfskate, in an ice rink with a pair of blades under a board, and off a dirt hill on a mountainboard. In June, I was surfskating in Santa Monica when I skidded into ESPN’s airing of the Teqball tournament final. A cross between soccer, volleyball and table tennis, Teqball is played on a curved table that can cost more than $3,000.

Some fans may have bemoaned Eugenie Bouchard’s decision to turn her attention from tennis to professional pickleball — the love child between tennis and badminton — saying that they couldn’t get on board with the cross-breed sport. But I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the staying power of hybrid offshoots.

Hybrid sports are created for all kinds of reasons. Some, like padel (a progeny of tennis and squash) are developed because of physical limitations. Enrique Corcuera invented it in 1969 when he didn’t have enough space for a proper tennis court at his Acapulco home, and it rose in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic, when no-contact sports were the safest. Necessity is also often an impetus: Modern surfskating began in California in 1995, because, with no ability to control ocean waves, surfers sought ways to practice on land.

Other hybrid sports are forged out of a desire to re-create a particular feeling on another surface. The ice surfing I tried comes from Jacki Torres and Daniel Blanco, a figure skater and a slalom skateboarder, who wanted to combine their passions on one surface — ice.

Similarly, one of Teqball’s co-founders, soccer player Gábor Borsányi, used to practice passing the ball across ping-pong tables and later realized that a curved surface made for a more enjoyable game.

What is considered to be a sport is constantly evolving. Growing up abroad, my physical education classes rotated between basketball, volleyball, soccer and rugby. I’d never imagined then that the Olympics would one day include sports such as skateboarding and breaking, which will debut in 2024 in Paris. Hybrids are a part of this evolution, with Teqball aiming to be part of the Games in Los Angeles in 2028. But a new sport doesn’t have to make it to the Olympics to be legitimate.

Iterations on the original sport can extend a beloved activity’s shelf life. When I think about how much my dad loves tennis today and wonder whether aging may eventually slow his ability to play, I am relieved that pickleball, which is easier for those with joint problems, is there if he needs it.

Hybrid sports are also easier to market to fans and potential players, compared to a completely new sport. Lionel Messi’s practice of Teqball went viral, and surfskate manufacturers regularly partner with professional surfers to reach their audiences. Bouchard is not the first tennis player to cross the aisle to pickleball.

This is because people can readily imagine themselves in something somewhat familiar. I am a lousy surfer, but I can’t deny how knowing the basics of the sport made it easier for me to want to get on a surfskate. Similarly, when I watched the Teqball final, I instinctively kind of understood it because I knew its ingredients.

These sports can also be housed under existing regulatory systems, which formalize them faster. Italy’s Tennis Federation officially became the Italian Tennis and Padel Federation this year. In the U.K., surfskating falls under Skateboard GB.

The ability to self-build equipment, iterating on what is used in the original sport, also brings hybrid sports to market more swiftly. The ice surfing I did was on homemade boards, complete with hand-cut grip tape sandals to help me push on ice. A new piece of equipment can even beget other hybrid sports. Teqball’s curved table has brought forth Teqpong (Teqball and table tennis) and Piqleball (Teqball and pickleball). Yes, the hybrid sports are themselves hybridizing.

Rather than complaining about a hybrid sport’s lack of originality, we should be glad for these evolutions that stand out on their own, and the audiences that are willing to go along for the ride.

Now excuse me while I look for a desert, so I can conquer sandboarding.

Kathy Liu is a surfskater and cybersecurity and technology expert. She helps lead the United Kingdom’s largest surfskate community.

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