Racquetball: My investment planning diversion

They say everyone needs something to help them unwind and for me it’s racquetball.

Racquet and racquetballs
Racquet and racquetballs

I first learned of racquetball in 1976, when my friend Terry came home on leave from the Army and told me he’d learned this really cool game. Off we went to the local racquetball court and, wham, I was hooked. More than 35 years later, Terry and I are still going at it.

The game. Racquetball is played with a hollow rubber ball usually indoors. The court is 40′ x 20′ x 20′ in size. You have to hit the ball off the front wall before it bounces twice off the floor. Scoring is similar to volleyball. You can only score a point by winning a rally that started with your serve.

Racquets and strategy. Over the years, technology has come to racquetball.

Typical racquetball court
Typical racquetball court

When we first started to play in the 70’s, the racquets were pretty basic and did the job just fine. Now we use racquets made of carbon-fiber, the same material used to make race cars. The racquets are stiffer, more durable and hit harder than ever before.

Lots of strategy comes into the game, but the basic idea is to hit it where your opponent isn’t. Or at least hit to where he can’t get to it before it bounces twice. The game is physical of course. But it’s also a thinking man’s game. Flailing away at the ball will not get you much success even if it does get your frustrations out. It’s not so hard to play, but it’s very hard to play well.

The professional tour. Far and away, the most dominant player on the professional racquetball tour is Kane Waselenchuk, a Canadian who has been almost unbeatable for the last several years. My wife and I saw Kane play in person in 2010. Believe me, he’s not playing the same game as mortal man. Like anything, be it playing a musical instrument, skating, surfing or bowling, doing it yourself is one thing, but seeing a world-class athlete is something else altogether.

Imagine hitting a racquetball at nearly 200 mph, 38 or 39 feet from the front wall, and putting it an inch off the floor. That’s what Kane does over and over again. Here’s video of Kane playing racquetball. He’s wearing yellow. It’s not easy to watch racquetball because the ball is so fast that it’s hard to keep track of it. The video will give you an idea of what the game is about, at least as played by the best player in the world.

Ready to play? The best part about the game might be its simplicity. Several years ago, I was at a hotel in Arizona. As I rode the elevator, the doors opened and two guys got in fresh off the golf course. They carried spiked shoes, wore funny pants and lugged huge golf bags stuffed with clubs, balls, markers, tees, scorecards, towels, and who knows what else. As they pulled all this gear onto the elevator and the door closed, I suggested that they consider racquetball. All they’d need is a racquet, a ball, goggles and a glove, and they’d be good to go. I almost convinced them.