Entrepreneurs work to build Edmonton's padel community

· The Pulse

When Daniel Portilla moved from Ecuador to Edmonton earlier this year, he discovered the city lacked a padel club and decided to change that.

"I started, in the beginning, kind of joking about it — 'If there's no padel then I should open a club,'" Portilla told Taproot. "And then the jokes started becoming more real."

Portilla met Diana Cevallos and Luciano Luz, who recently moved to Edmonton from Brazil and also shared his passion for the sport. The trio talked and decided to create the club they found lacking. Padel Zone, which the trio opened on June 22, is located at 3260 16 Street in Nisku.

Padel is a racket sport similar to tennis but with elements borrowed from squash. The court is enclosed in glass, meaning the ball can never go out of bounds. This makes the game fast and strategic. The sport is growing in popularity, especially in South America and Europe, and is now played by sports legends like Lionel Messi and Roger Federer.

Portilla said he was dismayed to learn upon his arrival in Edmonton that he couldn't play the sport he loved back home, though research quickly showed there were courts in Calgary and that the Alberta Padel Association existed.

Now that Portilla and his co-owners have created Padel Zone, the hope is for more people to discover the sport and for more clubs to open, even if they're run by other people. He said he's happy if there's competition as it will simply mean a bigger padel community is forming in the city.

The three founders have invested nearly $500,000 in Padel Zone, Portilla said. "The first club has the disadvantage that we are the ones who have to endure for a sufficient amount of time until the community actually gets built up," he said. "But that's completely fine because someone has to be first, and if we wait for someone else to be first, then we're never going to play padel."

A person holding a racquet watches a ball while playing on an indoor court.

Padel Zone, created by three recent newcomers to the city who wanted to play the sport they loved here, offers Edmonton residents the first chance to play padel on a court designed for it. (Daniel Portilla)

The club's founders have also set up the Edmonton Padel Association with the goal of growing the community further.

One of the biggest challenges Portilla and his partners faced was finding a building that could house padel courts. They needed 10-metre tall ceilings, minimum. Eventually, they found a 20,000-square-foot warehouse that was being built without tenants.

Setting up the club offered challenges, too, like installing glass court partitions, which had to be transported and installed one by one using a handcart. "We would love to have been 100% by the day of the opening, but you know, we also understand that sometimes you need to be scrappy and move fast rather than wait until everything is perfect and never get stuff done," Portilla said.

He also said Padel Zone already has a Founder's Club with a limit of 50 memberships, and people have signed up and were ready to play as soon as the courts opened on June 22.

The club charges monthly memberships that cost between $12 to $180, covering an increasing variety of amenities from bookings and 24/7 access to court, shop, and class discounts, and custom tournaments. People without memberships can also book a padel court starting at $90, or a pickleball court at $48.

"We had a very common vision in terms of business and what padel means for each one of us and what we would like the padel club to mean for others as well," Portilla said of his co-founders.

Padel Zone features three padel courts, four pickleball courts, and two ping pong tables, as well as a warm-up area, a gym, and a bar. The building will also house TheraSport, a physiotherapy studio run by Padel Zone's head coach Andres Stamile, who represented Canada in padel in the World Padel Championships until 2014.

"He heard that we wanted to set up this club and that we were super serious about not just, you know, the club but also training the next generation of Canadian players," Portilla said.

To start off, Padel Zone will host beginner training sessions and tournaments to build up the community and introduce people to the sport.