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Birth

Padel, from the decks of English ships to Acapulco

Latin America saw the birth of padel, a sport with its origins on 19th century English ships. The Corcuera family made it their own with new rules and marked a milestone in the history of the sport.

The Corcuera family had one goal: to create a new game. The idea came in 1962 from the house of the Mexican-Argentine noble family in Las Brisas.

As with anything, we need to look back into the past to learn padel’s true origin. Let’s go back to the 19th century to learn about a form of closed tennis that was played on English ships.

Viviana, the wife of Enrique Corcuera, the “inventor of padel”, made sure to record each and every one of the rules that came up while she was playing with her husband and various friends. In the woman’s own handwriting, one book contained all the rules they considered important: a book named “Paddel Corcuera”.

But where does the word padel come from? This was a term used by the aforementioned Englishmen to refer to the racket they played with. It was this racket that replaced the usual kind used in New York parks in the 1920s. The Corcuera family butted up against all this: a tennis “that bored them” and a sport they wanted to turn on its head.

In search of alternatives

There were sufficient reasons to invent a new version of the tennis. The ball would leave the boundaries of the court, which slowed down the pace of the game at times, boring those attending.

So it was that the Corcuera family began to consider their options, searching for a new way of playing that could add amusement to their day. Soon after, Enrique contacted construction workers and asked them to build a wire fence, putting an end to his first concern.

In Guadalajara, Mexico, they played the first matches on one of the courts located on the family’s property at the time.

Weeks later, they moved along with an engineer to the city of Acapulco, where they designed and built a 20 metre long by 10-metre-wide court–measurements which are used to this day.

At that time, the materials were not the same as today: they cemented four walls, placed a net in the middle of the court and put a small gate on one side of the enclosure.

From the outset, the design resembled today’s but using the resources of the time.

The new style of playing began to grab the attention of the Corcuera family’s friends and acquaintances as well as distinguished persons, who began to come to play more and more frequently.

Henry Kissinger, Plácido Domingo and Manolo Santana, among others, were some of the famous faces who had the privilege of enjoying the sports’ beginnings, giving it more prestige.

Changes to material

Meanwhile, the question of materials was another looming dilemma. The question arose as to which ball would be the best to use.

First, they tried a squash ball, but the ball made too painful an impact against the players’ bodies, which made them opt for other less damaging alternatives.

As Mrs. Corcuera said, in the game “they were making up the rules”, since they were adapting the game to their own needs as they went.

Another puzzle was the racket: first, they chose a small racket with tiny lines. However, it didn’t give the desired power to the stroke, so they kept on trying.

Rackets have been constant development since then: going from wooden rackets to ones using rubber as the main material, and most recently, to carbon or fibreglass, which provide a greater impact on the stroke and durability.

So many changes in material since those first rackets used in New York parks.

Padel lovers

The Corcuera family was definitely in love with padel and with the birth of this new racket sport.

Viviana, who was Miss Argentina 1964 and Miss Latin America 1968, had a great ability for sport, including tennis, golf, swimming and trampolining. This was one of the reasons that led the couple to revolutionise the competition, which started as a hobby at the home of one of the most distinguished families in Mexican society.

In 1974, when Prince Alfonso of Hohenlohe, a nobleman, property developer and friend of the Corcuera family, visited Mexico, he was delighted with what he saw of the new sport.

As a result, on his return to Marbella, he began to adapt and build padel courts to start practising padel in Spain, bringing padel across the ocean.

Padel’s model gentleman

Cacho Nicastro, president of the Argentinian Padel Association (APA), started to delve into the world of padel. He invited the Corcuera family to Argentina and even fabricated new rackets to improve his performance.

In the words of Viviana Corcuera, he came to “perfect the sport”. She also stated that padel “is a triumph for three reasons: it requires a small plot of land, it costs very little to install a court, and playing it encourages fellowship and socialisation”.

The Corcuera family gave life to a new discipline, an international standard among hundreds of existing sports.

They had a purpose, which started as “a little game” in the words of Enrique Corcuera. Such has been the phenomenon to this day that its founder has a plaque in Mexico’s hall of fame dedicated to the inventors of sport.

Since its origins in courts in Mexican neighbourhoods, padel has reached hundreds of thousands of players all over the world, confirming, once again, the success of this young sport.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Tomas Ripstrand

    04/07/2021 at 6:13 am

    Thank you so much for publicating this interesting article about the background of the birth of padel.

    Kind regards,

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