Road Tennis: The Traditional Sport of Barbados

© Brighter Group
© Brighter Group
Photo of Luke Bradshaw
Sports Editor27 June 2017

Tennis in July means one thing, and one thing only: Wimbledon. That is, unless you’re in Barbados, where you’ll find a completely different kind of game with no net and no grass; it’s called road tennis.

This version of the racquet sport, played either on small courts or simply on the street, originated in Barbados in the 1930s. Most play the game on the road, but officially a court should be 20-feet long and 10-feet across, with an eight-inch ‘net’ on the tarmac. When the game first started, a standard tennis ball was used, but over time the ball was ‘skinned’ with the felt taken off to leave just the inside. Similarly, rackets are wooden – resembling large table tennis paddles without the rubber – rather than the strung composite rackets seen at the All England Club.

© Brighter Group

Decades ago, before courts were officially marked out on flat surfaces, courts were simply designated with marlstones, and the net was nothing more than a piece of wood. Rather than use lawn tennis’ scoring system, the game adopted scoring like that of table tennis.

The short court means rallies are rapid, and there are plenty of close volleys. Quick reactions are essential.

Across the island there are hundreds of courts to play on, and because the equipment needed is basic it’s easy to play off the cuff and start casual games whenever it takes your fancy.

As well as the courts across the country, there are places that will even offer lessons. For example, Crystal Cove offer their guests complimentary road tennis classes, no matter their age or skill level. The lessons are taught by Curtis Bailey, a local legend, with over 30 years experience playing the game. Bailey has even represented Barbados in regional tournaments.

As well as Crystal Cove – Colony Club and Turtle Beach Resort also have road tennis courts guests can play on. Colony Club and Crystal Cove are both on the west coast of the island, while Turtle Beach Resort is on the south coast.

According to the Professional Road Tennis Association the game is inclusive; they state it’s “played by people from all social classes, age groups, sex, race, and religion”.

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