Janika Wijkmark and her partner Karl fell in love with the sport while holidaying in Barcelona. Fast-forward five years, and they’ve turned Padel Malta into a local phenomenon among locals and expats alike. They share the journey with Ramona Depares.
‘Padel Malta’ – Almost as soon as I see the signs pointing to the courts in Pembroke, I am greeted by a cheery good morning and the sight of two couples engaged in a friendly match. Monday morning it may be, but Padel Malta is already going strong.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably part of the iGaming community, which means that you either play padel yourself, or at the very least know someone who does. Just in case you actually need an explanation, however, padel is a racquet sport typically played in doubles in a small court.
It can be described as a mix between tennis and squash, but way easier and more social. This is how Janika Wijkmark, founder and COO of Padel Malta, and her husband Karl, describe it to me. Because yes, sadly – and much to the amusement of colleagues and peers – I am yet to be initiated in the ways of Padel.
But I’m in luck. Janika’s and Karl’s enthusiasm is such that, five minutes into our conversation I find myself agreeing to attend the next Padel Malta rodeo, when newbies are introduced to the sport via a series of informal matches (and via post-match beers too, of course).
“Karl and I were on holiday in Barcelona when we first played padel. Why did we take to it so much? Possibly because it is a very easy game to master, even if you’ve never played a racquet sport. From the very first, we had a good game. You can’t say that of many sports… that you hit the court for the first time and you have a blast immediately. Padel is like that,” Janika starts off.
It wasn’t too long before Padel Malta became more than a glimmer in her eye. In the couple’s own words, it was crazy that there was no padel in Malta, especially given the huge expat community and how popular it is with them.
“I decided to focus my Masters’ dissertation on creating a business plan for Padel Malta, and from then on it was all systems go. We started looking for land – which took a good two years – and getting ready to be the first to introduce padel to Malta,” she continues.
Padel Malta – just for the iGaming crowd?
At this point, the question begs itself – is Padel Malta only for the iGamers and the expats? There is no denying that the entire iGaming community is pretty taken by it, and I confess to being somewhat mystified.
But, as Janika tells me, there’s no mystery about it. Padel is huge across Europe, so many expats are already familiar with it. They love the strong social aspect to the game – it’s all about hanging out at the club, enjoying a chat or a drink after a match. The sport has also helped those who recently relocate to the island to find a community of like-minded people and a safe space where to socialise.
“Padel Malta is definitely not only for iGamers. It’s true that the community loves it, for the simple reason that the sport provides a familiar safety net. But it’s gaining popularity with the Maltese too, and at a very fast rate! When we first opened the courts, the ratio would’ve been about 80% expats. Now, it’s more like 60% versus 40%, and the number of Maltese who play padel keeps increasing,” Janika says.
Of course, from the point of view of the iGaming community, Padel Malta couldn’t be located in a better spot, it has to be said. Surrounded by Pembroke greenery, the site used to be used as tennis court during British times, and was later repurposed to a five-aside football pitch.
“Central as it is, it’s the perfect location for Padlers – as we affectionately refer to Padel Malta players – located around the Sliema, St Julian’s and Msida area. The land was in a bit of a state when we first found it, so it was quite a job to bring it to this standard – but I’m so glad we did,” Janika adds.
The Padel Malta journey
Padel Malta has now been open since January 2020 – not the most auspicious of periods to launch the sport on the island, one might say. COVID-19 precautions led to the venue having to close for some months, but now it’s back with a bang as regulars have returned with full enthusiasm, rediscovering their love for the sport.
And anyone who’s anyone in iGaming has certainly responded extremely well to the Padel Malta phenomenon. During the hour or so I spend on site, I notice that Videoslots and Betpoint Group logo on the court; a massive billboard contains information about the Enteractive Tournament, which apparently is where it all goes down in terms of competitiveness. Recently on a Friday, for example, courts are taken over by Kindred for team-building activities; Internet Vikings run their own quarterly tournament… the list goes on, and I realise that it’s no wonder that Padel Malta has also become something of a networking staple for the iGaming community that wants to network while getting some good exercise and having fun.
“What we love, though, is how Padlers feel so at home at Padel Malta. Some people come solo to make new friends, others join in with their mates, colleagues have a bit of a friendly bashing on the courts… it’s good fun”.
And, if things get a bit on the competitive side every so often, no-one lets themselves be worried. It is all made up with a beer and a laugh afterwards, Janika finishes off with a smile. What’s sure is that there are many opportunities for Malta’s iGaming companies to get involved, whether through organising events, team-building or sponsorship opportunities. The best part? It’s unbeatable fun!
Follow the Padel Malta page on Facebook for more information, or send an e-mail to [email protected]
Padel Malta: Know your Trivia
What is padel?
Padel is a sport that is very similar to tennis and is officially played in doubles.
Is padel a popular sport?
For sure! Padel is the fastest-growing sport in the world. It is especially well-loved in Spain, where it is only second to football in terms of popularity. Part of the reason behind its popularity is the fact that it is considered very simple to play, even for complete novices.
How is padel scored?
Scoring works the same way as in tennis.
Who invented padel?
Padel was invented by Argentinian Julio Menditenguia in 1975. The millionnaire started playing it in Marbella, and then took it to Argentina, where it remains intensely popular until today. The country in fact offers over 10,000 padel courts.
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