Competition has never been my strong suit. The only sport I’ve ever actively enjoyed is bowling, and that had more to do with the funky shoes and pitchers of cold beer. But when I was invited to Florida’s St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, the largest in the world, to play the centuries-old game, I thought perhaps my limited athletic skills might translate to a sport of a similar pace.
Still, I needed encouragement. My younger sister, Maria, tagged along for what was meant to be moral support—and the selection of local beers from 3 Daughters Brewing we brought (the Shuffleboard Club is a popular BYOB destination) didn’t hurt either.
“We have really mastered the multigenerational activity here,” said St. Pete Shuffleboard Club executive director Christine Page as she showed us around the property, which opened in 1924. Due to the communal nature of the game, it has become increasingly popular among younger players. On Friday nights at the club, the scene looks more like a college football tailgate than the courtyard of a retirement home.
As we walked along the trophy wall—replete with team photos and statuettes dating back to the 1930s—Christine recounted the positive impact the sport has had on her life since she joined the club as a volunteer 15 years ago. Formerly a web developer, Christine has since made shuffleboard her primary vocation and competed in tournaments in Vienna and Rio.
To my mind, web-developer-turned-shuffleboard-champion was akin to writer-turned-shuffleboard-prodigy. My confidence began to build.
It was quickly deflated by Ally Mayville, a volunteer whom Christine asked to show us the ropes. “There’s an unwritten rule in shuffleboard,” Ally warned. “Do not walk on the court.” I heard her instruction right as I stepped onto the bottom of the court’s triangle. I was off to a rough start.
My misstep was a harbinger of defeats to come. After running through the shuffleboard lingo with Ally, I grabbed my cue and took my first shot. It came to rest in the slot I’d accidentally stepped in earlier—as Ally informed me, this space is known as “the kitchen.” Sliding a disk (or “biscuit,” in shuffleboard parlance) into this area knocks ten points off your score and welcomes ridicule from your opponents. “Are you making soup tonight?” Ally jeered as she mimed stirring a pot. My sister joined in before scoring eight points on her first try. “She’s a natural,” Ally told us. My atrophied competitive side began to stir.
“Elbow loose, right step, left step, go,” Ally advised. I assumed the position and let go, hoping my frustration would surge through my cue and knock my biscuit into the top slot to recoup the points I’d lost before I ever earned them. But when I looked up, Ally and Maria were both stirring their imaginary pots.
A typical shuffleboard game lasts up to 75 points, but Ally put me out of my misery early. With a final score of 18 to 46, she knew I’d likely stay in “the kitchen” all night, which, if you listen to the trash talk of my sister, might be the only kitchen I’m at home in—I’m not a very good cook, either.