NEW PORT RICHEY — Justin Lawrence had always wanted to break a world record. Soon he'll read his name in the Guinness World Records book for an obscure game called pickleball — a combination of tennis, badminton and ping pong.
Lawrence, 25, teamed with Jeffrey Baker, 18, to play for 24 hours straight at the New Port Richey Recreation Center, where they both work.
"It was exhausting,'' Lawrence said, "but I would do it again, without a doubt."
Pickleball is played on a court 20 feet wide and 44 feet long. It is divided by a net 36 inches high. It is similar to tennis, but players use a wiffle ball and paddles made of wood or composite materials.
"I actually tried to play it for about five minutes and I have to say it's a lot more strenuous than it looks," said Parks and Recreation director Elaine Smith, who served as a witness to the record. "It's a very exciting sport, and there is definitely skill involved. It's like taking Olympic table tennis and increasing the size of the court."
Witnesses took four-hour shifts. "I really felt a lot of pressure," Smith said. "You really had to be on top of the timing of it all, because if you're off, you could jeopardize their record. I couldn't believe the energy level they maintained throughout it. In the final hours, they were diving for balls and really trying hard. It was so exciting to see because to have a world record broken here is good for the center."
The men began playing at 7 p.m. Saturday and took only short water breaks between games. Guinness had approved the 24-hour criteria in advance, because nobody else had tried to set a record playing pickleball — developed in the 1960s in Washington state.
"After about three or four hours, we were starting to get pretty tired," Baker said.
"I think we definitely made an impact in getting the sport out there," Lawrence said. "A lot of people who come in to play basketball or do other things in the gym were watching us and became curious about the game. We have big glass windows all around the gym and I think it really got people talking to see what we were doing."
Lawrence has a goal of breaking multiple world records. Now that he has a notch on his belt for pickleball, he has targeted running the fastest half marathon — dressed as a mascot.