The unlikely rise of . . . shuffleboard?
Tom Petty and REO Speedwagon boomed off the grandstand seats. Players were illuminated by twinkling white Christmas lights hanging from the rafters above the open-air setup. The hubbub was punctuated by the rhythmic smacking of heavy plastic discs against each other and the intermittent eruption of cheers. I stood, stunned into silence, marveling at this unfettered display of youthful vigor. When did shuffleboard — that bastion of geriatric time-killing — become cool?
Florida is home to all manner of kitschy roadside attractions, but the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club — which bills itself as the “world’s largest shuffleboard club” — is no Gatorland. I certainly wasn’t expecting a party. But when I arrived this spring, I was greeted by a tailgate gone tropical, with hundreds of people — natural hair and teeth intact — digging through beer coolers and crowding around dozens of smooth green courts.
I grew up with the occasional afternoon shuffle on the sun-bleached concrete courts near my grandparents’ condo. In my mind, shuffleboard was a retiree affair, a low-stakes game that required little brainpower and even less physical might. I decided to check out the Friday Night Shuffle in a fit of boredom, figuring I would shoot the shit with some salty old-timers, drink a beer, and call it a night. But that Friday was just the beginning.
A few weeks later, I was back in St. Pete interviewing dedicated league players and board members about the history and evolution of the club, trying to figure out if the scene I’d witnessed at the Friday Night Shuffle was a fluke or something like a renaissance. The St. Pete crew is committed — among its members are Florida’s youngest pro player (he’s 31), a computer programmer who makes shot-motion analysis videos for fun, and a decorated Hall of Famer who refused to give her age (“let’s just say it’s over 60”) and now coaches the next generation of competitive players. The club is hugely important to the sport — in addition to being the oldest and largest in the world, it’s where the modern rules of the game were standardized. This is, after all, the shuffleboard capital of the planet. But it’s not where it all started.
Read more at The Ringer.