Padel is a buzzy, fashion-friendly fitness trend that luxury brands are taking adavantage of
Padel is a buzzy, fashion-friendly fitness trend that luxury brands are taking adavantage of
Image: Jaime De Diego / Red Bull Content Pool

I took a different route home on my usual morning run at the weekend. As I crept up a steep suburban street somewhere around Rosebank in Johannesburg, I could see in the distance a number of vehicles parked on either side of the road. Range Rovers, Porsches and a Ferrari gleamed in the morning sun as I ran past, wondering whether a new breakfast spot had just opened up in the middle of this residential area. But then I remembered, as I got closer, that there is a padel court up the road. 

Now, a padel court in The Parks of Johannesburg is nothing new. They began mushrooming all over the place as soon as we could all be outside postpandemic.

Padel is “a racket sport that blends aspects of both tennis and squash, commonly played in doubles on a confined court”, per a definition by L’Officiel. According to the publication: “One of the key distinctions between tennis and padel lies in the equipment. Padel rackets differ from tennis rackets in that they are solid and crafted from composite materials. Though the balls used resemble standard tennis balls, they are designed with lower pressure.

“The padel court occupies a third of the space of a tennis court and is surrounded by walls and a wire mesh fence, with a net dividing it into two halves. Despite their unique features, both tennis and padel share a common scoring system.”

According to the International Padel Federation (because, yes, that exists), there are more than 25-million active players of this once obscure sport in 110 countries worldwide.

The sport — what some call a cross between squash and tennis — is so popular that it’s been reported that clubs are keeping waiting lists, and investors are pouring in to fund the building of new facilities. Back in 2022, Dutch footballer Virgil van Dijk, and British tennis player and seven-time Grand Slam doubles winner Jamie Murray became investors in Game4Padel and in Spain, padel is the most popular participation sport outside football. 

In SA specifically, a Daily Maverick report from earlier this year, put the number of padel courts at just fewer than 200. More than 100,000 players are registered through the Playtomic platform, used for bookings nationwide. This is lightning-fast growth considering the country only saw its first two padel courts in Cape Town in late 2020, and these numbers, reported just a few months ago, might already be out of date if the sport’s most recent growth figures globally are anything to go by.

Using padel courts in SA costs R200-R600 per hour. Rackets can be hired for about R50, or purchased for R1,000-R8,000 each. To put it plainly: it is an extremely expensive sport. It therefore makes sense that brands such as Prada, Versace and others are moving in to cash in on the craze. 

A Prada padel racket will set you back a cool R38,000, while Versace has sets retailing at about R30,000.

Members-only courts are beginning to pop up, and the likes of Swiss watchmaker Richard Mille, as well as British luxury brand Dunhill are sponsoring tournaments.

SA’s Baldwin Properties recently announced a R1-million prize money tournament alongside a plan to build six new courts at Mall of Africa in Midrand, Johannesburg. If this doesn’t demonstrate the mainstream appeal of padel, I don’t know what does. 

It is all happening while the marriage between sports, fashion and luxury looks closer than before. Just last year, Serena Williams received the Council of American Fashion Designers’ Icon award. This is an accolade that had until then only been awarded to music and movie stars such as Naomi Campbell, Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Iman. This demonstrates a culture in which sportspeople have become outsize influencers in their own right.

Couple it with the relative easiness of the game, and the social element that padel offers and you have the perfect recipe for a buzzy, fashion-friendly fitness trend. 

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