Valhalla Pickleball goes to PPA Gold Cup at Pictona Hills

It was a big day of Mixed Doubles battles and a big day for Valhalla Pickleball as we attended the Carvana PPA Event at Pictona Hills in Daytona Beach, FL. We spent the day taking photos, as well as meeting fans & spectators, vendors, amateur players, and of course some of the pros! Plus we got to meet Night Hawk & Dragon aka The HYPE GUYS!!

(Extended Story): This event proved to be nothing short of an experience. Woke up in my usual tussle, struggling to get my feet under me as mornings raids are not my thing. As I made my way, from the 'Treasure Coast', through the 'Space Coast' and finally arriving on the 'First Coast' I wondered what my first pro pickleball event might hold in store...would I get to take some cool photos and would I meet new Vikings as I strike out to an event worlds of difference from local rec. My fellow Viking brother Rich Henrich was meeting me there before heading on to Savannah. I was excited as I had no idea what to expect, but as long as Rich was with me, it's always sure to be an adventure! The night before was the usual, me scrambling to decide what camera gear to take (and now also what pickleball gear to take), charge batteries, organize, pack, and due to my OCD, go over everything ten more times. I first arrived around 10am in the morning, to find that I had know idea where to park and even less of an idea where I was supposed to go. After a lot of driving around, and the first overflow lot filling up, I pulled in and was blessed by the Gods for the first time of the day when I rolled down my window to pay and the attendant taking money waved me in! Huzzah!!

After parking I gathered my gear and double checked my bag before heading into the event to find Rich. As I neared the entrance, the buzz was in the air and the excitement was palpable. I entered and found the registration desk, as I attempted to purchase my ticket, I took the opportunity to ask about any photography restrictions (I was just there to shoot some photos and get some content), and the nice woman helping me said "no, none that I'm aware of"..."ok, cool!" I replied. The card machine was acting up and the wonderful woman turned to me and said, "well if it's not gonna take your money, then I'm not gonna charge you" and proceeded give me a wristband. The Gods had smiled on me for a second time that day, and given the non-existent budget, I was not going to say No.

I stepped into the Championship Court arena for the first time. It was as if everything around me fell silent as I took in the spectacle. To most in attendance, it seemed like this was just another competition in their favorite sport, like they had seen it all before, but for some...some you could see the excitement beaming from their eyes and their smiles. They couldn't hide it...they were here to see the show and experience everything it had to offer! The pros, the play, the in-between action and drama they wanted it ALL!! And guess what, the pros were giving it to them! Now I would be lying if I tried to make you think I knew who all the players were (and I still don't fyi), but I did know the legend before me battling on the courts...he goes by Jonny Pickleball. I took the opportunity to capture a few pics before continuing on to explore.

At this point I couldn't find Rich and was wondering why he was missing the action on the main court! I made my way past the covered area to discover a vast number of outdoor courts, still damp from the morning weather. I continued into the area know as vendor village which was still in build out mode on Friday, obviously focused on the weekend crowds. As I made my way past the village I spotted an enormous covered court area, I spotted Rich and we greeted each other in the traditional Viking manner. As I peered over his shoulder, I realized why I hadn't seen him yet. I saw crowds gathered around a row of courts and instantly caught the silhouette of the most famous hair buns since Princess Leia....Jessie Irvine!! Poised and on the attack! Riley Newman, whom Irvine played with as part of the Chicago Slice MLP team previously, was her Mixed Doubles partner for the days competition.

As we continued to spectate the fierce battles before us I realized I had never seen this level of play in-person, let alone happening on multiple courts all around me. I was hard to know where to look and what to watch! The action was intense. And for every good play you were lucky enough to see, there were many other amazing feats happening simultaneously that you couldn't help but miss. It was electrifying, like watching the Gods do battle in the heavens. It was almost surreal as you watch these finely tuned warriors play with such skill and precision as to give you an entirely new perspective on the sport that you play so casually...or maybe you think you have what it takes to play with the pros? To push yourself to the brink, to dink like there's no tomorrow, to drill until you have nothing left, and then go back and do it again the next day, again and again, until one day when you're ready to come back and challenge the champions. Do you have what it takes?!

We made our way back to the championship court arena and I settled in to watch some pickleball and capture some pros in action! It was a very casual day in terms of pro events and security was at a minimum. Meaning, in hindsight I really could've gone just about anywhere but didn't know it at the time. At the end of the day, I was really there to see one player in action...Tyson McGuffin, and the most electrifying man in sports did not disappoint. Engaging the crowd, taking pictures and signing autographs for fans, lots of passion, lots of emotion, he is truly the peoples champion, and regardless of having the number one title, he is a number one fan favorite for sure!

Speaking of pumping up the crowd!! I ran into the infamous duo known as The Hype Guys!!! Nighthawk & Dragon a pair of pickleball players and enthusiasts, turned crowd engagement and specialists of all things Hype-tastic in this world. These two Texas based personalities were part of the PPA tours family and brought the energy to the crowd in Daytona without a doubt. MC'ing, games with the spectators, and even one-on-one's with fans taking plenty of selfies! I spoke with Erik Iverson, one half of the charismatic duo. I told him of my quest to increase the Viking population within the sport and he expressed his enthusiastic support. It won't be the last time we see this pair of Hype warriors...or should I say Hype Vikings! 

The battles continued into the evening and I watched some of the very best players battle for their chance at championship Sunday. As the end of the day drew near, I was even more comfortable with my shooting situation. There was a moment when the power went down momentarily and all the lights went out during the semi-final match between Catherine Parenteau & Tyson McGuffin vs Vivianne David & Thomas Wilson. The lights recovered and the players decided to replay the point. Shortly after that the ball was into out of play into McGuffin's corner, the same corner I was shooting in. The ball rolled behind the Takeya prop piece and as Tyson leaned on it to reach for the ball, it started to fall over into the backdrop set piece, and then that started to fall over like a domino. I reacted and caught both pieces before they crashed to the floor, and Tyson retrieved the ball probably not even realizing what almost happened. Funny thing is no more than 10 secs later I got a tap on the shoulder and was asked for my media credentials by the Head of Media. To which I replied something to the effect of " credentials? I didn't know Vikings needed credentials". I decided it was a good time to pack up.

I watched so many good matches and stood next to some of the best players in the world. That event goes down as one of my favorite pb experiences so far.