What is it?
Striking a tennis ball with a racquet over a net into an opponent's court. Games are one on one (singles) or two on two (doubles). It's also a huge spectator sport.
What's needed? Tennis racquet, balls, comfortable clothing, tennis shoes, sunglasses, sunscreen, water.
The experience: All ages - from tots to retirees - use West End Lawn Tennis Club in Westmere. Here little ones whack tennis balls with teensy racquets to improve their hand-eye co-ordination. Older kids practise more refined techniques - some have gone on to nab overseas scholarships. Adults also enjoy the game with friends, or do drills to keep fit and be social.
The morning I'm here, 80-year-old Tim Mitchell is playing doubles with three mates. He says they come from throughout Auckland weekly and end the game with a catch-up over a cuppa.
Wednesday is mums' day, with an on-site creche. I'd fit into this category but because I've never played tennis I have a private lesson with Justin Mackenzie, the head coach. I'm in good hands. He was Auckland's 2011 tennis coach of the year and, as a teen, won the NZ nationals then played professionally overseas. Now he teaches full-time.
He teaches me forehand, backhand, volley shots and how to serve. I'm told the old "shake hands grip" is no longer the way to play, that I should pick up my racquet like "a fry pan" (which can put a spin on the ball). The backhand shot is like wielding "a sword" with both hands and it makes sense to carry the swing all the way through and over past my opposing shoulder, instead of coming to a dead stop after belting the ball. It's less effort. I follow the momentum through. I'm taught good timing and how to position my feet.
I'm surprised how much I pick up in an hour. In one lesson I learn what takes some people four to five lessons, says the coach, or perhaps he just has a knack for encouraging people.
From December 5-8 is the club's annual Wither Hills West End Cup, a tournament for NZ's top junior and senior players. The free event attracts top players and about 1500 spectators. Sacha Jones (a former No2 for NZ and now No6 in Aussie) will vie for the women's title against last year's champion, Emily Fanning (NZ's No5). NZ's No1 male player, Rubin Statham, and Artem Sitak (the defending champion) will also be there against Australia's No14, Dane Propoggia, and Adam Feeney (16th).
On the Saturday afternoon is The Super Ten, a fast, furious tournament similar to a Super Tie-Breaker (first to 10 points wins) which is open to the public. In this competition players compete against one of NZ's top names for a $500 prize.
How much? Annual membership is $360 seniors, $230 midweek ladies, $720 family.
Worth it? This club is in a neat spot by the seaside. Get a lesson and improve your play.
Try it: West End Lawn Tennis Club, 2 Fife St, Westmere, Auckland, ph (09) 376 4433, www.westendtennisclub.co.nz
Rachel wears: Icebreaker Sublime Long Sleeve $249.95; & Rush - Tights $129.95, www.icebreaker.com. adidas Stella McCartney 2005 Perf Tank $100, adidas.co.nz/stella/