Miami raises a racket over one of the fastest sports in the world: badminton.Photographs by Sean McCormick.
It’s a little after nine on a Tuesday night, and something strange is going on at a Miami gym.
Pausing from their workouts at the adjacent fitness center, a few sweaty onlookers gaze at the scene with looks of bemused curiosity. About two dozen people of all shapes, sizes, and ages are running, lunging, jumping, grunting, and occasionally shouting. They appear to be swatting with skinny rackets at feathery projectiles. It’s a blur of almost nonstop motion, a mix of finesse and surprising power. This can’t be badminton, that easygoing, cocktail-friendly game of backyard barbecues … can it?
Indeed it is.
But this version of badminton is a vibrant, in-your-face experience imported to Miami as the competitive, ultra-athletic sport much of the world knows it as. It has found a home in South Florida, at the athletic club of Shula’s Hotel and Golf Club. The specially built courts are lined ¬according to international standards; green walls enhance visibility of the white shuttlecock (otherwise known as a shuttle or birdie), and overhead air conditioning blows sideways so as not to interfere with the game’s airborne flight path.
Anyone is welcome to play. On this night, the crowd includes a few teenagers, more than a few gray-haired retirees, some lithe young men and women, and at least one fun-loving fellow with a Santa Claus physique. They hail from, among other places, Cuba, Peru, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and, of course, Miami.
Between matches, 23-year-old Julio Diaz sits down and ponders the sport he loves. As a teenager, he played for Puerto Rico’s badminton team, traveling to Spain, Cuba, Peru, and Guatemala for tournaments. When he moved to the United States a few years ago, Diaz realized few people here were familiar with competitive indoor badminton. “It’s a weird sport,” he says in halting English. “Nobody knows what it is.”