Even when most run for cover in air conditioning, Longboat Key's dedicated tennis players head to the court.
A spray of green dust, a well-placed shot. Heavy breathing and quick directions to a doubles partner. Dripping sweat and refuge from the sun under an umbrella. Despite the heat, this is how many Longboaters spend most of their days and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
“We’re just crazy,” Allen Yaruss said. “It’s freaking hot, and you can quote me on that.”
Yet he still turned toward the tennis courts, ready to play. It was after 11 a.m., the sun high in the sky. The Weather Channel’s “sweat index” status read, “Very Uncomfortable.”
If you pass by the Longboat Key Tennis Center’s many courts, there are nearly always players no matter the temperature. Sometimes there’s even a line to hit the court. Members will often spectate and socialize from the second-floor deck of the tennis center’s building, even if they aren’t playing that day.
“Tennis is our passion,” said Wibeke Kirsch, visiting from Denmark. “It’s a chance to be social with friends. You can go in an air-conditioned fitness club, or you can go (here) under an umbrella and get so much social time.”
Newcomers are greeted instantly by spectators, whether they’re known or not. From the deck, calls of encouragement are sent down to the players duking it out, and all playing seem to hear about the same amount of encouragement.
“This island has a tremendous tennis community,” said Arden Allen. “We have the Colony (Beach and Tennis Resort) to thank for that.”
The Colony, closed since 2009, gained international fame as one of the premier tennis resorts. It attracted celebrities, tennis superstars and first hosted the Nick Bolletieri tennis academy.
Often, members just get in the habit of going and playing whenever they can, even if that means going when the mercury climbs past 90 — or on days they shouldn’t, as Yaruss said he’s done before.
“We’re just a group of friends, so used to each other’s presence that it’s habit. Just a group that is constantly meeting,” said Yaruss.
The group aspect is key to why some players sweat it out: Not everyone wants to get up early enough to beat the heat, but you have to prepare for it. Yaruss’ group meets at 10:30.
“We drink and drink and drink,” said Yaruss. “It’s all about trying to stay hydrated.”
It’s vital to stay hydrated, because when the dew point rises and makes sweating a nearly instant condition of being outside, the water is leaving your body nearly as fast as it’s taking it in.
“It’s a natural detox, you sweat out all that stuff,” said Karen Jennings. “It feels good!”
While an inexperienced Floridian would practically melt into their shoes, the tennis regulars are calm, even if they’re not cool. The heat exists, but it doesn’t really bother them.
“You do get used to (the heat),” said Allen, whose husband still plays singles tennis most days a week at age 90.
Brenda Terihay, who plays on the USTA 3.5 league team, says it’s just heat conditioning. When traveling to Orlando for sectionals or any competition, you don’t know when you’re going to play and they have to play at any time to get ready for a potential noon match. Sharpening her game extends beyond the heat as she and her teammates often continue playing through rain.
“Unless we think we’re going to slide off the courts or get struck by lightning, we play,” she said.
After a storm is one of the few times you’ll find the clay courts empty, but as soon as things dry up the players are back at it. Love in tennis is synonymous with zero, but Longboaters’ love for tennis is much more than that.