How It Works: The Tennis Bubble

If the Amish played more tennis, I feel quite certain that this is the way they would go about winterizing their courts. Each fall they would gather friends and family and have a tennis court bubble raising. Essentially, that's the way it’s been done and undone by the folks at Vineyard Youth Tennis (VYT) in Oak Bluffs for the past dozen years – minus the strudel.

VYT provides free tennis instruction for hundreds of Island kids each year, and as with most nonprofits every dollar counts. “My predecessor hired a crew from New York,” explained executive director Scott Smith. “But that cost a lot of money. So when I took over I thought, well, there’s a good place where we can save some money; we’ll use volunteers.”

A small off-Island crew still supervises the operation, but the grunt work is done by local volunteers, who are often parents of kids in the program.

Two days prior to the bubble raising – generally in mid-October – the courts are cleared of all nets, benches, and teaching apparatuses and plastic is spread across the clay surface to keep the bubble top clean before it is inflated.

“On the day we put it up, we need between twenty and forty volunteers to spread the top out across the courts and get it in place,” explained Smith. It’s not unlike what you see when the crew rolls out the tarps at Fenway Park. Except, since the bubble has to withstand high winds and blizzards, if anything, it’s even heavier than a baseball tarp. “It’s hard,” said Smith, “we definitely work up a sweat.”

The top comes in two sections that are attached together with bolts, and it is secured to the ground by feeding the edge into a slot. Then, during the fifteen minutes it takes to inflate, “taller volunteers” run in and attach the lights to the rising ceiling, while others spray foam into the inevitable leaks at the base.

It would be nice to think that once the bubble was up you were done for the season, but that’s wishful thinking. “The bubble’s a constant problem,” Smith said. “The engines fail, there are leaks. New England winters have been real hard on it.”

Two years ago, during a particularly severe winter storm, not only did the facility lose power, the back-up system failed as well and the bubble totally collapsed. However, all is not lost if the bubble collapses. “It’s possible that the lighting fixtures could break when the roof deflates,” said Smith, “and you have to be real careful when you reinflate the bubble to make sure it doesn’t get snagged on things like the nets or chairs, but so far we’ve been pretty lucky.”

He hopes that someday VYT will have a year-round facility and he won’t have to live in fear of blizzards or even worse – volunteers not showing up to help. But in the meantime, the old bubble has served the kids of the Vineyard well. Just make sure you keep the door shut. You don’t want to let the air out. 

Comments (1)

Constantin Parv
West Babylon New York
Firs I want to congratulate for the excellent job you doing on helping these kids enjoy this beautiful sport of tennis . I am a PE teacher and a tennis coach and would like to put a bubble for the winter on two courts which are never used.The courts are totally neglected and the nets are missing fore the past year or so. How can I get this project moving ?Help ......
January 27, 2017 - 12:43pm