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Culture, Sport

Ping Pong is coming to take over your shit

by James Cooper / 19.11.2010

What? Yes, that’s right, table tennis – or ping pong as every right minded person calls it – is gearing up for global supremacy.

Why? I have a few theories. But it might just be one of those things that a few hipsters get hold of and then either, depending on your perspective, ruin it for everyone, or turn it into mad mainstream fun.

Currently I am living in the US of A. One of the things I’ve noticed is that most teenage boys are desperate to beef up. They all want to be in the Football (American) or Basketball team. And to do that they need to “get big”. Go onto YouTube and you’ll find a ton of videos and comments about trying to build up muscles and body mass. Forget about talent, if you can’t get to 180 pounds by age 16 you’re a loser. This jock pattern is insidious and simply not sustainable as teenage boys go wibble after taking steroids and downing too many muscles shakes. And the loveable jock is now increasingly portrayed as the douchebag in many US movies and TV shows. I think over time less and less people will want to be a jock, but they still want to excel in sport. Ping pong offers a far more cerebral option, for some.

Ping Pong

Of course you need good hand eye co-ordination to do well at ping pong but it’s also a technical mind game. I’ve played against 60 year old dudes who look like they could barely make it off the couch. But with a simple flick of the wrist their spin has me cursing as I sky serve after serve. And I’ve played 10 year old kids who can barely see over the other side of the table and yet have a killer instinct that rivals Federer. And I played a one armed guy in Chinatown. He smoked me, literally. He had one arm, was beating me and smoking at the same time.

And for some reason ping pong is cool. There are clubs opening up all over the world. The swankiest is in New York. A club called SPiN is co-run by Susan Sarandon and has hosted parties for everyone from 50 Cent to the Gorillaz. In fact Damon Albarn is going into cahoots with Sarandon to open up a SPiN in London. But for every swanky joint like SPiN there are a hundred cool little bars in New York, Berlin, Stockholm, Japan that have one or maybe two tables. My favourite bar in the world is in some dude’s apartment in the Meguro district in Tokyo. He just turned a normal apartment block space into a small one table bar. He also played very moody house music.

Part of the appeal to people is the simplicity of the sport. You can play with a drink in one hand, paddle in the other. Or a joint, whatever. You can play seriously or just chat. I run a magazine called Celebrity Ping Pong where I interview people while playing a game. It’s amazing how open normally guarded people become when they start hitting a small orange ball back and forth. I think the simplicity aspect also appeals to people who are tired of too much technology or sports that require a lot of equipment. There is something very tactile and, dare I say zen, about a wooden paddle and an outdoor table. Tibetan monks play ping pong. Know what I mean?

Chalk Ping Pong Table

Where hipsters and monks go brands will surely follow. Puma have been running tournaments for a few years. Their Hipster PT3 parties in New York and Paris draw big crowds to sweaty disused warehouses or office spaces late into the night. K-Swiss have started to make specialist ping pong sneakers. Product and furniture designers have started geeking out over Ping Pong too. Tables have popped up in many TV shows, like Entourage and in movies as diverse as the last Harmony Korine movie, Mister Lonely, to slightly more mainstream fare like The Brothers Bloom.

So ping pong is hot. All you need to do is make the first hipster ping pong bar in Joburg or Cape Town and watch the bucks roll in, right? Well not so much. Nobody ever really made any money out of ping pong. But you know what, they made a ton of friends.

One other thing to consider. You know why China is so good at ping pong? In the 60’s Chairman Mao decided that China had to be the best at one sport. It didn’t really matter which sport but ping pong was the simplest and cheapest. So he set up a program. The rest is communist doctrine history. And now that South Africa is no longer any cop at Cricket or Rugby….

*James Cooper is the founding editor of Celebrity Ping Pong magazine.

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