The pairing of rubber and sponge in seemingly infinite combinations is a catastrophe. It has ruined ping pong (and created “table tennis”). The result of the unfortunate marriage of these two materials creates a game that is too fast and too tricky. Result: the points are short. Besides that, it (the sponge game) is not suitable for TV. Forget about it being boring, they just can’t do the technical things modern day audiences expect from a sports telecast. For example, no one could possibly be able to detect the deft spins applied to the ball in real time action. Slow motion replay would be required, but that’s well-nigh impossible given that most points are 3 ball exchanges – a serve, a return and a putaway – and play would be resumed in seconds before a replay could even be contemplated. Without TV, there is no real commercial value in table tennis. It will forever be mired with second or third- tier sports (e.g., dazzling curling and the breathtaking Olympic walking).
One thing I notice about anyone picking up and playing with one of my sandpaper rackets, is that the average player usually can hit underneath the ball (underspin) but that they have huge difficulty in topping it (topspin). It’s obviously related to the fact that you can’t ‘grab’ the ball the same way with a sandpaper racket as with a sponge paddle with soft rubber. And that is a good thing. The nature of the sandpaper curtails a player from resorting to the use of tricks in the form of artful spins in order to deceive his opponent. The end result of this is less attacking and more defensive-type play, leading to longer points. Longer points usually correlates with more fun.
We have arrived at our first principle. Basic Truth Numero Uno: Less spin (with less trickery) = more fun.
You can’t hit the ball as fast with a sandpaper racket as you can with sponge and rubber. This doesn’t mean you can’t whack the ball real hard. You can. It just means you’re not going to be aided by the trampoline effect from the sponge and springy rubber and you’d be outgunned if you attempt to go toe to toe topspin with someone skilled with a sponge paddle. So, it’s obvious that sandpaper is slower. But make no mistake, a slower game also translates to longer rallies. That leads us to our second principle:
Basic Truth Numero Dos: Less speed = more fun.
Then there’s the moral/spiritual/philosophical side of this. Do you think you should win because you’re using a technological marvel costing 400 bucks which can transform inconsequential flick shots into whizzing projectiles or, which with a modest brush with the rubber, can impart astonishing spin able to cause freakish rebounds off the opponent’s cheaper, inferior racket? I say no. (And if you’re guided by ethical and moral principles, you should say “no,” too. At a minimum, you should insist that everyone use the SAME racket to make the contest fair.) Pure ping pong ability should rule the roost – basic skills devoid of synthetic enhancements. And mark my words, there is no end to the technological one-upmanship. It’s like spy vs. spy in the old Mad comic books. When one guy comes up with something, the other guy is not far behind with something to trump his rival. And do I have to tell you that the cost of these innovations aren’t necessarily cheap. Me? I go to Home Depot once a year – sometimes less – and buy a few sheets of sandpaper which I glue onto my rackets with Elmer’s glue. Which leads us to…
Basic Truth Numero Tres: Sandpaper ping pong is the perfect sport for cheapskates.
I say bring back Dick Miles and Marty Riesman. And Victor Borna. We should be praying to their statues, or at least we should carve their faces into Mt. Rushmore alongside those other guys out in South Dakota. These ping pong giants should be enshrined and resurrected.
And here’s another thing: When you play with sandpaper you can actually hear the sounds for which the sport is named: Ping and Pong. Don’t muffle your enthusiasm with materials that should be confined to mops or squeegees.
And one more last thing before I drink my Ovaltine and go to sleep. I forgot to mention that with a sandpaper racket you also have the extra bonus of being able to file your fingernails. With the squishies (sponge rubber), you can only buff your gums (as they used to say in the Army). I have spoken. Lao Du