By Samantha Thompson
Cong Xioa stands back from the table, crouched over with his paddle up, ready to strike. Suddenly, he leaps to return teammate Gordon Tam’s shot as he catches it just in time to send it roaring down the side of the table with a forceful backhand stroke. This is definitely no game of beer pong.
While many college students see ping pong-an Olympic sport-as the sister-sport of games like Beirut and beer pong, it is actually one of the most competitive and popular sports in the world.
"To a lot of Americans and people in general it’s just a chill sport for recreation, but it’s not like that at all," freshman ping ponger Johnny Lam said. "You need to use muscles from your shoulders all the way down to your calves."
Xioa, a junior, emigrated from China 13 years ago and has periodically spent time training there. Table tennis is China’s national sport.
Upon arriving at UC Santa Cruz three years ago, he resurrected the table tennis club, which had died when its last president graduated.
"I came [to UCSC] because I knew there was a club here," Xioa said. "When I found out that the club didn’t really exist anymore, I decided to start my own club."
Xioa isn’t the only team member with previous experience outside of the country. Johnny Lam was also introduced to the game before coming to the United States.
"I moved here from Hong Kong six years ago," Lam said. "I played in elementary school for three or four years [in Hong Kong]."
After Xioa distributed flyers around campus and got the Office of Physical Education, Recreation and Sports to advertise the club in the recreational guide, he set up a stand at the fall festival prompting over 200 responses from students, including Lam. Despite the large number of people who initially signed up, only about 10 were serious enough to show up on the first day of practice.
"There are a lot of [ping pong] enthusiasts," said senior Rhesa Adrian, a member of the club and recent immigrant from Indonesia. "But they don’t really take it seriously."
While the team competes at a much higher level than your average basement ping-pong star (the team competes in the National Collegiate Table Tennis Association), members of the team still invite anybody who wants to play for fun to participate.
"We definitely want to make the club bigger and have more and more people join, and teach them a stroke or two," Lam said.
Xioa hopes to spread table tennis’s popularity on campus, but also hopes to expand it at a national level in the United States.
"Give it a try," Xiao said, "and see how competitive ping pong is."