Ping pong – also known as table tennis – has long been a popular sport in China, and is traditionally played in garages around Australia.
Now there’s an underground movement sweeping the world, with celebrities and amateur players alike wielding their paddles.
Ping pong enthusiast Time Boreham says it started as a diversion in downtime in between surfing, matches being played in a northern Sydney garage, overflowing to a local bar.
‘And then it became an obsession and we were playing 5 or 7 nights a week’, Boreham says.
His friend Matt Pike says it was only then they found ‘that it was suddenly becoming cool again in New York at exactly the same time that we were playing here – it kind of had a weird transcendancy.’
Players from London to Berlin are getting hooked, with actress Susan Sarandon, starting several US clubs.
‘I am a ping pong propagandist’, she says. ‘I love spreading the world on how much fun ping pong is and I love the fact that it kind of equalises the playing field that little girls can beat cocky muscie-bound guys.’
The ping pong enthusiasts decided to make a documentary about New York’s ‘underground’ scene.
They played rapper Wally Green, former Sunday Times editor Sir Harold Evans and self-professed hustler, Marty Riesman.
‘Basically I’m a money player, I play whereever the money is, I take on the best players in the world’, says Riesman.
But in China, ping pong has long been a serious sport.
And Chinese-Australians make up half of this Sydney club, with numbers doubling in five years.
‘It’s chinese culture to play with balls and it doesn’t take up a lot of room’, says player Kit Ling Chow.
Yingwei Liu credits the game with even more.
‘Ping pong gives me a lot of happiness, it exposes my shortcomings and helps me to find my true self.’
In the 1970s, the sport helped to thaw US-Chinese relations.
Teams were involved in an exchange visit,later called ‘ping pong diplomacy’, paving the way for President Richard Nixon’s visit to China.
At inner-city bar Doctor Pong, the mood is more mellow – drinkers unaware they are part of a worldwide trend.
From New York to Sydney, players are taking up their bats and they say the game is a great unifier, bringing together people from many different backgrounds.
Filmmakers, Tim and Matt, now need funding to follow up their documentary characters whose profiles are growing, along with the game’s popularity.
“I think that was the most beautiful thing about ping pong, it was just that ability to bring people together and it doesn’t matter what age, race, your background, you don’t even have to speak the same language”, Tim Boreham says.
They say that playing ping pong is like having a conversation over the table.