Bart Boughton doesn’t like to lose. Though he lives and works in Manhattan, the native Texan dominated Williamsburg ping pong last Tuesday, August 28th, besting 31 other players at the Tiger Pong Rally Party, a monthly tournament hosted by PIPS – Table Tennis & Art Space.
The event was hotly anticipated by members of Tiger Pong, a table tennis league sponsored by Singapore-based Tiger Beer, which began in June at PIPS and meets at the Roebling Street venue every Tuesday night. The league currently boasts 13 teams, each representing either a digital media company or a local community shop. Most of the players are North Brooklyn residents, and games are open to anyone over age 21. (Typically, four teams are scheduled to play each week. But if one’s a no-show, a group of “freelancers” is always eager to fill in.) And while the matches remain laser-focused and highly competitive, the atmosphere is inviting and congenial, much of which is due to the community-building efforts of PIPS staff.
“PIPS started as a pop-up,” recalled co-owner and league member Bill Mack. (He plays for No. 1 seed Mikey’s Hook Up.) “I was playing ping pong in a tournament [PIPS co-owner] Mike [Weiss] sponsored on Bedford Avenue in 2008. Mike and I talked about setting up a place like this, which we did last July. The neighborhood seems to love us, and we want to expose more people to this sport in their adult lives. We intend to keep a community basement feel, but we’ve always wanted to make ping pong more competitive, and that’s where Tiger Beer stepped in.”
The company’s sponsorship of the league seems a natural fit. Many brands have started to invest in non-traditional advertising, but still seek platforms relevant to their product. In 2011, Red Bull Creation, an annual 72-hour “build-a-thon,” was held in McCarren Park, drawing large crowds from the neighborhood and throughout the city. “Teaming up with PIPS made sense because ping pong is prevalent in South-East Asia,” said North American Tiger Beer Product Manager Shannon Flannigan. “Plus, it’s so fun to see a sport where people can get so competitive and then just have a beer afterwards.” Players and friends at the rally party were treated to free Tiger Beer as well food from Vanessa’s Dumpling House (310 Bedford Avenue).
PIPS runs entirely on donations as well as private and group classes from a certified coaching staff. A special membership is offered for $60 per month, but anyone can walk in from 1pm to midnight, sign their name on the chalkboard and play a game, best 2 out of 3. In fact, half the players at the Tiger Pong Rally weren’t even on league teams. “It’s the Williamsburg way,” declared Tiger Pong curator Graham Slick, who also plays for Mikey’s Hookup. “A lot of friendships are created through ping pong. Everybody starts off terrible, but this is a good place to begin. Players will always give a tip. It’s much more about camaraderie than competition.”
As addictive as table tennis can get, participants agree that the main pull is social. “It’s a good reason to get out and mix with people,” said Damian Boyd-Boffa, who plays for Grand Opening, a design firm in the Lower East Side. “There are a handful of new people I’ve met through this, and we socialize outside the place too.” Boughton, who plays for TheStreet, Inc., a digital financial media company, agreed. “In terms of being fun and low-key, it makes you want go out to Williamsburg. This place is amazing, and really organized.”
Tiger Pong teams are divided into three divisions (Survivor, Frosted Flakes and Deceptacon) and the championship is slated for November,. Groups may vary in size and skill, but differences in style promise to make the remaining games an interesting watch. “There are three ways of playing ping pong,” explained Slick. “Trained ping pong, tennis, and basement. Boughton, for example, plays like a tennis player and his paddle has no sponge, so his balls don’t ‘pop up.’ His teammate Lisa [Tan] plays a more traditional Chinese style. But then you have Grand Opening, who are the masters of the basement style. They hold their paddles differently, giving their balls an unusual spin.”
Other tournaments at PIPS include the 2-hour free-for-all Rumble in the Jungle, Ladies’ Night and the 300 Dollar Tourney (You guessed it; 1st place lands a sweet $300 cash prize). For more info about Tiger Pong, visit www.tigerpong.com.
PIPS – Table Tennis and Art Space
158 Roebling Street