Ping pong was fun before quarantine, but after being trapped inside these past few months, desperate for ways to entertain ourselves, now it can feel almost essential. As Sean O’Neill, two-time table-tennis Olympian and USATT High Performance director, says, “it’s ubiquitous. Everyone is playing it. Everyone is having fun.” As long as you have a little hand-eye coordination and a paddle, you can handle ping pong. The sport can be played solo or in groups, competitively or just as something to do while having a conversation with friends (from a socially distant six-foot distance, even). Plus, on non-windy days, some tables can even be used outside.
To find the best table-tennis tables (when you’re talking to the truly dedicated, it’s table tennis, not ping pong), we spoke to four experts who know a thing or two about the sport: O’Neill; Will Shortz, owner of Westchester Table Tennis Center (and casual crossword puzzler); Judy Hoarfrost, owner of Paddle Palace and USATT Hall of Fame player; and John Hsu, a coach at Maryland Table Tennis Center. Below, their recommendations for tables for beginners, intermediate players, and advanced players.
The best beginner ping-pong tables
For novices who want something lightweight for recreational use — or for kids to play on — Shortz says Kettler Tables are budget-friendly and reliable. Although “they aren’t as sturdy and don’t last as long as higher-quality tables,” this is a good option for if you just “want something to hit on in your basement.”
Hsu likes this table because it’s “affordable” and “you can still get a lot of good quality play out of it.”
The best midrange ping-pong tables
Recreational players should invest in thicker, professional-quality tables that are approved by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF), Hoarfrost says. According to O’Neill, “The thicker table reduces vibration, and you want to get rid of the vibration” for a more consistent bounce. “Remember, the ball is only 2 ounces, so you don’t want that vibration transferring to that ball,” he says. Professional-grade tables like this one are also hassle-free and much more durable than budget tables. “When you put a table like the Waldner Classic 25 up and down, it folds smoothly. It’s easy to put away,” Hoarfrost says. Also, O’Neill says, a “really solid table can withstand running into it as a player. Or if you are playing doubles and someone gets bumped into the table, it is not moving six inches.”
This slightly thicker table (30 millimeters vs. 25 millimeters) is what Hoarfrost has at home. “A lot of our customers these days are making an investment for their home, and they want something they can use for many years,” she says. “My table, which I’ve had for over 30 years, is as good now as when I got it.” The Donic Waldner 30 “has a 30-millimeter top, so it’s really thick and sturdy and has an excellent, consistent bounce,” she says. Hoarfrost recommends it for “people that are looking for the best and something they can actually have at home that people would be using at the World Championships.”
The best professional-quality ping-pong tables
Hoarfrost believes German brands like Stiga have the best-quality tables. According to her, “This one is really solid. At 30 millimeters, it’s thicker than one inch and it’s really sturdy.” O’Neill agrees. “If I’m putting together a club or putting a table in my basement, I would probably spend the money and look at the $1,200–$1,500 price range of Stiga tables knowing I’m going to get 15 or 20 years out of it,” he says. Hoarfrost describes it as “very popular and a really good price for what you get.”
Maryland Table Tennis Center, one of the first premier tennis table clubs to open in the United States, uses the ITTF-approved, official competition Joola 3000 SC tables. Hsu says they are “as good as any other tables in the world. We like them at our club because of their very high quality.” (He also likes them enough that this is the table he uses at home.) Along with consistent ball bounce, Hsu says the thicker wood is “more even and straighter. With thinner tables, you can have a bend in the table that will create an inconsistent bounce.” This table folds up easily and it has “heavy-duty, durable wheels with brakes on two of the four wheels,” he says.
At his facility outside of New York City, Shortz uses Double Happiness Rainbow Tables from the Chinese brand DHS. While Shortz also likes Joola (Germany) and Stag (India), he prefers DHS for its unique, colorful, “gorgeous” designs. And he’s not alone. O’Neill calls these tables “pieces of art.” One thing to note before you buy, however: “You can’t fold this up,” Shortz says. “It’s pretty permanent. It’s not easy to take apart and put together again.” O’Neill compares it to a jigsaw puzzle and says “it takes four people to put together.” But the design is top-notch. A huge benefit to the rainbow-leg design is the fluidity of movement it allows for players. There are no corner posts to block movement under and around the table, allowing for a more physical game.
The best outdoor ping-pong tables
People want to play recreationally at events, parties and in parks as a communal activity “so you have a lot more outdoor, beach, pool, backyard, and garage play,” O’Neill says. He likes Butterfly brand tables like this one. There is a challenge, however. To protect the wood from warping, these tables have a protective coat made to withstand rain, heat, and humidity. If you’re a pro, you might notice the difference, but the rest of us won’t be able to tell.
Shortz likes Kettler’s combination of affordability and quality. This 22-millimeter table and starter kit comes with everything your family needs to play: two paddles, three balls and a cover for when the table is not in use.
For long-term, multiuse durability, Hsu also recommends the Joola Nova Pro Plus, which has “an aluminum coating that makes it more durable to withstand weather.” Some of his students own this table and are happy with it.
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