Sandpaper Ping Pong Paddles: It’s a Whole Different Battlefield

Sandpaper ping pong paddles.
The sort of ping pong equipment few people talk about.
If you’re familiar with them and have even used one before in official play, then congratulations!
You’re on your way to becoming a more rounded table tennis player.

But if you’ve just heard of the term yesterday and are wondering what on earth a sandpaper paddle even is, then we’ve got the explanation for you.
In this article, you’ll discover what sandpaper ping pong paddles are, who they’re for, what makes them different from the other paddles, and how they’re being used in competitive play.

The Role of Sandpaper in the Sport

When you talk about sandpaper ping pong paddles, you’ll find yourself right in the middle of a major debate within the table tennis community: Are ping pong and table tennis just different names for the exact same sport?

To settle the age-old question once and for all, in November 2021, PingPong King conducted an online survey of table tennis players, enthusiasts, coaches, equipment sellers, and non-players.
Roughly 80% of respondents said that yes, ping pong and table tennis are in fact the same.

When asked for more details, they gave us the following explanations:

  1. “Ping-pong” is onomatopoeia for the sound produced when the ball hits the racket and bounces on the table. Table tennis is the proper term for the game.
  2. Table tennis is an official Olympic sport. Ping pong is a casual game amateurs play at home or with friends. When playing ping pong, you don’t have to follow all the rules.
  3. Table tennis is the sport. Ping pong is the company trademark established by J. Jacques & Son Ltd for their specific brand of equipment. Since then, the name has been used to refer to the sport itself.
  4. Ping pong is from the Chinese word “pingpang chu” which means “ball” and table tennis is the English name of the sport.
  5. Table tennis uses either sponge paddles or hardbats. Ping pong uses sandpaper paddles and the rules are different.

So, which one is correct? Are ping pong and table tennis really just different names for the same game?
The best answer we received was from Coach Abhishek Shrivastava from Table Tennis Academy:

“If the technicalities of ping-pong and table tennis are compared, they’re different. But in most modern senses, they are one and the same. In ping-pong, only sandpaper-based rackets are used and it is played in sets of 15 points. In table tennis, a wide range of racket and rubber combinations… are used.”

So yes, in most cases, you can use the terms interchangeably and no one is going to notice the difference.
However, in official matches, you’re better off using the correct terminology.

Sandpaper Ping Pong Paddles: It’s a Whole Different Battlefield

The World Championship of Ping Pong

Regardless of the origin of the word “pingpong,” different associations may put their own spin on the rule book.
One of the most famous events is the World Championship of Ping Pong (WCPP) that was established by Matchroom Multi Sport in 2011.
Along with other local and international-level competitions, it helped legitimize ping pong as a game with a standard paddle-type different from the conventions of table tennis.

The WCPP is a separate event from the World Table Tennis Championships, a tournament established in 1926 and managed by the International Table Tennis Federation (ITTF). The key differences are the following:

  1. Sandpaper ping pong paddles are used for official ping pong tournaments and sponge and hardbat are used for table tennis tournaments.
  2. The scoring is different. In official ping pong games, each game goes up to 15 points instead of 11.
    In table tennis, a player needs to win by two points, so the game can be extended beyond 11 points if the players are tied.
    However, in ping pong, the first player to reach 15 points is declared the winner.
  3. In ping pong, each player has the option of switching the typical orange ball for a white double-point ball during one serve. If the player wins the rally, he gets two points. This additional point is often a game-changer.

Rules aside, the main difference lies in the type of paddle used.
In table tennis, hardbats and sponge paddles of all thicknesses and blade types are fine as long as they comply with ITTF regulations, but in official ping pong matches, every player has to use 5-ply sandpaper ping pong paddles.

Sandpaper Versus Sponge: A Battle of Spins and Speed

If you’re new to the world of table tennis, you may be wondering if switching paddles can really make a monumental difference in performance.
As long as you’re a great player, it doesn’t really matter if you’re using custom rubbers, hardbats, sponge, or sandpaper, right?

Not exactly. That’s like comparing a sports car to an all-terrain vehicle. They both need insane driving skills, but they’re worlds apart.
In table tennis, we have hardbat masters and sponge masters and those who specialize in sandpaper ping pong paddles.

Fans of each type adapt their offensive and defensive style to suit their equipment.
The weight of a racket, the type of wood used, the thickness of the rubbers, the presence or absence of pimples, and the number of hours spent using that same paddle can all affect the amount of control you have and how much speed and spin you create.

Adam Bobrow proved this in his February 2020 video “Battle of the Ping Pong Paddles” by doing a simple experiment.
He challenged a Junior Olympic Gold Medalist ranked two levels higher than he was to a game.

Using the same paddles, there would be no way he could defeat his competition.
But for this experiment, he asked his opponent to use a sandpaper paddle for the first time in his career instead of a regular sponge.
Because of the huge difference in texture and friction between the two paddle types, Adam easily beat an unbeatable opponent.

Sandpaper Ping Pong Paddles: It’s a Whole Different Battlefield

The Unique Appeal of Sandpaper Ping Pong Paddles

Sandpaper ping pong paddles are made of classic wooden paddles with 5-ply sandpaper taking the place of rubbers on either side.
There is no rubber support at all.
It’s much thinner and lighter than sponge rackets, and many players who have switched to sandpaper prefer it for this reason.

Due to the rough texture of sandpaper ping pong paddles, they can’t grip the ball the way sponge-backed rubber does.
There is barely any friction at the point of contact.
The moment the ball hits the racket, it almost immediately bounces off.

Because there is almost nothing cushioning the impact of the ball colliding with the paddle, some momentum is lost.
The result is a ball that moves much slower and with much less spin than if the players were to use sponge paddles.
In an average match, most of the points awarded are because of the sheer force of pile drives and smashes and strategic placements of the ball.

Games played with sandpaper ping pong paddles take much longer than games played with thick sponge paddles.
Gone is the blinding speed of the ball.
The backspin, topspin, sidespin, and corkscrew spin are barely present.
To win the game, players can’t rely on their typical arsenal of tricks from faked spins to forced errors.
Much of the time is spent on defense.
Rallies stretch on much longer and lean heavily on strategy, calculated angles, and stamina rather than on split-second reactions, superb hand-eye coordination, and flawless technique.

For fans of the World Championships of Ping Pong, that’s the main draw of the sport.
The blink-and-you-miss-it nature of table tennis is replaced by a much longer exchange that the audience can actually follow back and forth across the table.
Strategy and muscle strength come into center focus because the best way to win with sandpaper ping pong paddles is to wear out your competition or confuse them by driving the ball where they least expect.

The Reason for Discrepancies

In table tennis, you can choose between countless blade, sponge, and top sheet combinations so long as the total thickness of the rubber does not exceed 4mm.
Official ping pong tournaments level the playing field by making each player use the same equipment— blue sandpaper ping pong paddles.

The reason for this difference can be traced to the different governing bodies for the sport.
In the 1880s, the English company J. Jacques & Son registered Ping Pong as the trademark for the table tennis equipment they produced.
They later sold this trademark to the US-based Parker Brothers, and ever since then, the rules have evolved separately from those established by the International Table Tennis Federation.

Some professional table tennis players snub the concept of ping pong as a sport because it’s so limited in terms of possible moves and techniques.
Lately, however, it’s been gaining traction as more and more players are choosing to specialize in this particular mode of play.

Advantages and Drawbacks of Sandpaper

Sandpaper Versus Sponge
Type Sandpaper Sponge
Used For Official Ping Pong Games Table Tennis Games Following the ITTF Rules
Physical Attributes Needed Stamina, Muscle Strength Quick Reflexes, Hand-eye Coordination
Emphasis Strategy Technique
Focus Ball Placement Spin Variety and Speed
Dependent on Playing Conditions Not so much Very
Spin Little Much
Speed Slow Fast
Easy to Learn Yes Steeper Learning Curve

Spin Power

When using sponge paddles, speed, spin, and mind tricks are your deadliest weapons.
The two sides of the racket can be customized for offensive and defensive play.
The forehand side is usually made of harder rubber, while the backhand side is usually softer to increase speed despite the shorter and typically weaker stroke.

In a lightning-fast game, there are countless ways to fool your competition into thinking you’ll launch a spin that’s the exact opposite of what you actually plan to do.
You can easily surprise your opponents by using the backhand side to unleash a certain level of spin power when they’re expecting a hit with your forehand side optimized for a different sort of attack.
All it takes is a split second to throw them off their game.

With sandpaper ping pong paddles, you only have one type of surface to work with.
Though they’re great for control, the lack of friction means you can’t splice as much.
Depending on the skill level of the player, they can still generate spin, although only a fraction of the amount a top-speed sponge racket creates.

This is a crucial difference because topspin, backspin, and sidespin control not only the angle of the ball but also how fast or slow it bounces off the table.
Brilliant counterspins with the power of saving a low ball from hitting the net do exist when you’re using sandpaper ping pong paddles, but with over 90% less power.

Strategy

Instead of relying too much on counterspin to correct a ball’s trajectory, you’ll have to work on your angles.
With more time to anticipate the angle of an incoming ball, and the inability to disguise one spin for another, forced errors are harder to pull off.
Split-second reflexes take a backseat to long-term strategy.
You get to spend more time actually hitting the ball back and forth.
You also won’t need as much hand-eye coordination.

When dealing with sandpaper ping pong paddles, stamina is your best friend.
Expect rallies to last forever; you’ll need to build up extra muscle to exhaust your competition without ending up breathless yourself.
It gives you a better full-body workout and gives the audience more hours of entertainment.

Durability

Sandpaper ping pong paddles are closer in style to the classic pimpled hardbats that dominated the sport before the Japanese developed the technology to create massive spin using a combo of sponge and topsheet.
One drawback,  however, is that they wear away easily.
Inexpensive sandpaper ping pong paddles under five dollars could start peeling off in a few weeks. Still, they’re much cheaper than sponges.

Control

For beginners who want to learn the basics of play, sandpaper ping pong paddles are a great starting point.
Like hardbats, they allow you to focus on the angle you’re returning the ball and avoid the sensation of the ball slipping on your paddle.
If you’re a beginner at sandpaper playing against a fellow beginner, you don’t have to bother with splicing the ball.
You can simply speed it up by applying more pressure and snapping your wrist faster.

Put a thick 4mm sponge and top-sheet combo built for speed in the hands of an unskilled newbie who has not yet mastered the art of control and the ball will go flying off the table.
(There’s a reason it’s called table tennis, not badminton.)

If you want to give this old-time classic a chance, one of the top-selling sandpaper ping pong paddles for beginners on Amazon is the Champion Sports PN2 Sandpaper Ping Pong Paddle.
It’s affordable yet more durable than other sandpaper ping pong paddles in its price range.

Sandpaper Ping Pong Paddles: It’s a Whole Different Battlefield
The Champion Sandpaper Table Tennis Paddle

On the other hand, if you have extra cash and a knack for crafts, you can get your own customized sandpaper ping pong paddles.
Either buy or make a wooden blade and handle and glue the right type of sandpaper on both sides.

Final Thoughts

If you’re completely new to the world of table tennis, prefer to play in defensive mode, and want a bit of success while mastering the art of controlling the ball, sandpaper ping pong paddles are worth checking out.
They’re a great option if all you want is the fun of a slow-paced, relaxing game or you’re aiming to develop your leg and core muscles with an aerobic workout.
The same goes if you’re a die-hard fan of hardbats and dislike sponges with a passion, or just want a taste of something different.

Get a couple of sandpaper ping pong paddles and knock yourself out.

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