So with that in mind, let's talk about what to look for when you are ready to buy your first real table tennis bat.
- Don't start with a premade bat (which is basically a bat which comes ready to go, with the rubbers already on the blade). Some of the premade bats are quite acceptable while others are rubbish - the problem is knowing which is which! Also, the typical shelf life of rubber is not all that long - I would think not more than a year for good performance. So if you buy a premade bat that is old stock you may not get quite what you pay for.
- The first real step is to decide on the blade you will use. There are an overwhelming variety of blades out there on the market, and if you believe the hype every one of them will make you a world champion. My advice is to start with an allround blade from a reputable manufacturer such as Butterfly, Stiga, Donic or Double Happiness (here's a list of recommended beginner blades). You don't want a blade that is too fast or too slow at this point in time, since you are still developing your style.
- You should then give serious thought to comparing the pros and cons of the grip type (shakehand, penholder, Seemiller, etc) you want to use. It is fairly difficult to change grip styles once you have begun to groove your technique, so whatever grip you choose now is likely to be one you use throughout your playing career. I would recommend buying a racket that is suited to that style. It is very difficult to play shakehand with a penhold racket, and vice versa.
- When choosing a handle type, go with whats feels good to you. The most common choices these days are flared handles and straight handles, although you do see the occasional conic handle or even anatomic as well. There is a school of thought that the flared handle is better for hitting forehands, and the straight handle for hitting backhands, but don't worry too much about this at the moment. Just find something that sits nice and comfortably in your hand and you will be good to go.
- Before you go rushing off to buy a new blade, don't be afraid to ask the other players you know whether they have something you could use. Many table tennis players hang on to their old equipment for years. They could have a good allround blade that would be just right for you (I used to have several lying around at home), and they would probably be happy to let you have it for a song! Blades can give good service for many years, so don't forget to pass it on when you have finished with it!
- I would recommend using smooth rubbers on both sides. Stay away from pimpled rubber with or without sponge. These types of rubbers are more specialised, and are limited in the types of strokes and spins they can do. You need a bat that gives you as many options to develop your game as possible, and the best choice for that is good allround smooth rubber. It will probably feel a lot harder to control compared to your old bat, but stick with it and you'll get used to it quickly.
- For smooth rubbers to put on the blade, I would suggest some attacking rubbers like Sriver (made by Butterfly) or Mark V (made by Yasaka), but in a thin 1.5mm sponge. The thin sponge gives good control of the ball, while still allowing you to develop your own game. You want a paddle that will allow you to pursue any style you like, be it aggressive or defensive. Once you have developed your own style, you can then start thinking about buying a specific blade and rubbers to suit your game. Here's a list of great ping-pong rubbers for beginners.
- Don't let anyone talk you into buying more bat than you need. As a beginner, you don't need the latest high-technology fads in blades or rubbers, and even accepted technology such as carbon layers are not going to be something you will be able to take advantage of yet. Keep it simple and serviceable. If you are spending more than US $200 you are paying way too much. Somewhere around the US $100-125 would be more like it.
- When buying a bat, stick to a local table tennis dealer or reputable online supplier. I would avoid sports stores since they generally don't have separate blades and rubbers available, and their stock is likely to have been sitting there for a while. Ask around the people you play with, and you should get a couple of good recommendations on where to buy. Or take a look at this list of online dealers that are well-known in table tennis circles.
- Once you have got your blade and rubbers, I would recommend getting an experienced player to glue them together for you, and show you how to go about it properly. You don't want to waste your money by making a mistake that you could have avoided with a bit of help. Some manufacturers offer to put the rubbers on the blade for you before sending you the finished bat, which is a nice touch. But don't be afraid to learn how to do it yourself - it isn't that hard with a bit of practice!
- Finally, make sure you get a good cover to store your bat in, and keep it safe from damage such as liquid spills, dirt, and sunlight. Some of the more expensive covers can hold a second bat and even some balls as well. You spend all that money on buying a the perfect ping-pong paddle for you, of course you want it to last as long as possible, don't you?
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