Thursday, February 17, 2011

Shenzhen Ping Pong: reverse penhold paddle

In this blog entry, I'd like to return to consider the topic of the penhold grip, first introduced here.

There are two basic styles of penhold blades: Chinese (round head, flared handle) and Japanese (rectangular head, built-up cork handle with a hook for the index finger). The Japanese blade favors a powerful forehand loop and the Chinese blade perhaps provides for a more flexible wrist in over the table play. Recently, there also has been some interest in developing blades that favor the reverse penhold backhand stroke. The picture on the right shows a penhold blade that I've modified for this very purpose.

Some background first. I've been blogging about the reverse penhold stroke for a while now: for example, see entries in December 2010, Feb 2010 and October 2009. The videos show that my reverse backhand stroke has evolved over the course of this time period (and is still evolving). Learning a brand-new backhand isn't easy, especially if you want the new reverse backhand to dominate and supercede the traditional backhand, a stroke developed over many years.

There are claims that new grip designs can make the reverse backhand stroke stronger and more consistent. For example, one can convert an existing blade, as in the SuperCPen design here), or build a blade from the ground up, as in the Gushi penhold blade (古氏直拍) (here).

Interested in improving my reverse backhand, I purchased a Gushi blade to see what the fuss was about.

It has an ingenious cut-out in the handle and an extension to the head to allow the thumb to rest comfortably horizontal with good support. Unfortunately, the Japanese-style blade weigh 106g (vs. about 86g for my current blade), and the blade itself is much slower than my preferred Butterfly Amultart. The extreme weight (for a penhold-style blade) meant I could only hit for about 10 minutes before fatigue set in. In short, I believe the Gushi cannot hold a candle to my Amultart blade; nevertheless I determined that its idea of supporting the length of the thumb had definite merit for grip stability, and consequently the power and reliability of the reverse backhand stroke. If only I could try an Amultart Gushi...

Someone suggested the possibility of epoxying a thumb grip (weighing 8g) to a regular penhold blade. Before modifying the rather expensive Amultart, I tried adding a rough thumb grip (sourced from wood scraps from a guitar maker) to an old Sword blade. However, the epoxy attachment wasn't secure, and thumb lever force made it fall off after about 10 mins of reverse backhand play. But the concept seemed sound.

I then took a Dremel tool to the thumb grip and reshaped it to custom contour it to the Amultart blade and the length of my thumb. And employed an excess of epoxy to fill in any gaps to make sure it could withstand thumb lever force. Result is shown below:

Front and back:

In the hand:

For me, the extra thumb grip is a definite enhancement to my Butterfly Amultart blade. It's early days yet with the modification, but I can feel my reverse backhand is considerably more stable, powerful and reliable.

Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Jiwu Duan and his guitar-maker friend for making this project possible!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A perfect ski lesson

[On the right: Me making tracks in powder. Photo courtesy of Sasha.]

This is the third in a series of blog entries about cold and winter. (The other two are Onsen (温泉): the right way to do cold and Frozen in Tucson.)

At the very most charitable, I'd call myself a beginning intermediate skier. A friend of mine, Sasha, whom I've known for about 3 years, is an elite skier and coach.

With Sasha, I've run, biked, hiked (e.g. the Grand Canyon, see here), and swam but never before skied. The other day, I got the rare chance and good fortune to have her skiing with me and provide expert, one-on-one instruction and critique for most of a day. Needless to say, such opportunities don't come often, and I leapt at the chance. I must say, after her coaching, I truly don't remember how I managed to ski before. (Some might say what I did before hardly qualified to be called skiing anyway...)

The location? Sunrise Park Resort owned by the White Mountain Apache Tribe. Nearly 4 hours drive from Tucson or Phoenix. Lift ticket just under $50. My equipment rental was $25. My 4 hour lesson? Priceless.

It was a beautifully sunny day just below freezing with almost no wind, and an almost empty park the day after an arctic cold front had dumped lots of snow on this 9,200 ft (2800m base height) small resort. The highest of the three small peaks is at 11,100 ft (3400m). Seems like we had great conditions, I even managed my well-supervised first attempt at ungroomed (powder) in the picture above.

On the approach road to Sunrise Park Resort (panorama taken with my Olympus E-P1):

Click here for the panorama.

Things like leg extension to partially shift weight onto the uphill ski, feeling the effect from moving the center of mass, not to mention use of those previously-thought-useless appendages called arms and pole planting with only the wrist at leg extension time, are abstract concepts that have now been grounded in tactile feel. In other words, they have begun to have real import and meaning. From neither rhyme nor reason to a bit of both now...

Late afternoon photo at 10,700' (3260m). It was a really clear day (picture taken with my iPhone 3G):

The obligatory souvenir picture:

I survived and had a great day of instruction. Thanks Sasha!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Frozen in Tucson

An unusual sight in sunny Tucson, Arizona.

During the previous evening, temperatures had dipped to -7C during the night and it was still below freezing in mid-afternoon in bright sunshine when I snapped this shot. Nearly an ice sculpture.