As an undergrad at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, Sam Pines certainly played his share of beer pong, a game that — in its college incarnation — is equal parts strategy, aim and, well, beer.
While classmates saw throwing ping-pong balls into cups filled with beer as a good way to blow off steam, Pines saw it as a business opportunity.
After graduating with a sports-communication degree in 2005 (and playing what he estimates to be an impressive 10,000 games of beer pong), Pines started the World Pong Tour, a competitive circuit of pong events, minus the alcohol. The WPT’s summer tour crisscrossed the Lower Hudson Valley starting this summer, with 11 preliminary events (at watering holes and at two Westchester golf courses) leading to Saturday’s “Super Pong,” a blowout of a finals at the Westchester County Center.
The 30-year-old White Plains resident, who was born in Port Chester and graduated from Briarcliff High School, took a few minutes to talk about the tour.
What was the lightbulb moment that created the World Pong Tour?
I’ve always loved sports — baseball, basketball, football — and when I was in college I saw this game that everybody loved and that brought people together and I thought ‘If golf is a sport where they hit a ball to a cup, why can’t this be a sport?’ It’s a sport that I created out of a game that’s played by millions of people around the world.
There’s no beer in your cups in the WPT.
Right. We’re trying to make it a sport, so there’s no beer in the cups. We just use water. You don’t drink the water. It’s more like darts. If you make it in the cup, you move that cup to the side. My goal is to get it on ESPN one day.
What’s the set-up like?
It’s played on a nine-foot table, the length of a regular ping-pong table, but 27 inches wide. Ten cups are set up in a triangle like bowling pins and the goal is to throw it straight in. If you get it in, that cup is moved to the side. We’ve put in a time limit. The first team to hit 10 cups in 6 minutes wins.
On your Facebook page, some people have taken issue with the fact that the tour is for mixed-doubles teams.
This year, we’re transitioning it into a more social sport. When men play against women, men usually dominate and women don’t like to play. And in any other sport, men don’t play against women. It’s always separate or together, but we’re looking at men’s singles and women’s singles and three-person teams, too.
Your overhead would seem to be low: Solo cups and ping-pong balls. Is the Solo cup the official cup of the World Pong Tour? They would seem a natural sponsor.
(Laughs.) For now, there’s no official cup sponsor, but hopefully soon there will be. Last year, Columbia Pictures was our title sponsor. This year, we’ve been reaching out to local companies. We haven’t had much success yet.
Your tour is all over the Lower Hudson Valley — Westchester, Rockland, Dutchess and Bergen — before the Super Pong event at the Westchester County Center on Sept. 21. Is there a registration deadline?
We do registration up until the day of the event or until it fills up. The tournaments are capped at either 30 or 60 teams and people can register on the World Pong Tour website — www.WorldPongTour.com — or call us (at 914-437-5401). It’s $30 a team to register and we’ll be doing a ranking system, with statistics on all the players. Eventually, we hope to be able to compile shooting percentages for players. There are shooting percentages for Kobe Bryant; why can’t there be shooting percentages for (pong pro) Lenny O’Rourke?
What is a good shooting percentage in pong?
I would say upwards of 60 percent would be good. That’s about what LeBron James shoots in basketball. I’ve seen people shoot perfect games before and some people miss every shot. But 60 is a good rate.
I guess if there’s no beer in the cups, the aim is probably better.
It’s all about skill, hand-eye coordination. Most people are there to compete and have fun, not to drink. It’s not all about bars.
I love those YouTube videos of beer-pong trick shots, where they bounce it off three walls and a skateboard and still get it in the cup. Will you have any trick-shot artists at Super Pong?
We’ll definitely have trick shots. We also might have a three-point contest and we’re looking at having special tables for trick shots. Anything’s possible.
What’s your shooting percentage?
I’m not too good. Maybe 35 percent or 40 percent.
What’s the secret to a good pong shot?
It’s all about consistency, having good follow-through.
Super Pong comes to the Westchester County Center in White Plains at 5 p.m. Sept. 21. The event includes the $2,500 championships, skills contests and side events. Tickets are $20 for players, $10 for spectators, available here. For details, email contact@WorldPongTour.com or call 914-437-5401.