Front Range Scene

Ping-Pong Wizard

Table tennis rallies in Denver with the opening of Ace Eat Serve on 17th Avenue.

September 2012

Before opening Ace Eat Serve on August 1, owner Josh Wolkon (the man behind Vesta Dipping Grill and Steuben’s Food Service) brushed up on his ping-pong skills. Given that the Uptown spot is an Asian restaurant-slash-table tennis hall (with 10 tables that host friendly tournaments and offer opportunities to compete alongside professionals), it seemed like a necessity.

Wolkon sought tips from local ping-pong trainer Angelo Gandullia, who grew up in Lima, Peru, playing competitive table tennis. “At 10 or 12, I was training all the time,” Gandullia says. But at 16 years old, having a social life won out and he stopped playing at a competitive level. “Kids I used to beat were traveling the world,” he says. Now a Denver resident, Gandullia is the local architect for competitive table tennis at a social level.

Although the majority of United States of America Table Tennis (USATT) sanctioned events are held on the coasts in California and New York, the sport is expanding in the Mile High City. Ace (and Smash, a weekly ping-pong pop-up at the Exdo Center) capitalizes on the game’s approachability as a way to unite locals of all ages and backgrounds. “It’s a very accessible game,” Gandullia says. “There’s a reason it’s finally growing so much here.”

A big part of Ace’s appeal is the chance to play alongside professionals like Gandullia. But beating him is unlikely—in fact, it’s never happened before, at least not by an amateur. Out of all major sports, Gandullia cites table tennis as having the biggest disparity between the casual and professional player. “It’s extremely demanding physically,” Gandullia says. “It’s all about your legs. It’s about speed and angle. You need to react with the ball to keep up the pace.” Michael Jaynes, another local table tennis pro, says two hours of table tennis is equivalent to two hours of midlevel aerobics. He describes the sport as “a martial art with a ball.”

Ace hopes to become a cornerstone in the growing table tennis community here. And with Wolkon’s sharpened game and a stop-and-refuel menu of Asian eats, the ping-pong hall should be a winner.

501 E. 17th Ave., 303-830-1001, acedenver.com

GLOSSARY: A primer on table tennis terminology

Backhand / A shot done with the racket to the left of the elbow for a righthander, the reverse for a lefthander.

Crosscourt / A ball that is hit diagonally from corner to corner.

Crossover / A style of footwork that requires you to cross your feet.

Chop Block / A block where the racket is chopped down at contact to create backspin.

Drop Shot / Putting the ball so short that the opponent has trouble reaching it. Done when the opponent is away from the table.

Loaded / A ball with a great deal of spin.

Loop / A heavy topspin shot usually considered the most important shot in the game. Many players either specialize in looping or in handling the loop.

Smash / A putaway shot. Ball is hit with enough speed so the opponent cannot make a return.

Source: USA Table Tennis