A Puerto Rico Experience: La Playa, Plazas, Plantains, and Ping Pong - Butterfly Table Tennis
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A Puerto Rico Experience: La Playa, Plazas, Plantains, and Ping Pong

(Steve Hopkins)

Most articles aren’t written about the author – the journalist is more of a background observer.  In this case, I actually competed in the 2022 Butterfly Puerto Rico Open Teams Tournament – and I brought my family along for vacation.  For those of you that didn’t make it to San Juan this year – perhaps my experiences will help provide some ideas (and motivation) to make the trek a year from now.

As a part of the Bowmar Sports team (the distributor of Butterfly in North America), I work with a lot of great people and as the sponsor of the event, many of those folks were in San Juan working hard.  The Bowmar team, coordinating with local helpers and volunteers, were there early setting up, made sure the tournament ran smoothly, and were still there cleaning up long after most of the players had returned home.

Bowmar Sports entered three teams into the tournament as well.  I was originally set to play on the middle team, but the top player on the first team was unable to attend at the last minute, so I was moved up (to the big leagues). I’ve played in a number of team tournaments and I had a pretty good idea of what this meant.

I actually started off with an emailed apology to my newly appointed teammates because my teammates lost an anchor of a teammate who could have closed out matches earlier – with me they played more matches, and had more pressure.  And the inverse of that is true too – I was expecting to be among the stronger players in my division and for my serves and deception to carry me through some of the easier matches (lazily), and instead I ended up needing my legs and my lower back to do some more literal carrying.  At 50+, playing up a division higher than expected, and on a team with only 3 players where we all had to play every match –  I played great for a day and a half, but if this was a marathon I would have been left crawling across the finish line.  My teammates were great.  Estefania Ramirios was still pounding balls on Day 3 – aggressively going right at each opponent and never backing down.  Stephanie Sun finished with one of the best records in the Division, finishing 23-4 for the tournament – somehow dominating points with powerful shots emanating from a 90 pound (?) frame.

The other two Bowmar Sports teams were in different Divisions, but were just a few tables away – and we were able to support each other, and watch some of the others’ matches, and to meet up at the hotel pool (or hotel bar).  There’s something really special about going to battle with friends and then connecting later to tell the days’ tales.  When the tournament is a team tournament, that connection expands.  For those of us in the Bowmar Teams, we had the connection from our teams, and connection from our work, and the connections of our other friends in the sport (and their teams).  For me personally, this was an opportunity to meet some people I talk to regularly but have never met in person, and also an opportunity to catch up with people that I’ve known through my whole table tennis career.  In fact, I believe there were three people at this tournament who I first met at the tables about 38 years ago.

There’s something really special about our sport – wherever its played.  This event, however, added a real international experience to the mix.  I brought my family so that they could have a vacation while I played.  There was a little time in the evenings for me to join them, and we added a day to the back end of the trip as well.  They spent much of their time at the beaches – there were two beaches within easy walking distance of the hotel and many, many other amazing beaches within a short drive.  They took a snorkeling class (about a mile from the hotel) and have video of sea turtles and brightly colored fish.  They tried zip lining (there was actually a zip line setup that included a stop over the front entrance of the tournament venue).  They took a day tour that left from the hotel and took them into the rain forest, where they saw different wildlife in a very different landscape and visited waterfalls and a natural rock waterslide and jumped off of small cliffs into natural pools.  Old town in San Juan is beautiful with neat architecture, forts, statues, plazas, and brick-lined streets.  The temperature was amazing – with lows in the 70s and highs in the mid-80s.  Flowers were in bloom, iguanas and brightly colored birds provided some accent to the view – all while half of the US is still wearing coats in the evenings and fighting off the last few frosts.  As a family, my crew ate Cuban food, and Mexican food, and Brazillian food, and a whole range of Puerto Rican delicacies (like maduros – sweet fried plantains) – again, all within walking distance of the hotel.

When this event runs against next year, expect to see many more participants from other Caribbean countries – and Central and South American countries as well.  While the Pandemic has largely subsided, it was definitely present while many were trying to plan for this event – and the travel rules were much stricter for those not traveling from the United States or from within Puerto Rico.  The pool of potential participants a year from now will be much larger.

I’m a pretty firm believer that great connections (and friendships and camaraderie) can be achieved through sport, regardless of the host city or the venue.  That said, its a hell of a lot more fun to make those connections in a great destination like San Juan. And for those of us who grew up in this sport, I think there’s something really special about talking over a table with a paddle in hand.  Bowmar Sports, and Butterfly look forward to seeing you in San Juan again next year.



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