Calvin student draws international recognition through ping-pong

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Sophomore Taheer Alibhai (left) and his friend Alikhan Kazia have gained a large following with their trick shot account. (Photo courtesy Taheer Alibhai)

Calvin sophomore Taheer Alibhai has made a name for himself as co-founder of PongMastersKE, a Kenyan two-man team that delivers masterful ping-pong trick shots on Instagram. The other half of the duo is Alibhai’s close friend, Alikhan Kazia, a former member of Kenya’s national table tennis team.

The two friends first met at a table tennis competition in Kenya and started the group in 2017.

Alibhai manages the group’s digital content and public relations while his friend performs the shots. The sophomore dedicates approximately 10 hours each week — sometimes remotely from Calvin — to uploading Kazia’s performances of extraordinary ping-pong tricks using everyday items.

“We just enjoy the process of doing something that somebody has never seen before, and just making people say ‘Wow,’” said Alibhai.

In one trick, a ping-pong ball hovers in the air from the pressure of a blowdryer. An old dart board has been placed behind the dryer and the suspended ball. Kazia calmly serves another ping-pong ball so that it passes the suspended ball by a hair’s breadth, bounces off the dart board behind it and returns to hit the first ball, taking its place while the old ball lands in a cup placed on a stack of books in front of Kazia. It happens so fast, one might miss it.

Shots like this one have garnered a large following for the pair. Boasting 32,000 followers, the group is Instagram-verified. But their fame extends beyond social media.

PongMastersKE stands out as one of the only ping-pong trick shot artist groups in East Africa.

Alibhai and Kazia have been featured on media platforms both at home and abroad, including notable sports outlets like Kenyan Television Network, ESPN, SportsCenter, Sky Sports, Whistle Sports and the International Table Tennis Federation website. The Chelsea Football Club also commented on one of their videos, a dream come true for the True Blue duo.

Since the group’s rise to public renown, Kazia has broken three world records. He currently holds the Guinness Book of World Records titles for the most ping-pong balls bounced into a cup in one minute, the fastest time bouncing ping-pong balls into five cups for an individual and the most table tennis serves into a cup in one minute.

“The sport itself is not as big as other sports,” Alibhai said, “but in terms of our niche, I can say that we’ve been recognized quite nicely for it.”

There’s younger creators who look up to us and you know, they get inspired by shots”

The Pongmasters hold formal agreements with Tigertail Sports and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a Kenyan wildlife rehabilitation unit that cares for orphaned elephants.

Alibhai said he appreciated having access to huge promotion platforms and considered it a chance to positively influence a younger generation.

“There’s younger creators who look up to us and you know, they get inspired by shots,” he said.

The group is well known within its niche community and has collaborated with smaller ping-pong trick shot pages to coordinate challenges and combination shots. They are also in contact with GM Golf, a YouTube star widely known for his golf trick shots, and hope to work with other big-name artists like Dude Perfect and Pongfinity in the future.

Although the group’s main motivation is to have fun, Alibhai admitted that it takes a lot of hard work, patience and commitment to deliver their content. The duo starts planning their next trick shot after each successful execution. About 95 percent of the time, the final shot ends up differing from the initial plan due to the limitations of physics.

Alibhai described the process as one of trial and error. It’s taken the group 48 hours to perfect and film some shots while others have been executed in under five minutes.

At Calvin, Alibhai is majoring in international relations and with a minor in communications. The sophomore said his experience handling PongMasterKE promotions has overlapped with some of the content in his current communication classes.

He and Kazia have agreed to keep PongMastersKE going for as long as they can.

“Even as we get much, much older, you know … maybe we’ll be the new, like, 70-year-olds who are doing trick shots,” he said.