Empire Fields Tables

A Brief Introduction…

The three steel tables at Vancouver Park Board’s Empire Fields, in the shadow of Vancouver’s beloved roller coaster, offer the “best” outdoor table tennis – ping pong – experience in Vancouver. For the setting alone, this is a great place for free outdoor ping pong. Sure, we know that you can count on one hand the number of permanent public outdoor ping pong tables in Vancouver, but the big open sky, breathtaking mountain views, tables nestled between the one of north America’s last remaining wooden roller coasters and the spot where the first sub-four minute mile was won, makes this setting unique.

Ping Pong In Vancouver's Evaluation

The Tables 100%

The Beatles played less than 50 metres from where today, right now, you can play on ping pong on “melodious” steel tables. We are referring to the many different sounds the ball makes when hitting the steel table and net at varying speeds and angles. These are great tables despite being painted acid green. The north-most table is a little scored along one side from skateboarders; and chipped paint on the playing surfaces will result in some unusual bounces. The table closest to the volleyball area will likely have to be cleared of sand before playing.

The Playing Area 40%

Empire Fields Tables would be the best place to play outdoor ping pong in Vancouver were it not for how the tables have been placed: triangulated without too much thought for the player’s experience between a sand volleyball court, a parkour area and some workout stations. Unlike Stonehenge Tables at Concord Pacific Community Park, where the players have a safe dedicated space to play, Empire Fields Tables has the feel of playing in a walking thoroughfare, with players having to be alert at all times for toddlers underfoot, speeding volleyballs, and entire families wandering through your court mid-rally. Courtesy towards happy wanderers is de riguer, as is the understanding that this is a design issue and no fault of pedestrians. The park designers clearly have little to no experience playing table tennis as a sport. There’s been no attempt to mark the playing area around each table with some simple painted lines on the asphalt, but it would be a good idea. Painted lines would indicate to people walking through that this is a table tennis playing area, and might reduce the chances of a collision. Signs are up behind the table tennis tables in the parkour area telling people that the parkour area is not a play area. The same kind of warning signs should be installed in the ping pong area.

The Wind factor 75%

Originally we claimed that Empire Fields Tables, set on the edge of a large open park, is not sheltered from wind. We even went so far as to say that Vancouver’s famous wooden rollercoaster, looming immediately to the west, would not act as a buffer to strong westerlies. But we were wrong. The strong cold westerly winds I experienced today while riding my bike to Empire Fields were markedly reduced at the level of the tables, presumably by the roller coaster. With no infrastructure buffering southerly and easterly winds, it’s different story. In general, it’s best to play here on days when the wind is minimal to avoid the added dimension the wind adds to the ball’s trajectory and speed over the time and distance of any given shot. To play well here on a windy day is to be the player hitting into the wind. That player can hit and loop hard with abandon. The headwind drives the ball down towards the table making it actually hard to miss. Fun times. Fun times.

Busy-ness 30%

As of the writing of this post, February 11, 2021, this author, an editor at Ping Pong In Vancouver, has, since September 2020, with his bon homme in table tennis Bobbie St. John-Sondors, played approximately 100 hours on the north-most of the three tables at Empire Fields and never once did we have to wait for our home table. Of course, this will all change once word gets out about the Empire Fields Tables, a spectacular place to play, all things considered. Our initial rating for the Busy-ness factor is set at 30%.

Update: February 27. The competition to get a table has really heated up. For the past week or so, the tables have been really busy from around 11am till about 3pm. In addition to the smattering of regular users, a group of about 10 retired people has discovered the tables. Bringing lunches, they tend to stay for 2-3 hours but, on two occasions, they were also quick to give up one of the three tables when we arrived to play. The bottom line: expect these tables to be busy any time it’s not raining or too windy. We’ve bumped up the daytime busy-ness factor to 70% with this update.

Updated: June 14, 2022 – Now that the COVID pandemic has lessened, and people have more recreation options, the tables at Empire Fields are not nearly as busy as they were 14 months ago. As such, we have reduced the Busy-ness factor rating back to 30%.

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