ALAMEDA -- John Gipple enjoyed playing table tennis in the break room of the San Francisco brokerage firm where he worked. His co-workers, though, always seemed to have an upper hand on him.

"I couldn't beat anybody there," Gipple said.

Undaunted, Gipple -- a Marin County resident at the time -- went online to learn about table tennis techniques. He also discovered a loosely organized regional club that met in different places from time to time. This wasn't enough for Gipple, who soon found out about the Alameda Table Tennis Club.

Opened in July 2008 at the site of the former Alameda Boys and Girls Club on Lincoln Avenue, the ATTC offered everything Gipple needed to improve his game.

"They had coaches and classes there," said Gipple, who has been a regular at the club for almost three years.

The relatively constant availability of facilities at the Alameda Table Tennis Club has greatly helped Gipple and others in a growing list of club members. Not only do they improve their skills, but table tennis contributes to improved health as well.

"When I started playing, I was maybe about 210 pounds; now I'm down to about 185," said Gipple, who, by his own account, plays three to five hours per day, three to five times per week.

Other Alameda Table Tennis Club members have dropped even more weight than he has, Gipple added.

"I'm not passionate about going to the gym, but I am about table tennis," Gipple said. "It's good to train with coaches. It's a good way to get into shape because of the training (involved with table tennis), but it's also good to get into shape for the training."

Though the club's membership ranges from beginners to national champions, players and coaches alike tend to set high standards.

"Most Americans see table tennis as 'garage pong,' where you plant your feet and reach out for the ball," said Dave Hanson, the club's facilities manager. "A lot of people think that table tennis, as a racket sport, has a lot to do with hand-eye coordination; but the key is in the legs, moving your feet to get into position (to return the ball). If you looked at the Olympics, table tennis had some great athletes."

Now unemployed after his brokerage firm relocated to Denver, Gipple since has moved to Berkeley, where he is much closer to the ATTC, which has become almost like a second home. For certain, the club offers camaraderie and a sense of belonging to Gipple and his fellow table tennis enthusiasts.

"There's a culture of adults here that have been bitten by the table tennis bug," Gipple said.

For sure, the ATTC offers table tennis enthusiasts an opportunity to improve their skills -- and a fun, alternative way to get in shape.

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