China loves badminton. Can't get enough of it. In the park. In the street. In the club. And for good reason. It's a fun time and a sport for all seasons. Summertime, take it outdoors. Wintertime, move it on inside. But in Shanghai, where a lot of other people have the same idea, and there are a limited number of indoor courts, finding a place to play with availability, actually booking the court (some have mafan rules about it) and then gathering some friends who are not going to flake on you is a lot of effort, all for a little bit of racquet time.
Smash Shanghai, organized by Shanghainese entrepreneur Cai Jin, makes it all a little bit easier. He's got the courts. He's got the people. He does it every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night, and all day on Sunday. I went to go check out a session and get my birdie on.
Smash Shanghai's Tuesday practice is held at Jing'an People's Gymnasium, a nice gym with nine freshly painted courts. Cai has booked five of them. A lovely Canadian woman named Valerie Gauthier runs the Tuesday night sessions. She partners me up. I'm wearing the wrong shoes. I don't have a racquet. "Don't worry, we're all learning," says the poor man stuck with me for my second ever badminton match. Our opponents nod in support; this is a safe space for the unskilled. Gauthier wanders the courts throughout the session, checking in with players and telling them who to challenge next.
The intensity varies by court. Tonight, two are occupied by beginners. Intermediates have one court. The last two are pretty damn good. I guess that's advanced.
In the two-hour session, there's time for about four matches, either with the same partner or with others (no penalty for being a badminton butterfly). It's mostly doubles, but some of the more skilled players take turns with singles. The group is mixed with slightly more locals than foreigners. It's a good place to diversify your friend portfolio.
"I wanted a place where people from different countries and different generations could come play, enjoy sports and build friendships," Cai explains.
To date, Smash Shanghai has about 500 paid members from 40 countries. But don't get it twisted: Cai says he's more service provider than community organizer. He didn't even play badminton until 2017, five years after he started Smash Shanghai. He just thought it was "a good sport for networking".
But now that he plays, he's gotten competitive, and that's why his colleague Valerie is in charge of Tuesday nights. Together they run Quokaa which includes Smash Shanghai, a soccer league called the Shanghai Kingsman, a travel club named Shanghai Escapers, and more "hobby clubs". Still, Jin and Valerie do their fair share of community building, hosting drinks at Cages after Tuesday's session and a weekly lunch after Saturday's session.
Smash Shanghai meets five times a week, every week, in a mix of regular sessions with pick-up games, weekly tournaments, and sessions for beginners to hone their skills. Cai says they are still growing, "Smash Shanghai is booming. We have about eight new members a week. As we get more and more members, we'll add more sessions."
Badminton all day, every day. Badminton 4 lyfe.
How to Sign Up
If you want to join Smash Shanghai, get in touch with Cai and let him know you'll be joining, through the group's WeChat: Quokaa.
Regular Sessions and Membership Fees:
Tuesday: 7-9pm at Jing'an People's Gymnasium, 75rmb. Note: you need to wear shoes with white soles or rent shoes at the gym (10rmb).
Thursday: 8-10pm at Shanghai Mei Ga Gymnasium, 65rmb.
Saturday: 10am-12pm at Luwan Stadium, 65rmb. The shoe rule applies here too.
Sunday: 10am-12pm at Jing'an People's Gymnasium, 65rmb. During the same time there's a weekly singles tournament and beginner training. From 5-7pm, there's another regular session, this one's the most popular with about 40 people each week. It's usually held at Luwan but sometimes moves to People's Gymnasium.
First timers can pay for one session. After that you need to be a member, which means paying a 300rmb credit in advance. They then deduct your fees from your credit until you run out, and pay again. Happy smashing!