ANCHORAGE — West High School senior Slade Manning sometimes hauls around a cardboard box filled with about 250 pingpong balls.
Manning, 17, has carted the balls to eight cities in five states for one trick-shot video that has earned him national attention. He throws them through hoops, torpedoes them in the water and strikes them with baseball bats. Manning always aims for the same object — a cup. There’s always a video camera rolling for the Internet in case he hits his target.
Manning’s productions aren’t easy and they aren’t quick.
His video, “Amazing Ping Pong Cup Shots 9,” is a patchwork of 67 tricks set to music. It took him three years to complete, is nearly as many minutes long and has been viewed more than 57,000 times on YouTube since the end of November.
In the living room of one of his family’s homes, across from Valley of the Moon Park, Manning threw pingpong balls at the wall on a weekday afternoon. He’s as patient as he is persistent.
The balls bounced off and rolled onto an Oriental rug, settling near a plastic cup. Soon, handfuls of orange, blue and green balls dotted the carpet.
While Manning talked statistics, he continued to casually toss the pingpong balls. If it takes him 50 tries to make one shot, it might take him 2,500 to make two back to back, he said.
“I rarely come up with exact numbers,” he said. “It’s just important for me to recognize general odds so I don’t accidently waste my time working on a 1/50,000 shot that I’d never be able to make.”
His next steps after he graduates from West aren’t cemented and neither is his course of study. He just applied to the University of California’s Berkeley, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz campuses and wrote his essay about pingpong tricks, video production and the probability of making shots.
About four minutes later, one ball landed into its destination. Manning doesn’t cheer. He never does in the video either. He said that would be embarrassing.
The trick shots began in 2009 with Manning, his cousin and a golf course. Manning said the duo decided “it’d be more fun to film ourselves trying to make long golf putts over and over instead of actually playing the game correctly.”
And so it began. Manning set up shots with disc golf, basketball, a small desktop golf set and pingpong. He became involved in the Internet trick-shot community, commenting on other people’s videos and watching their tricks for inspiration. Soon, his shots involved multiple balls and sometimes moving cups. He’s posted about 20 trick-shot videos online; some have been watched hundreds of thousands of times.
“Trying trick shots isn’t all work,” he said. “A lot of the time I’m listening to music and I always use it as time to think about whatever else is going on in life.”
Manning estimated that he has thrown trick shots for around 2,000 hours since he picked up the pastime. That’s about 84 days straight. It’s a sport he can do alone and he admitted he’s “a bit shy.”
Some shots take minutes, some hours and some days. They hinge more on repetition than accuracy.
When Manning used a baseball bat to hit the orange pingpong ball at Fairview Elementary, it took him 16 hours to land one ball into a cup, he said. He edited it down to three seconds for the video, making it appear a lot simpler.
“The shot hardly looks difficult, but I don’t really have any control when I hit a pingpong ball with a bat, so it was just hitting the balls seemingly completely randomly, over and over,” he said.
One time he balanced a pingpong ball on the small plastic ends of two blind cords and set a cup underneath. He left the camera running for nearly two hours and eventually his cat, Midnight, knocked the ball in. That move earned the pet a line in the video’s credits.
Another time, his family was visiting New York City. They drove twice to Jersey City so Manning could film a shot with the city skyline in the background. Manning has shot tricks in front of the Buckner Building in Whittier, at Merrill Field when the FedEx plane landed and on a beach in Seward.
He said the videos are “sort of like a time-capsule.”
“I remember even several years ago that I thought I would be proud of what I’d accomplished when I was really old,” he said. “And hopefully I’m not really old yet, but I still feel a sense of accomplishment even looking back to my really old videos that wouldn’t be entertaining to anyone else but me, simply for the memories they still remind me of.”
Family has joined in, too.
Dana Manning, Slade’s mom who owns Skinny Raven Sports with her husband, has served as a stand in thrower, a ball retriever and, most frequently, a driver to the trick sites. She describes the pingpong tricks with as much enthusiasm as her son. But she admits, her patience sometimes wavers when the tricks take days.
“He’s just really, really hard on himself,” she said about her son’s determination to make the “best tricks.” ‘’Anybody else would just give up. “