Rollerblades inventor returns with Kong Pong

Note: This article originally appeared in the summer edition of Blueprint, a special supplement to the Budgeteer News and other Northland newspapers.

Kong Pong
Minnesota inventor Scott Olson enjoys an open-air game of Kong Pong, his latest pet project. Submitted photo

Note: This article originally appeared in the summer edition of Blueprint, a special supplement to the Budgeteer News and other Northland newspapers.

Scott Olson is many things: he's an accomplished inventor (Rollerblades, Rowbike), he's every health insurance company's worst nightmare (again, Rollerblades) and, now, he's single-handedly bringing back family togetherness sans television -- a one-man crusade otherwise known as "Kong Pong."

Listening to the Minneapolis visionary talking about his new project, his table tennis take-off kind of seems like a no-brainer.

"I make my living coming up with ideas, and I've always been a big pingpong player," he told the Budgeteer between important meetings, phone calls and Lord knows what else. "I grew up playing pingpong and have just always loved the game."

OK, you're wondering, but how could anyone possibly improve upon the decades-old rec room original?


Well, for starters, you make the playing surface a little bigger (a foot longer and 6 inches wider on each side) and weigh down the balls a little bit (by half a gram).

Why? Because your new Kong Pong table is going outside, of course.

And what led Olson to this invention? Again, good question, because, in the early '90s, that's exactly what he did: He took his pingpong table outdoors.

"I thought, Wow, this is fun playing outside," Olson said, probably sounding just as excited as he did more than a decade-and-a-half ago. "I grew up playing in the basement of everybody's homes in the neighborhoods -- it was always just jammed, you know? Never enough room to play."

But just playing outside wasn't enough for him. After a couple games of table tennis on his farm's backyard lawn, Olson hauled the table down to the local ice-skating rink, where he and his buddies would challenge each other to matches with their skates on.

"Before we knew it, everybody was getting into it," the inventor said.

Enter Kong Pong, which is meant to be enjoyed outdoors. Yes, that's right, in all four of Minnesota's seasons. (Olson said he's going to upload a video to of him playing during a blizzard.)

"My favorite time of the year is winter, so nothing holds me back," he said. "And that's the beauty of pingpong: You really get the heart rate going during a good game.


"You can warm up in no time, ya know?"

Olson understands that people may be a little hesitant to purchase something that will sit outside through the nastiest of blizzards -- since some cars can't even make it through them -- so that's why his company warranties Kong Pong set-ups for life.

"If there's ever a problem with it, we want to know about it, and we'll take care of it," he said, mentioning that their tables are constructed out of heavy-duty plywood that's designed for outdoor use.

"Then we put a whole bunch of paint on it," Olson added, pointing out the product line's extra precaution.

And, since Kong Pong tables aren't in the standard retail chains yet, Olson wants to provide Northlanders an opportunity to try out his labor of love: The inventor said he's always been a big fan of Duluth and wants to donate a table to the city's parks and recreation department. (He's doing the same in Minneapolis.)

"I mean, they should be in parks," he said. "When you travel to Europe, in a lot of different countries there you'll see pingpong tables out in the park. People bring their own rackets down, just like they do when they play tennis."

Following that train of thought, Olson's seems to want Kong Pong to succeed for all the right reasons.

"I don't know how big I'll make this product line, or if I'll make a lot of money with it, but some of the things I develop and work on aren't motivated by money at all," he said. "... I just wanted to play on a bigger table in the beginning, but now I'm selling tables and, if I can get more people out playing it -- and more kids out playing it -- great, because I think it's really challenging to get the younger population outdoors doing things on their own where it's not structured."


Olson then took the opportunity to stress what he believes is one of Kong Pong's biggest selling points: family togetherness.

"Everybody's so hung up on getting another TV set in the house, so they put another one downstairs -- and that's where the pingpong table has been pushed out," he said. "How many TVs does a family need, ya know?"

Olson said Kong Pong is also a great game for athletes, as many professionals -- including Tiger Woods and multiple hockey organizations -- already utilize table tennis for cross-training purposes.

He doesn't sound much like your typical inventor, does he?

On the other hand, there's at least a sliver of eccentricity that he's willing to expose to the public: he's happy to give away his money. If you happen to beat him at his own game, that is.

For the longest time, Olson was the undisputed champion of the Kong Pong scene.

"I'm happy to say I'm not undefeated anymore," he said with a chuckle. "But I still play anybody who wants to come down and challenge me to a game. If they can beat me two out of three, I give 'em 50 bucks."

What To Read Next
Get Local