|Special equipment makes it possible to play the fast-paced game in the dark. Inset: Glow-in-the-dark shuttlecocks. Photos: Courtesy of Gao Yujie|
Four years ago, Ni Chao, 23, was searching online for badminton venues when he stumbled upon a video of some Europeans playing a variant of badminton in the open air.
"I heard the word speedminton for the first time," Ni said, "and I tried to find out whether anybody in China sold rackets and related equipment."
He found one Chinese supplier and bought a whole set - two rackets and three "speeders" (birdies) - for around 400 yuan ($65.33).
Speedminton was invented in Germany and introduced to China in 2009. It's a combination of badminton and tennis. The equipment is quite similar to badminton, but the speed of play is much faster, because the speeder springs off the racket like a tennis ball.
Xu Yingshi, 35, a long-time badminton player who introduced speedminton to China, said that the number of players here is estimated to be only in the thousands.
"Compared with badminton, the number is really small. But I think it's growing. It took badminton several decades to be accepted widely by the Chinese people," he said.
Xu loves the high speed of speedminton and the spectacle it creates. "It's quite dizzying to watch because you have to turn around and around to follow the birdie. But that's what's so fun about it," he said, adding that there are even glow-in-the-dark "night speeders" so that the game can be played at night.
"It's best when you turn on some music. When the birdie whizzes by to some rock or fast-tempo music, it's just perfect. You can jump like you're dancing in the air to smash the birdie," Xu said.
Unlike badminton, speedminton doesn't require a special court. Any large outdoor space - a tennis court, a basketball court, a lawn or a square - will do. And since the speeder is heavier than a badminton birdie and has a cap to make it more resistant to wind, it's an excellent choice for Bejing's breezy autumn.
"We always cause a scene when we play it at night with the music going. It's quite eye-catching. Passers-by always stop to watch us. They're surprised at how fast it is," Xu said.
Mao Xiongbo, 38, who began playing speedminton in 2010, said what he enjoys most is the casual vibe. "In the summer, we gather five or six good friends, enjoy the coolness on the grassy area outside my apartment, drink beer, have a small picnic and play speedminton," Mao said. "When players get tired, others just get up and replace them. It's all very relaxed and enjoyable."
It's a sport for young people because it requires lots of sprinting and agile reflexes, said Gao Yujie, who sells speedminton equipment in Beijing, but she also points out that the young tend to prefer working out in gyms and that it's not easy to find open spaces in the city.
Different sporting habits may also explain why it hasn't caught on yet in China. "I think Europeans might be more enthusiastic about outdoor sports like mountain climbing, sailing and other adventurous activities," Gao said.
"As I see it, most Chinese people are under a lot of pressure at work, and their daily exercise is usually limited to indoor activities like badminton. So the advantages provided by speedminton, like being able to play it on the beach or on lawns, might be of less value to them," she added.