Archery Fever

It started with The Hunger Games, and fortunately the movie was so well hyped that we had plenty of warning.  We all remember what happened when Lord of the Rings and Robin Hood were released.

Archery fever.

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This is about a third of the people who showed up one Sunday for our archery public outreach

On the first and third Sunday of every month (except December and January), we invite the public to join us for a morning of archery instruction.  They come from all walks of life, with a heavy emphasis on families.  For a five dollar donation, we put a bow in their hand and an arrow in the other.  We check them for left-right eye dominance, we show them how to load the bow, how to stand, how to draw and many of the other minutiae of archery.

On an average day, we’ll see about thirty or forty people, with an even mix of ages and genders.

Then we noticed an increase in teenage girls, and one of the instructors told the rest of us about the books by Susanne Collins.

“This is going to get ugly,” somebody said, though we all smiled.  Like any other addicts, we love to get more newbies.

No sooner did we adjust to the increase caused by The Hunger Games then we were hit with fans of The Avengers.  Then, the final blow, Brave.

We split our normal three hour session into two sessions of one and half hours, bought more equipment and convinced more members to help out with instruction.

And we still had to turn people away.  I hate turning people away.  People started showing up forty minutes early in order to be insured a spot.  Our scorekeeper showed up to register people and give them numbers.

Yes, it’s a lot of work, but it’s a labor of love.  We get a kick out of it when newbies finally put it all together and start hitting the target more than they miss.

Then we bring out The Balloons. Balloons have a magical quality.  You would be amazed at how much a student’s aim improves when there’s a balloon out there, laughing at you with every miss.  Yes, balloons can laugh.  Put one on a target next time you go to the range, and you’ll hear its shrill, mocking laughter every time an arrow doesn’t end its inflated existence.

Finally, it’s noon, and all the students leave and the instructors meet in the clubhouse for the after-action debriefing.  We talk about the students who shined the students who nearly shot their parents, the students who asked about club membership.

We know that Archery Fever will eventually burn itself out, even if the sport at the London Olympics it does enjoy a brief renaissance of popularity.  Eventually, we’ll be able to go back to sane Sundays, when only thirty or forty people show up.

Then somebody – I don’t remember who – mentioned that there’s a new television show this fall which has received a lot of publicity and seems to be very popular.  Revolution. A world with no electricity, and the inhabitants revert to archery.

“We’re doomed,” somebody said with a laugh.

Zombie Apocalypse – Archers on the Run!

I watched a movie on the SyFy Channel yesterday titled Zombie Apocalypse.  I feel like I need to justify this.  I caught the flu and was feeling miserable and wanted something on television that didn’t require too much cerebral effort while I laid on the sofa like a sick puppy.  So I turned on the SyFy Channel and was treated to a marathon of zombie movies.

Though a lifelong science fiction fan and admitted trekkie, I am not a connoisseur of zombie movies, or even of horror movies in general.  I can’t pretend to be an expert giving a review.  I can only give you my impressions of the movie as viewed from my feverish stupor.

This movie has the feel of something that would be produced by a high school student production.  It’s what you’d expect if the English class wrote the script (and not even the honors English class) and the extras were made up of fellow classmates and the family and friends of the production crew; if the make-up was done by the cosmetology students from the community college; if somebody who is good with a Mac did the special effects; if they borrowed a lot of the props and probably built a few in the machine shop, and filmed the scenes in deserted backlots in Toronto.  Somehow, they talked a Hollywood B-lister, Ving Rhames, into starring.  The production budget was raised from a PTA bake sale.

The story follows a group of survivors across the country, trying to make it to the island of Catalina off the coast of California.  Along the way, they kill a lot of zombies, some of them get turned into zombies, and some of them just get eaten.  Oddly, they keep killing the same zombies, though I suspect this had more to do with a lack of extras than the re-spawning abilities of the undead. They do eventually encounter some kewl zombie zoo animals.

The acting isn’t horrible.  It’s what you’d expect from a community theatre.  There is some dialogue designed to get you interested in the characters, but it was written by somebody with the emotional repertoire of a teenager.  The gory fight scenes, which follow one right after the other, fill in where a more expensive movie would have drama.

That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy the movie.  I was entertained, though sometimes not in the way the film makers wanted me to be.

So why am I talking about a zombie movie?

There were archers!!  Well, sort of.

Some of the survivors were the school archery team of some university (I didn’t catch the name) and their coach.  And, on the screen, their arrows went exactly where they were supposed to.

Allow me to clear my throat here.

I know that the budget was near zero.  But is it too much to ask that they find a real archer who could give the actors a half-hour lesson on how to shoot?  Or lacking that, isn’t there some professional responsibility on the part of the actors to say, “Hey, if I’m going to shoot a bow on screen, I’d better look like I know what I’m doing.”

It was painful to watch these actors playing competitive college archers, demonstrate that they hadn’t held a bow in their lives until five minutes before filming started.

The scenes which show them loosing arrows are almost comedic.   I tried to find online photos of these scenes, but the produces wisely kept them off the internet.  Ironically, there was a bit of dialogue where one survivor asks the other, “Why bows?”

“Because all the ammunition was already taken.  The sports stores still had archery equipment.”

“That’s because almost nobody knows how to shoot a bow!”

Zombie Apocalypse was followed by Resident Evil: Apocalypse (see the connection here?) which I could stomach until the scene where, knowing that the dead once again walked the earth, they decide to take a short cut through the graveyard.

I don’t believe I’ll ever develop a taste for zombie movies.

Popularity of Archery still on the increase after theatrical release of Robin Hood.

Newbie archers at the SF Archers Public Outreach program, June 6, 2010

It was decided yesterday that the San Francisco Archers Public Outreach program needs new equipment.  This topic has been cussed and discussed before, but yesterday was the clincher as we had to turn a dozen people away because we ran out of loaner equipment and arrows.  The photograph shows about 1/3 of the crowd that showed up, even on a cool foggy morning.  Fortunately, is was a crowd of mostly adults who listened to instructions well, because the four of us instructors would have gone running away screaming if it had been an equal number of kids.

I mentioned in a previous post the reasons I think  a poor economy is good for archery.  Basically, it’s a lot cheaper than golf.  We have also noticed a trend in the popularity of the sport which follows the release of any popular movie which features archers.  The recent release of  Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood, starring Russell Crowe, is an excellent example.  This is a very adult version of Hood, and so we got a lot of adults at outreach.  But you should have seen all the kids who showed up after the release of The Lord of the Rings.

Of course, it’s relatively easy to get a group of strangers to show up to try archery once.  We measure the success of our efforts by the number of people who continue to show up after the novelty of it wears off, and they realize that they can’t become expert archers in a single morning’s practice.  We know we have them hooked when they ask, “So, how much does it cost for a good bow?”  We get as excited as any drug dealer.

There are easily half a dozen very good archery ranges in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I explained to two women from San José that they could probably find one closer to where they live.  They don’t have to drive all the way to Pacifica to enjoy the sport.  They responded, “But you guys take care of us.”  That had me walking on air for several hours.

There tend to be two kinds of potential archers who show up: The technophiles who start drooling at the sight of the latest Matthews hunting compound, and those who are attracted to the sexy lines of the recurve or the earthy simplicity of the longbow.   The second group takes more attention because, quite frankly, it’s easier to become competent with a modern compound than a recurve or longbow.  For the second group, who are probably getting frustrated with their lack of accuracy, we make an effort to complement their form and point out their improvements.  There is very little in the way of instant gratification in traditional archery.

At the end of three hours, we did a thorough search for lost arrows, put the equipment away, and sat down to discuss our successes and failures.  We gotta get more equipment!

Rancho Neblina 2009 – Foam on the Range.

The weekend of September 26 and 27, 2009, gave us the 9th Annual Rancho Neblina Traditional Rendezvous.  Sixty-three 3D foam animal targets at unmarked distances on three separate courses set on a 600+ acre cattle ranch near Petaluma, California.  The cows were not pleased with having to share their fields with 200 bipeds. In spite of promises for cooler weather, the temperatures reached 100° F (38° C) on both days, and the heat took its human toll as some archers passed out or dropped from the competition.

You can find pictures of the event here.

I didn’t do well.  This is a major league disappointment after spending all year training for this event, and then to have it all fall apart.  A friend commented, “You can hit all the difficult targets!  What is it with the easy ones?”

Indeed, it seemed like I couldn’t miss the difficult targets, including one I call The Carousel of Doom.

But when it came to getting the easy ones, some madness possessed my arrows and sent them on strange and unexplainable trajectories, without regard to how much I tried to slow down and concentrate on aiming.

Ah well, it’s all practice, eh?

Next year.

Update September 30, 2009 –– I left the competition site before the awards ceremony because allergies were starting to flare, and I had already used my limit of anti-histamines.  I left thinking that I had placed poorly.  A friend sent me a message on Facebook, “You came in second!!” While this certainly made me feel better, my thoughts were, “Okay, other people performed worse than I did.  That doesn’t mean I performed well.”

We are always our own worst critic, aren’t we?

Poor Economy Good for Archery?

There seems to be an upturn in public interest in target and field archery lately.  I don’t have any specific numbers to give you, only personal observations.

It used to be that I could be assured of getting a lane at the Golden Gate Park archery range in San Francisco on a weekday, or if I show up early enough on a weekend.  Not anymore.  The attendance of newbies at the Sharp Park range in Pacifica at the Community Outreach Sundays has increased.  One could simply attribute this to Summer, but that would not follow the pattern of previous Summers.

On the other hand, attendance at organized events is down.  What gives?  We are getting more newbies but losing the established cadre?

The economy may be a driving factor in both of these phenomena.  People are starting to look for recreational activities that don’t involve a lot of money and can be done locally.

We all know how expensive archery equipment can be.  But when you compare the price of outfitting an archer to, for instance, the price of outfitting a golfer, we archers have to admit we have the better part of that deal.  Also, I don’t know any golfers who build their own equipment, and I don’t ever remember seeing a golf club (or a golf ball) that could be considered a piece of art.

We all know that there are some very nice golf courses in the Bay Area.  What most people don’t realize is that there are half a dozen very beautiful outdoor archery ranges within an hour’s drive of downtown San Francisco.   These golf courses can charge up to $60 and more even on a weekday.  That’s about the price I pay for my yearly membership to San Francisco Archers, which allows me to use the range at my leisure.

So, why is attendance at the organized events down?  I believe it’s because people are starting to pick and choose which events they want to participate in.  When times are good, we go to all of them.  Or nearly.  When the price of gasoline is high and the value of the US dollar drops, we only go to our favorites. I won’t be attending the Western States Traditional Rendezvous until the venue returns to California, or I start making much more money.  Hmm. I wonder which will happen first?

SCA Archery and the Labors of Hercules

On August 8th, 2009, the Shire of Cloondara, which is the SCA equivalent of San Francisco, California, hosted its annual Debardchery contest, a combination of archery and bardic contests.  As Archery Mistress, I ran the archery part.  It takes pretty much all year to plan and pull this off.

The Hydra from the Labors of Hercules as a homemade 3D target.

The Hydra from the Labors of Hercules as a homemade 3D target.

The theme of the even was the 12 Labors of Hercules, and we made our own targets.  Here you can see the Hydra.  The rest of the targets were painted on cardboard.  We used the Stymphalian birds as speed targets – The archer could shoot as many arrows as possible in thirty seconds.  There were six small targets, about six inches across, places between 5 and 10 meters distant.  The archer had to shoot each target once before shooting any target twice.

Debardchery 2009 Stymphalian Birds target

Debardchery 2009 Stymphalian Birds target

SCA Archery is restricted to traditional archery gear and wooden arrows, however the construction of the equipment is often modern.  After all, it is called “creative anachronism.”  This is due to the fact that “period” archery gear is near impossible to find on the commercial market, and most amateur archers are not comfortable building their own bows.  We’re comfortable making our own period garb, but functional weaponry, not so much.  There is, however, a “period archery” division in inter-kingdom competition. But if we insisted on strictly medieval construction for bows and arrows, we wouldn’t have many archers.  However, if you want to talk about homemade bows, I can publish some posts on that.

We're comfortable making our own period garb.  Functional weaponry, not so much.

We're comfortable making our own period garb. Functional weaponry, not so much.

Medieval women shooting modern bow

We had a record turn out this year.  Thirty-three medieval archers ranging in skill level from “I’ve never held a bow before in my life!” to “Yeah, I practice every day for an hour before work.”  We separated archers as best we could into five separate skill levels.

The distances to the targets ranged from 5 meters to 45 meters.  However, one 12-year old intrepid longbowmen was allowed to shoot from 30 meters max, as his bow was not able to cast 45 meters.

My schedule for the weekend was a simple one: Saturday – Debardchery.  Sunday – the Cupid’s Gate tourney, which is a “mundane” or real world competition.  So of course, I woke up Saturday morning with a fever and a hoarse voice.  One of the Shire heralds was kind enough to be my voice for the day.  However, she couldn’t compete for me in the Cupid’s Gate, so I regretfully did not participate.

The Age of My Life

I really hate that I qualify for this event.  The city of Sacramento, California is sponsoring a program called Sports for Life!  The tag-line is The Sports for Life! Series aims to provide many of Sacramento’s 50+ athletes with an opportunity to continuing pursuing the sports they love.

Ach!!  50+ Athletes?!  Yes, that refers to age, not the number of participants.  I’m over 50?!  Gack!!  I can’t be that old!  I was just in college … well … thirty years ago.  But that was just last week!

When our oldest son turned 21, we told him that was enough.  He’s not allowed to have any more birthdays because we aren’t old enough to have kids his age.   To his credit, he has made every effort to comply, but he turned 27 in March.

But hey!!  Look at the program of events that the City of Sacramento is sponsoring:

Tentative 2009 Series Schedule

March 28 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, Hotshot and Free Throw Event (Leonardo Di Vinci School)

April 25th & 26th Soccer Tournament (Cherry Island Soccer Complex)

May 9th Archery Tournament (Discovery Park)

September 3-on-3 Basketball Tournament, Hotshot and Free Throw Event (Leonardo Di Vinci School)

Basketball, soccer and archery.  It’s not like it’s chess and contract bridge.  This blog is being written by a senior woman who has scars on her hands from swords and wrenches (I repair airplanes for a living), and callouses on her fingers from archery, and I wear them as a badge of honor.  This is not our parents’ retirement!  During sword sparing class last night, a young man in his thirties commented, “You’re kicking my butt in the endurance department!”

Still, there’s that psychological reaction to one’s half-century birthday, and that was a few years ago.  Is the Senior Olympics next?

It’s time to embrace the age of my life and enjoy it.  And by enjoy it, I mean kicking whipper-snapper butt with sword and bow.  I know where I will be on May 9th (The Flower Moon).  Heading for Sacramento with a banjo on my knee.  Where will you be?