By Joseph Robertia
Seldovia — a place where a boat rumbles into the harbor after a long day of halibut fishing. On the mainland, four-wheelers putter along a dusty trail. In the blue sky overhead, a boomerang “whit-whit-whirls” its way through the air.
Wait — what?
That’s right, a boomerang, thrown and caught by Bruce Flint, who recently started a boomerang club in Seldovia, and one he hopes will become the first Alaska club of its sort recognized by the U.S. Boomerang Association.
“We don’t want to be the only one, though,” Flint said. “We hope, down the road, to inspire other areas around the state to start clubs, so we could go to Anchorage or other areas and compete.”
For now, though, the newly formed club’s members are still learning the principles of aerodynamic lift and gyroscopic precession.
“There’s a lot to it,” Flint said.
He would know. Having just turned 60 at the beginning of the month, he has thrown boomerangs since he was 6 years old, is a longtime member of the U.S. Boomerang Association, has competed in tournaments across the Lower 48, and even tried out for the national boomerang team.
There are 25 countries with national boomerang organizations and a World Boomerang Championship held every two years. Not bad for an activity that only became recognized as an organized sport in the 1960s.
“I thought it would be fun to have something like this in a small town, and people seem excited about it so far,” Flint said, having acquired nearly a dozen members to the club already. He’s also fielding calls from others interested as far away as Kenai. “It’s about 50-50 ratio of adults to kids.”
At the handful of meets the club has held at the Susan B. English School field, Flint said he has mostly been teaching the fundamentals of boomerang physics, and teaching how to throw and catch the bent-wing piece of equipment correctly.
“(The field) isn’t quite big enough to do long-distance throwing, but it’s been good for learning how to read the wind and throw correctly. It’s drawn interest. Sometimes when we’re throwing, cars will stop and people will get out and watch us,” Flint said.
Even the wildlife of the Seldovia area seems inquisitive about the boomerangs whirling through the air.
“We’ve had birds dive at a few that we’ve thrown,” Flint said.
Beyond learning the fundamentals, and the occasional avian attacker, Flint said a challenging part of learning the sport is understanding all the factors that can affect a boomerang’s flight, from weather to throwing technique to the shape of the boomerang itself.
“They’re a lot like snowflakes, no two are the same. Even two boomerangs made on the same mold won’t fly the same,” he said.
So many subtle things alter the course of a boomerang. Flint likens the sport to golf. A lot of bad holes can be easily forgotten when one beautiful swing is made that sets the ball up high on the green.
“It can be tough to get it all to line up, but once you start to get it down, it’s very addicting. It’s a very satisfying feeling to launch one off and have it return to you. It can be hard to get away from. One last throw always turns into 10,” he said.
Throwing takes place individually, with a thrower standing at the center of concentric rings marked on an open field.
The field is marked with circles at 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10 meters, he said. The center circle is the bull’s-eye. There also are distance markers at 20, 30, 40 and 50 meters. The boomerang must always go at least 20 meters.
“The first competition is accuracy. This is the most simple event. Throw the boomerang from the bull’s-eye five times, and have it land on the ground as near as possible to you. You get 10 points if it lands in the bull’s-eye or you get the points of the other circles if it lands in them,” he said.
There are many other events, including:
v Endurance, in which points are awarded for the number of catches achieved in five minutes;
v Fast Catch, which is the time taken to throw and catch the boomerang five times with the winner having the fastest timed catches; and
v Maximal Time Aloft, often referred to as MTA, which is when points are awarded for the length of time the boomerang is in the air.
So much throwing — and chasing of boomerangs that have missed their mark — is another aspect of the sport that Flint said is good for the community members involved.
“It’s not just fun, it’s good athletics, too,” he said. “Throwing develops the arms, chest and abdominal muscles. You’re jogging hundreds of yards to chase them down and there’s lots of bending down to pick the boomerangs up. It’s all very aerobic.”
Added to that, in a town as tiny as Seldovia, where it can be tough to wrangle enough people together for even a pickup game of more traditional team sports, boomerang throwing can be done alone, between times when the club’s members meet up.
“Kids can do it after school, adults after work. You go out, warm up and get in some good throws. It’s a lot like meditation when done alone,” Flint said “It can totally clear your mind.”