Qualifying for the National Kubb Tournament in Eau Claire, Wisconsin is still a simple affair of having two friends, fifty American dollars and the good sense to register. This is not intended to cast doubt on the strength of the competition at Nationals, nor to suggest that the Kubbchucks have been lazy in the months since they played their first competiton in the fabulous Minneapolis Loppett. If anything it is a sweet commentary on the sport of Kubb which simultaneously is growing in sophistication and retaining the best aspects of a fun lawn game where everyone is encouraged to play.
Kubbchucks had encouraged so many people to play that the team played as two teams of three. We may have been the only team to clone itself, a good measure of the Kubb fever that had swept our group. Along the way websites were created, scoring systems developed, T-shirts designed, actual practice occurred on a few occasions and perhaps most significantly one of our own grew a mustache specifically for the tournament. It seemed that Kubb was on everyone’s lips this Summer.
Alas, I can only provide gratuitous detail on one half of the Kubbchucks performance because I only witnessed half the matches. What I will say about the team I was not on is that they seemed to enjoy themselves despite some short games where they played cheaters. Plus, they looked fantastic, again the mustache played a key role here. I do recall one moment when one of the players tried to rip the shirt he was wearing in half and discovered the official Kubbchuck shirts do not tear easily. I tip my hat here in admiration of the gesture and the recovery both of which seem very much in line with the spirit of a lawn game tournament.
The tournament my half of the Kubbchucks experienced was the kind of harrowing roller coaster ride one would expect from this game of momentum. Our round robin included the accomplished team of Tad Kubbler and so we knew there would be rough sailing. So when we arrived we were quick to pull aside a team called Blue Footed Kubbies who we thought would be a good first match. They had the trappings of youth: tight 70’s shorts, significant moustaches and tight graphic t-shirts. We thought wisdom an effective weapon here with at least one of our number having distinct memories of the 70’s. No one who had been there would dress that way.
Still they were friendly and confident and off we started our match before it became apparent that they did not know the rules. I would never make a fuss about this since less than half a year previous we did not know the rules and the first team had to gently tell us how it worked. We did the same for these fellas and though they acceded to our “version” of the rules there was a tense moment or two. You could immedately see the impact of this being “nationals” where even a friendly isn’t so friendly.
In any case we won. We took the first two games. Our play was not great but good enough. They were not consistent and learning the rules. It was clear they would get better as the day went on.
We then picked up the Sweedish Ice Kubbs which consisted of a lovely coulpe and their thirteen year old son. We figured this one would be a lay up because, well really: a family? They were cute and friendly but we figured we had experience and intensity on our side. So we eagerly started the match.
And then we went cold. Ice Cold. Sweedish Ice Cold. We missed six eight meters in a row. Then twelve. Then eighteen. And so on. The SIK managed to get a few of ours down and so we’d clear the field Kubbs and then miss the base line. Over and over and over again. We were giving each other pep talks, one of our own was starting to mutter about how fun this was but it was anything but fun. Each turn brought us closer to a messy loss as the Swedish Ice Kubbs got their rhythm and suddenly there were three and then four field Kubbs going back and forth and always we miss the baseline. I could not even guess how many we missed before I managed to knock one down at which point I fell to the ground and declared, “I am so happy!”
But I wasn’t happy and by this time the SIK had gotten under our skin. The intensity of the thirteen-year-old was more than I would be able to muster for the rest of the day. The play between the couple, the encouragement, “go Mom!” and their desire was more than we could bear. They beat us in the first game. We tried to regroup but it was gone and they beat us in the second game as well. The record book shows that we won one game of the three, I can’t recall this at all–perhaps I’ve blocked it out because of the brutal circumstances of the loss.
Throughly shaken, we were then to face the formidable Tad Kubbler–a team we know pretty well and is more talented than us. Prior to the tournament we’d said, “any game magic could happen.” After the Sweedish Ice Kubb drubbing Tad Kubbler looked impossible. The match gave no evidence to the contrary: they took two games in about five minutes in what was an exhibition in Kubb awesomness.
We finished the round robin 1-2 with bruised egos and a sense of dread about the afternoon. Was this what we came to Nationals for? To be schooled by Tad Kubbler? To melt down in front of a nice family from Eau Claire? These questions cast a shadow over the afternoon play.
I had a beer and several handfuls of pretzels. Not just pretzels but those awesome peanut butter filled pretzels that you get at Trader Joes. I think the beer was home brew that Garrick made, though it could have been something by the 21st amendment brewery. In any case, the beer marked a break between the brutality of the morning round robin and the afternoon bracket. It was a clean break, a refreshing partition that took the drubbings of the past and left them there.
We cam to the next game against three delightful but shirtless engineers. I believe they were engineers by trade, or perhaps they were going to school to become engineers. Not train engineers but some sort of practical build-some-stuff engineers. Let’s call them mechanical engineers. I don’t believe they were software engineers–those generally do not take off their shirts. These guys could sell it–sunglasses, youth, perfect smiles and a friendly Kubb attitutide.
For the record, I’m not sure if their team name was “the Engineers” or if that is just what we called them. Again, the beer may have begun to be a player here.
But the player that showed up was my partners Jamie and Garrick. The cold streak of the morning was long gone as we hit what we aimed for at all the distances. Garrick was a mad man of building field Kubb cities. We played well and it was fun. The Engineers played well too, so the game went on for a long time. We took the first match, they took the second and then in the third match it was a battle to a triumphant Kubbchuck finish.
What do you know, but this match turned out to be our way to pay into the winners bracket! So on we go to serious Kubb time, though with a short stop at the cooler for a few beers. Up next was a team called “The Good The Bad and The Ugly.”
I don’t remember being albe to tell which one was which. I do remember that they were not wearing shirts which struck me as kind of crazy. Two teams in a row that weren’t wearing shirts? It seemed unlikely and possibly like the tournament organizers had put us in the college-athletes or awesomely-gay brackets. But I guess if we had to play shirts and skins we were glad to be the skins.
In any case we were playing, they were good guys and the match started with everyone in a good mood. We played very strong but fell behind in the first match. Yet we battled back and came close to closing it out, only to lose in what was a very long game. In the second game we came back and if memory serves we closed that one out fairly quickly.
The last game was a monster. Back and forth and back and forth. Two evenly matched teams with tons of field Kubbs passing from one side to the other. A small crowd gathered and there was cheering for both sides. It seemed like the sun was setting and honestly it was getting mentally and physically exhausting. Dinner reservations needed to be adjusted because this game was going on so long.
Finally we lost and the Good the Bad and the Ugly went on to the next round. They ended up playing the Kubbsicles who ended up winning the whole tournament. It should be noted that the Kubbsicles are muscular young guys who wear shirts, but they are muscle shirts.
The Kubbchucks had a good showing for their first US Nationals. The tournament was well run, the players universally fun to hang out with. It was the best of sport and the best of lawn games and after we all had a week or two to rest it seems likely that next year we’ll be back. Possibly this time without our shirts….