The Beatles at the 1966 US Kubb Open

The Fab Four warm up after arriving unannounced to the 1966 US Kubb Open

In early August 1966, while in Chicago for what would be their final tour as a band, the Beatles paid a surprise visit to Settlers Park in Rockton, IL to enter the 1966 US Kubb Open.  Though registration was already closed, Kubb United founder and event director Jim Fitzgerald quickly made room for the boys in the bracket.  Pictured above warming up shortly after their arrival, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison look on while blaster John Lennon (not pictured) takes some 4 meter practice throws.

Word of the Fab Four’s presence in town quickly spread and it wasn’t long before the fans overwhelmed the park and Winnebago County Sheriffs Deputies had to be called in to keep order at the tourney.  Once the crowds were under control the boys were able to focus on their game and performed admirably.  The team’s run ultimately came to an end when they lost to a multi-generational family team, who’s 10-year-old star David Ellringer dashed his heroes’ hopes by throwing an astonishing seven neighbors over the course of two games and knocking the Brits out in the round of sixteen.

While it was certainly a thrill for the people of Rockton and Beloit to rub shoulders with the international superstars, the feeling turned out to be mutual.  In a post tournament interview, George told Kubbnation Magazine that the band had played kubb extensively during their time living in Hamburg, Germany but due to a demanding tour and recording schedule hadn’t had the time to play much since then.  “We’ve always wanted to play in a big American tournament,” said Harrison in his signature Liverpudlian Scouse, “and to be able to play here at the US Kubb Open is really a dream come true.”

The following week, Tiger Beat magazine ran a piece on the heartthrobs’ visit to the tournament and the resulting exposure of legions of young Beatles fans to the sport sparked a huge – though short-lived – interest in kubb across the country.  It is rumored that the track “Sun King,” released a few years later on their Abby Road LP was inspired by the yellow kings that were used at that 1966 US Kubb Open and the positive energy they experienced at the tourney.

Spinal Tap: The Punishment Kubb Sessions

Spinal Tap: Punishment Kubb
Artwork from Spinal Tap’s unreleased 1975 “Punishment Kubb” recording sessions.

 

In the spring of 1975, British rock icons Spinal Tap were taking a well-deserved rest after a long and loud tour of North America in support of their critically acclaimed album “Intravenus de Milo.”

The band was spending time in the studio recording a new concept record conceived and written by bassist Derek Smalls.  Inspired by The Who’s wildly successful “Tommy,” Smalls endeavored to write his own rock opera – “Punishment Kubb” –  about a boy who gets revenge on his grade school bullies by becoming a champion kubb player and crushing his former oppressors on the pitch.

It was only six months earlier that that the rockers had been introduced to the game of kubb. At a raucous afterparty following their partly sold-out LA Forum show, promoter Artie Fufkin introduced the band to LA Kubb Club member Alice Cooper who invited them out for a friendly late-night match.  Three hours of horse-tranquilizer-fuelled block tossing later, the lads were hooked!  In a later interview with Rolling Stone magazine, singer David St. Hubbins and guitarist Nigel Tuftnel would count that night among the more important in their spiritual journey as a band. “I like the bit where you throw wood at other wood,” mused Tuftnel.

At the end of that fateful night, Cooper gave the band a kubb set to use for the rest of their tour and the game quickly became a pre-show ritual for them as they made their way across the country.  Kubb turned out to be something of an obsession for Smalls, who immediately started kicking around ideas for his kubb-centered concept album.

Recording was plagued by difficulties from the start.   Early on, during a back garden friendly, the band lost their fourth drummer, Ian “Stumpy” Marshall when he was struck in the temple by a wild baton throw and died instantly.  Additionally, the project was over-budget almost from the beginning due to Smalls’ insistence on having all 86 members of the London Philharmonic play triangle on the 12 minute epic track, “The Outhouse” – an homage to legendary late night South Pasadena kubb spot where Tap had first played the game.

With the death of yet another drummer, the budget overruns and the absence, after 6 weeks in the studio, of any releasable material, Polymer Records decided to pull the plug on the Punishment Kubb sessions.   Recordings from those sessions have never been released but it’s rumored that the free-form “Jazz Odyssey” which Spinal Tap would go on to include in their mid 80’s festival shows was a reworking of “Behind the King,” the 35 minute musical exploration of PK placement from those legendary 1975 sessions.

Sun Tzu and the Art of Kubb

Sun Tzu – Master Kubber

 

Kubb historians have long credited viking expeditions for spreading the game of kubb as they conquered their way across Europe and the North Atlantic during the ninth and tenth centuries.  Academics at Nanjing University, however, are developing new theories about a much older and more distant chapter of kubb history that has long been suspected but never proven.  A treasure trove of writings dating back to China’s “warring states” period has been unearthed, shedding new light on Sun Tzu’s classic “Art of War” and strongly suggesting it was originally a strategy manual for kubb rather than the military treatise it has long been thought to be.

Among the findings in these newly discovered documents are descriptions of early Scandinavian traders visiting the area, offering minimalist furniture and kubb sets and teaching the Chinese merchants how to play the game.  There are descriptions of the royal court quickly adopting this exotic new pastime, playing in their palace gardens with bespoke lacquered cedar batons and beautiful jade kubbs.

Perhaps most exciting is the discovery of several early editions of Sun Tzu’s famous work, written in traditional calligraphy, that use in their title an older character for “War” that the same as the one for “kubb.”  Based on these new revelations, it is now believed that Master Sun Tzu was a champion kubber rather than a military strategist.  Researchers suspect that it wasn’t until in the 3rd Century BC (well after Sun Tzu’s death) that his work was co-opted by the bellicose first Qin emperor, who refashioned “The Art of Kubb” into “The Art of War” that we know today.

 

LAKC and the 2007 US National Championship

On the eve of the annual US National Kubb Championship, it seems fitting to look back at the historic and tragic 2007 season when the Los Angeles Kubb Club made it’s debut on the national kubb scene.

With all the attention brought by the the LAKC’s feature on the March 2007 Sports Illustrated cover and the countless ESPN profile pieces and interviews, the expectations for how these six kids from SoCal would fair in Eau Claire could not have been higher.  Sadly, their performance at the big dance that summer could not have been poorer.  Until that point, kubb in California had been primarily a beach sport so, totally unaccustomed as they were to playing in the thick Midwestern turf, neither Kubb LA nor the Kalifornia Kubbers won a single game at nationals that year and quickly became the laughing stock of the sports world.

Once all of the ridicule and mocking in the press and online had subsided, the boys from South Pasadena regrouped and began to rebuild their organization as a grass-based league, with the long-term goal of reclaiming their dignity on the national kubb stage.  It wasn’t until 2015 that they dared re-enter competitive tournament play when they returned to Eau Claire for the first time in eight years.  Since then, the LAKC has been slowly building their reputation as humble but competent kubbers who are just happy to be making some friends and throwing some wood.  The club is excited for Nationals this year, though realistic about their chances given a very competitive field.  “Win or lose, we’re gonna chug some brews!” exclaimed Kubb LA driller Marshall Dostal when reached for comment.

Kubb and the GOAT: Roger Federer’s Return to the ATP Tour

Sidelined by injury for most of the 2016 season, tennis superstar Roger Federer has come back strong in 2017 with big wins in Melbourne, Indian Wells and Miami earlier in the year, but has opted to take much of the spring off to train for the grass court season and Wimbledon.  A new and important part of his grueling training regimen includes playing three-to-four hours a day of one-on-one kubb.  In a recent interview with Kubbnation magazine, Roger said that he has found that repetitive 8m throws and 4m blasting in particular help him greatly with his shot-placement.  “Kubb is really great for my transition to the grass court.  Baton work helps me build strength and improve my ball control.”  “I let (coach) Ivan (Llubicic) handle the inkasting, though,” the star said with a wry smile, “…I’m no good with the kubbs.”

It is unknown at this time whether any other players on the tour incorporate the “sport of kings” into their training routines, but a strong performance by Federer at Wimbledon this summer will certainly cause others to take a closer look at kubb as an effective cross-training option.

U2 and the Gotland Riots

In the mid-seventies, the Mount Temple Comprehensive School kubb team was one of the strongest on the greater Dublin junior circuit and it was on that team that the four young lads who would become one of rock ’n roll’s biggest acts first met.  Before any of them had even considered a career in music, Paul “Bono” Hewson, Dave “Edge” Evans, Adam Clayton, and Larry Mullen, Jr. – pictured here practicing on a snowy winter’s day in 1976 – had developed a synergy on the pitch that made them a dominating force in Irish kubb.

As has been widely reported, U2’s breakthrough 1983 hit “Sunday Bloody Sunday” was in fact written about the social unrest that followed the controversial final match at the 1981 Kubb World Championships in Gotland, Sweden.  Visiting kubb hooligans took to the streets of Gotland that August, smashing windows and throwing molotov cocktails after a line judge controversially ruled that a stake-shunted field kubb was improperly tipped up, a call that cost the upstart American team, Damage Incorporated, the title.  The song was a rallying cry to the kubb community and is viewed by kubb historians as the catalyst that brought about the standardization of rules and regulations that govern the sport today.

Fun fact:  Guitarist Dave Evans first got the nickname “the Edge” during his kubbing days due to his ability to pickup 8-meter baseline doubles by tagging the very edge of the kubb, knocking it sideways into it’s neighbor.

 

 

The US-UK “Special Relationship”

Since World War II, the United States and Britain have often been described as having a “Special Relationship.”  Few realize that the term was first used by Prime Minister Winston Churchill when he and US President Harry Truman teamed up for the 1945 U.S. National Kubb Championship.  While they ended up with a respectable silver-bracket showing, the two statesmen found their on-pitch skill sets complemented each others’ wonderfully: Churchill a formidable blaster and Truman a capable and dependable driller.

It was during a post-tourney interview with the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that Churchill waxed effusive about his love of kubb and the “special relationship” the two men have while playing.  Over time this term has come to refer to the close diplomatic, economic and military ties between the two nations.

Pictured here discussing the importance of controlled baton rotation with Prime Minister David Cameron during a State Visit in 2011, President Barack Obama was known to be an avid kubber and taking a cue from his idol, Abraham Lincoln, brought the game back as an important tool of statecraft. The two leaders played together on several occasions, both at the White House and on the very pitch set up by Churchill himself behind 10 Downing Street.  Not since the Reagan / Thatcher era had the game of kubb played such an important role in British-American relations.

When asked in a 2013 interview with Foreign Affairs Magazine about his playing style, President Obama was quoted as saying, “Michelle always tells me I should step into my throws, but I find my 4-meter percentages go way down when I do that…  uhhh….so I like to stand still.”

Since the inauguration in January 2017 of Donald Trump as President, many kubb pundits and international affairs experts have been wondering what will become of this historic “special relationship.”  Trump has been known to play some kubb at his Mar-a-Lago resort with a special 3/4-sized set which he had custom-made to accommodate his smaller hand-size.  Since drilling with full-sized kubbs might prove challenging for him, it remains to be seen whether he will abandon this rich tradition of kubbing with foreign dignitaries, or perhaps team up with a drilling specialist that would allow him to play the game without embarrassment.

1960 Hollywood Invitational

People often associate California in the 50’s and 60’s with beach and surfing culture, but that period is also widely considered the heyday of kubb on the West Coast. Brought from the Midwest to the backyards and beaches of Southern California by the many aspiring actors, actresses and retirees fleeing the winter snow and summer humidity of Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, kubb started gaining prominence around Los Angeles in the mid 1940’s. By 1960, it was a staple of every party and picnic from Pacific Palisades to Pasadena; popular among beach bums and Hollywood royalty alike.

This print ad, which ran in the L.A. Times, Variety and Kubbnation Magazine throughout March and early April of 1960 shows model, actress and original kubb pin-up girl, Marilyn Monroe, resting during an autumn friendly at a Topanga Canyon ranch. Early in her career, Monroe was one of kubb’s biggest enthusiasts and evangelists, but as time went on, her prominence waned as she developed a reputation for exploiting her blatant sex-appeal and ditzy-blonde persona to avoid being called out on her frequent and egregious helicopters.

Even after her competitive playing days were over, kubb still played a big part of Monroe’s life. Court filings revealed that one of the “irreconcilable differences” attributed to her divorce from playwright Arthur Miller was her insistence that kubb was a sport. Miller maintained it was just a game.

Star Wars Episode VIII, 2016

Due in part to the LA Kubb Club’s proximity to Hollywood and the club’s representation in the entertainment industry, it has become quite common these days to find kubb pitches setup in studio back-lots and on filming locations around the world. Few actors have embraced the game as much as Luke Skywalker himself, Mark Hamill. In his contract rider, Hamill always demands a brand new tournament-spec poplar kubb set, from JP’s Backyard Games of Chaska, MN, set up on a regulation pitch within 30 feet of his trailer and is known to pull extras, grips and craft services personnel away from their work in order to play kubb with him in the downtime between his scenes. He attributes what he considers to be his outstanding acting ability to the meditative experience of playing one-on-one kubb just before a take.

Hamill can be seen in this March 2016 photo playing kubb with Star Wars co-star Daisy Ridley atop Ireland’s Skellig Michael island during filming of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. Ridley has just lost the king toss and is handing Hamill his fourth baton.

Not everyone shares the actor’s love of the game, however. As is made clear by her facial expression in the photograph, Ridley (who’s character, Rey, represents the new generation of protagonists in the blockbuster sci-fi series) is frequently annoyed at the distraction of having to play Hamill during principal photography. “If this guy spent half as much time working on his acting as he does on his drilling, he might not be such a hack,” vented an exasperated Ridley during a recent shoot in the Moroccan desert. “…you’re not going to print that, right?”

Assuming reshoots have wrapped by then, Hamill is expected to make another appearance at the West Coast Kubb Championships in South Pasadena on April 23rd 2017 with teammate and fellow uncastable Star Wars alum, Hayden Christensen.

Lincoln’s Log Lobbers, 1862

In October, 1862 President Abraham Lincoln visited General George McClellan’s camp of the Army of the Potomac not long after the Battle of Antietam. Pictured here playing kubb are Union Army intelligence officer Alan Pinkerton, President Lincoln and General John McClernand – a team the president would playfully refer to as “Lincoln’s Log Lobbers.” While the photo doesn’t show the opposing team, declassified Civil War-era documents have led historians to believe that in this match the “Lobbers” soundly defeated General McClellan and two unnamed lieutenants in a quick best-of-three contest in which Pinkerton’s world-renowned inkasting skills proved decisive.

The Union Army’s strategic victory at the battle of Antietam is widely attributed to the unseasonably cold weather that September. Unaccustomed to fighting in such conditions, the Confederate army suffered many colds and pulled hamstrings, giving the North a considerable advantage. That cold weather persisted into October as evident in this photo, where Pinkerton and McClernand can be seen keeping their baton throwing hands warm inside their coats.

While much has been written about Lincoln’s childhood, early career and presidency, an often-overlooked but critical factor in his success as a statesman was his love of kubb. As biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin explains in her book “Team of Rivals,” Lincoln often used kubb as a pretext to bring opponents together and was even known to hold cabinet meetings over friendly matches on a pair of pitches he had staked out on the White House’s south lawn. The “Lincoln Pitches,” as they came to be known, were used for recreation and diplomacy by every president except FDR until 1971, when Richard Nixon, paranoid that kubb’s Scandinavian roots made it a “Socialist” game, had the area converted into a rose garden.

Fun fact: Lincoln always carried two batons and a staked practice kubb under his hat and would often instruct his carriage driver to pull over when passing a particularly fine patch of lawn so that he could get out and practice his 8 meter throws.