WHY NOT EAU CLAIRE?
I asked quite a few people why they liked this little game of dubious origins, and they all said that there’s just something about it that gets a hold of you. “I saw Eric playing it and I wanted to play it. It was really that simple,” said Aaron Ellringer, who is tossing around the idea of starting a U.S. Kubb Association. “We’re going to spend the next year figuring out what it means and how to put it into place. It seems like Eau Claire is a willing community, and there are a lot of people in town who would support that.” Anderson really likes the social aspect of kubb, and says that every time he plays a passerby stops or a motorist pulls over to ask what he’s playing. “It’s a cool way to bring people together, and I’ve seen and met people around town who I wouldn’t have otherwise.”
What makes them think little ol’ Eau Claire is mighty enough to host the kubb nationals or even a national association? Anderson rejects that question and asks, why not Eau Claire? Although kubb is played in some other places in the country – there are clubs in New York and Seattle – the Upper Midwest has quite a few kubb tournaments, including annual events in Dallas, WI and Duluth, MN.
Even more importantly, Anderson believes Eau Claire to be perfectly situated in what he calls the Nordic Corridor, attracting people from nearby cities with large Scandinavian populations. “What I’m hoping is that Eau Claire is going to be the hub between the Twin Cities, Chicago, Madison, Rockford, and we are the kubb capital,” he said, and then chuckled at himself. “This is sounding crazy.”
In fact, Anderson thinks it’s fairly safe to say that, per capita, kubb is played more in Eau Claire than anywhere else in the U.S. This may have something to do with our nostalgia for the motherland. All of Anderson’s grandparents came from Sweden. He enjoys the emotional connection to his “cultural DNA” and figures that probably appeals to a lot of other people, too. “There are so many people living here with Scandinavian background or German background. I think it’s easy to get excited about something that’s part of our history.”
But it’s not just about reaching back to a community across the pond; it’s also about building something new. “You think about the people you meet because of kubb, and I think there’s something about it that brings people together and helps build community.” A key aspect to this may be that kubb is not just a game, but a community event. Kubb has been a part of local happenings like the farmer’s market, the Sounds Like Summer concerts, the Rock-n-Roll Kickball Classic, and WHYS Bluegrass Festival. Some kubb games even organically transform themselves into events. Anderson recalled the second kubb friendly he organized in April 2008, which was held at Peace Park across from the old Just Local Food. Fellow kubb-head Zac Barnes had run into some members of New North String Band the day before and invited them to come by. They ended up playing for a couple hours. Some other people brought some grills, others brought soccer balls and Frisbees. In the end at least 60 people showed up. “What was great was that I did not even know over half the people there,” Anderson said.
Anderson’s end goal is to have kubb be part of the Valley culture, something that we all share together as a community – not just those of us who trace our ancestry to the cold parts of Europe. He and Barnes were invited to teach kubb to fourth and fifth graders at Flynn Elementary, and Anderson said that about a fifth of the kids said they had played before. He sees this as further proof that Eau Claire and kubb belong together. “Nowhere else in North America are a fifth of the kids at a school saying that they have already played it.”
“I think it is safe to say that the goal for a lot of us here (such as the local kubb club Eau Claire Berserkers) is for kubb and Eau Claire to be synonymous,” he said. “There are two types of people in Eau Claire: those who have heard about kubb and played it, and those who will shortly hear about it and play.”