FEATURE: Kubbtown, USA

how kubb, a Nordic lawn game, swept Eau Claire and made us a national hotspot

Katie Venit, photos by V1 Staff

“I have big plans for Eau Claire,” said Eric Anderson, coordinator of the U.S. National Kubb Championship in Boyd Park on July 17. What’s that? You’ve never heard of kubb and don’t even have any idea how to pronounce it? You must not have made Anderson’s acquaintance yet. He is more or less (but mostly more) responsible for kubb’s infiltration of the Chippewa Valley. He’s passionate about kubb and wants to make it a part of our daily lives.

VIKING CHESS ... OR NOT

First things first. Kubb (pronounced “koob” and rhymes with tube) is a modern version of an old European lawn game. Grass is nice, but it can really be played almost anywhere, even on a foot of snow as was the case at Volume One’s Winter After Hours socials in Boyd Park. The basic idea is to knock over all of the opposing team’s kubb and then their king. It’s often been called Viking chess because of its alleged medieval Nordic beginnings and the strategy involved.

    Those medieval beginnings are alleged because no one really has any idea how long kubb has been around. At the very least, our Nordic friends have been playing it since way back in the 1980s when it became popular on a small Swedish island called Gotland. The island hosts a popular medieval week and is home to a medieval World Heritage site. Kubb quickly became associated as “Gotlandic” to Swedes, and to Swedes “Gotlandic” equals medieval. So kubb may only be a few decades old, or it’s entirely possible that it actually is a newly rediscovered medieval game that was played by Erik the Red.1 

Either way, our part in the kubb story picks up a few years ago when Anderson went to Sweden for a year of grad studies. He got hooked on kubb and brought it with him to Eau Claire. Realizing it was a great way to meet people in his new home, he organized a tournament in the summer of 2007 on the green space across the street from the old Just Local Food (the walking bridge on West Grand).

The championship has expanded every year and has drawn more and more people from far-flung states, so Anderson has decided to call it the U.S. National Kubb Championship. “I thought, nobody else is doing it. People are coming from all over so we might as well call it the nationals and push the envelope a little bit.”

There is no U.S. Kubb Association (yet) to regulate this sort of thing, but this tournament is large enough to warrant the title. In fact, with 48 teams and a waiting list, last year’s was the fourth largest tournament in the world and the largest outside of Europe (the World Championships in Sweden hosts more than 165 teams). Anderson is limiting this year’s tourney to 64 teams – the most Boyd Park can handle – and if it gets any larger in future years he’s going to have to search for a new spot.

“I don’t want to say I’m thinking big because … well, it’s just kubb,” he said a bit sheepishly, but he has so much enthusiasm for the lawn game that it’s easy to get swept up in kubb fever.

“I know this sounds crazy, but when I talk to people who are looking to buy a house, some people actually make sure they have an area in the yard for a kubb pitch,” he said. “A guy I know up in Chippewa Falls is going to put little cement circles in the yard that designate where the four corners and king go.”