Lesson No. 1 when learning the game of kubb is its proper pronunciation.
That’s a good starting point for those looking to attend the sport’s 4th annual West Coast Championships on Sunday at South Pasadena’s Orange Grove Park.
Kubb – pronounced “koob”– is lawn game where two opposing players or teams up to six take turns trying to knock down their opponents wooden blocks by throwing batons, made of wood.
Sounds simple enough, but to become proficient, like anything, it takes a lot of practice inside the small rectangular field, known as a “pitch.” Some describe it as a combination of bowling and horseshoes.
Long Live the King!
Yes, he even has a significant role in this game. “Once all five of the other team’s kubbs have been knocked down, the game is won by knocking over a special, larger piece in the middle of the pitch called the king,” explained John Pettersson, the marketing director for the Los Angeles Kubb Club, a team comprised of South Pasadena residents.
The game, explained Pettersson, is Scandinavian in origin and “rumor has it, it originated 1,000 years ago when the Vikings played using the skulls and femurs of those they vanquished in battle.”
Thirty-five to 40 teams are expected to compete on Sunday. Starting at 9:30 a.m., a series of 25-minute games will be played, setting up a tournament bracket for the top eight teams and a consolation bracket for the remaining squads. Following lunch, standard tournament-style elimination rounds reduce the field, with a championship match culminating the event at roughly 3 p.m.
“Past tournaments have drawn a diverse group of players from the local community and around the country, and this year’s tournament promises to be our biggest yet,” explained Pettersson, noting that the “upper Midwest is really the heartland of kubb in the U.S., with tournaments every weekend from April through October. “We already have at least a dozen of some of the sports’ best players and teams from that area registered for our tournament. In addition to becoming a destination tournament for kubb players hailing from colder climates, it has also become a staple community event for South Pasadena, with dozens of kids, families and local players coming back year after year to enjoy a fun day in the park and a chance at glory!”
While the sport is played widely around Europe and is very popular in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois – “where people have big lawns on which to play!,” explained Pettersson,
The sport initially found its way to South Pasadena via former Los Angeles Kubb Club commissioner and founder Joe Zenas, who saw it played while traveling to work one day.
“He quickly made a game set of his own and recruited a handful of South Pas friends to learn and play this fun game,” Pettersson explained. “Since then, the game has steadily grown in popularity around town as more and more friends and neighbors get drawn in at parties, in the parks, through the public Learn-and-Play events we hold regularly in Garfield Park, and social media.”
As a result of it being fun, collegial, and easy to learn, the Los Angeles Kubb Club marketing manager says it doesn’t take long for people to by in and become hooked. “It’s also one of the few games where different generations and fitness levels can play and have fun all together,” said Pettersson.
The winner of last year’s tournament in South Pasadena was a grandfather/grandson team from Wisconsin and Colorado.
Los Angeles Kubb Club players are now introducing the sport to a younger audience, bringing it to 6th graders at South Pasadena Middle School as an intramural program. “The kids have a great time and many have gone on play on their own and even to enter the tournament,” said Pettersson, who joined fellow South Pasadena residents Wayne Busic and Julian Petrillo to tie for fifth out of 128 teams at the 2018 U.S. National Kubb Championships in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Like any sport, kubb can become spirited among opponents, but friendships and camaraderie rule the day more than not. “One wonderful thing about kubb that makes it so attractive is the collegiality of the players,” Pettersson said. “While it can certainly be very competitive and good-natured ribbing among friends is common, each match is started and ended with a handshake. Players call their own mistakes, and good sportsmanship is expected. This makes the game accessible and welcoming to a wide range of ages and abilities.”
To learn more about the sport, visit the Los Angeles Kubb Club at www.lakubb.org