ARCHERY EXPLODING IN POPULARITY ON SPACE COAST
By Robert Hughes // September 3, 2012
Olympics, Recent Films Spur Interest
BREVARD COUNTY • MELBOURNE, FLORIDA – Every four years, the Olympic Games draw people’s interest into sports that normally don’t get much attention – like beach volleyball, diving and kayaking.
That’s doubly true for sports where Americans come up with surprise wins, as in archery, where the American men’s archery team upset three-time defending gold medalists South Korea on their way to winning a silver medal in London.
So it should have been no surprise to Angie Olds, president of the Brevard Archers club, that her archery classes at Wickham Park have been suddenly overflowing with new participants.
Funny thing is, however, it wasn’t sterling athletes like world champion archer Brady Ellison that spurred the sudden interest. Instead, it was imaginary characters with names like Hawkeye and Merida.
Olds explained, “First, it was the ‘Hunger Games.’ And then it was ‘Brave.’ And then the ‘Avengers,’ which has a hero that shoots arrows. And now there’s a couple things coming out on TV” that involve archers.
“They’re why archery has exploded this summer.”
Olds said she normally would have six to 12 participants for her weekly classes at Wickham Park, but now she’s seeing the maximum of 30 prospective archers showing up. She’s adding classes but still struggling to keep up.
“I can’t stretch myself thin enough,” she said. “And we’ve had people who registered that didn’t show up for classes, thank goodness.”
Paul Koeltzow and his son, Logan, 8, were two that did show up for a class and Paul said Logan liked his first day of archery “so much, he didn’t want to leave.”
The senior Koeltzow said recent movies did create an incentive to try the sport.
“You can hear kids talk about ‘The Avengers’ and how they have ‘arrows that exploded and stuff,’ ” Koeltzow said. “When Logan saw that stuff, he said, ‘I would like to do that.’”
Krista Cohen also gave archery a first-time try for her sons, William, 9, and Zachary, 5.
“They loved it,” she said. “They’re begging for their own bows.”
Far from worrying about arrows “exploding,” Cohen feels archery is safe enough for young children.
“In the back yard, we can set up targets for them, at about 20 feet,” she said.
On another Saturday in the park, veteran archers who have stuck with the sport without the impetus of popular entertainment trends talked about how much archery has changed.
Ivone Luchette, who has been with the Brevard Archers for 16 years and last year won their “Shooter of the Year” award, said, “I’ve archered all my life.”
“Oh, my goodness. When I first started, you were lucky to know anyone who archered. You’d travel 25 miles just to get to a lady selling arrows out of her basement. Nowadays, there are (archery) stores everywhere.
“Now, the kids are lucky because they have schools for archery,” he continued. “We had to learn the hard way.”
Perhaps the biggest changes in the sport have come through technological advances that make bows look like something out of an “old” movie like Star Wars.
Bows are now art-like twists sculpted from carbon fiber with components like stabilizers and sights protruding off of them. And the cost has advanced as well, with fully equipped bows running at around $2,000. Club members insist the cost shouldn’t scare off prospective newcomers, however, as complete beginning archery sets start at $275 and perhaps $45 for children’s sets.
And anyone who wants to try the sport can come to Wickham Park’s archery range on Saturday mornings when the club holds practices and $5 classes that also include use of its equipment.
The Melbourne park’s facility is first class, with many solo target sites set up along with an open field for group target shooting. In addition, a 3D course is set up where archers can practice their hunt-shoot skills on targets shaped like animals.
On this practice day, a line of archers took aim at a line of targets they had set up in a small clearing.
Olds barked out the notice, “OK, range is hot,” meaning that the field was clear of people and safely ready for a hail of arrows.
The archers pulled arrows from their bags, placed them on their bow strings and pulled back hard. (It takes a surprising amount of arm strength, although anyone can do it with a little practice.)
Then, after a few seconds of focus and aim, the archer simply moves his finger to release the string, and the arrow is gone.
There’s no whizzing sound involved, no graceful arrow arch to be seen as in the flurry of commercials for cars or what-not these days. The arrow that was there was now simply in the target. Traveling at up to 250 feet per second, you see as little of an arrow’s flight as you would a bullet’s.
Each person gets a certain number of shots and then others may step up to shoot at the same target.
In a practice session, the silence of concentration is broken by friendly but competitive banter.
“We like to bust each other’s chops,” 10-year club member Spero Simanteris said. “To me, you’re just competing against yourself.
“But everyone likes to win,” he added with a laugh.
There’s also a friendly banter between what few archers are still using the old-fashioned bows without the modern bells and whistles, and those with more modern equipment.
Olds admitted, “My first bow was almost like Robin Hood’s. It didn’t have much oomph.”
And then Ron Rothman inserted, “I shoot traditional. I don’t use a rangefinder.”
To which Olds quipped, “So he doesn’t wear the middle of the target out.” (Meaning, the bull’s eye is safer when he shoots.)
To which Rothman retorted, “We call them (modern bows) training wheels.”
Modern archery bows mostly comprise two classes: Compound and recurve. Let it suffice to say that a compound bow has a criss-cross pattern of strings that give it a lot more leverage, while a recurve looks a lot like a “Robin Hood” bow, only with a curvier form that adds leverage, but less than a compound.
Young kids drawn to the sport start with the “Robin Hood” level of equipment.
After shooting a round, the group will traipse up to the targets to count their scores, which is an involved process that requires a good eye to see if arrows barely touch the target’s lines or not, which means more points. And, yes, that makes it advantageous to shoot somewhat fatter arrows.
It’s also advantageous to shoot with the most modern equipment available, but there are traditionalists like Rothman who argue that the old “Robin Hood” style is still the best way to go because of its authentic challenges, even if it’s less accurate.
Rothman proudly held up his traditional bow that carried none of the jutting paraphernalia of a modern one but shone in wooden beauty.
Sixteen-year-old archer Angelica Ramirez looked on in admiration of the bow, but had to joke, “Oh, he’s old-school.”
Ramirez, one of the up-and-comers of the sport who has won some gold medals of her own in state competition, rose quickly in the sport she’s played for only two years.
That’s a short period of time, but it also means she took up archery before the influx of entertainment made archery trendy.
“Oh, I’ve seen some of the movies, and they’re pretty cool,” she said. “Now, some of that stuff that Hawkeye does, like shooting behind his back and all that isn’t really possible. But it is cool to watch.”
The Brevard Archers club also holds regular practices and competitions.
Anyone who has enjoyed watching the sport, real or imagined, and would like to participate, should go to www.brevardarchers.com or contact club president Olds at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The next day for the club’s lessons at Wickham Park, which cost $5, is Sept. 1, with equipment provided for free for participants’ use. Club president Olds requests interested people to pre-register for classes at the above websites, or to call her at 321-693-1039.
Great article Robert!!! You really captured the fun and also the beauty of archery.
Thank you for helping us get archery “out there”.