The air is quiet for a moment. Scott Forster rotates a wooden stick, the baton, in his hands as if to ward off nervous energy. Finally, he throws. The baton somersaults its way toward a square wooden block, the kubb, on the opposite side of the field. As the baton contacts the kubb, there is a satisfying “thump.” The kubb topples into the grass. The crowd whoops, hollers and waves their cowbells, and the athlete smiles at his teammate.
One kubb down, four kubbs to go.
The U.S. National Kubb Championship, held in the Eau Claire Soccer Park Friday through Sunday, marked the 12th year the tournament has existed in Eau Claire. This year’s victor is 2,4,6 Mafia, composed of Grant Scott of Des Moines, Iowa, and Gregg Jochimsen and Forster, both of Eau Claire.
Kubb, pronounced “koob,” is a Swedish yard game that traces its roots back to the Vikings. The idea of the game is to be the first team to knock over the opponent’s kubbs by throwing batons.
Tournament director and founder Eric Anderson said he is pleased with this year’s turnout: There were 128 teams present, hailing from 12 states and four countries like Thailand and Germany. This is a stark contrast from the first tournament in 2007, which had 35 teams.
“This is world-class level kubb,” Anderson said.
The tournament’s sheer size has earned it international recognition: it is the largest kubb tournament outside of Europe and one of three two-day tournaments in the world.
A successful kubb player is one with accuracy and an even temper — it isn’t as easy as it looks, said Jeff Brandenburg of Eau Claire-based team Poplar Culture. He won the silver bracket with brother Drew Brandenburg and Matt Fronen, a new addition to the team.
“What was neat this year was that we had to learn how to play together,” Drew Brandenburg said. After being “hooked” on kubb about eight years ago, he has participated in the championship three times.
Though winning the bracket provided a “huge adrenaline rush,” the brothers said their biggest takeaway from the weekend was the support they received from friends and strangers alike.
“The coolest part of it was seeing the community around kubb,” Drew Brandenburg said. “Everyone should come out and see it.”
The laid-back attitude of the game was amplified by its surroundings.
Spectators set up tents and lawn chairs, music played over the speaker and ice cream dripped in the sun. Good sportsmanship was on display in smiles and handshakes. Kubb seemingly transformed the soccer park into one oversized backyard.
Though Gordon Kauffman and his Chippewa Falls team called Grass Kickers were eliminated earlier in the tournament, he stuck around.
The athlete-spectator said the friendly ambiance is present because of the nature of kubb.
“It’s a great way to get inter-generational play; get outside (and) play with your neighbors,” Kauffman said. “It’s supportive. It’s competitive yet friendly.”