It's a simple concept: kick the small ball into the air. Repeat. Just
don't use your arms!
This simple concept is the essence of the growing sport of footbag, commonly
known as Hacky Sack. "Hacky Sack" is a trademark of Wham-O Inc., one of several
North American makers of footbags.
The history of modern footbag is a short one. Two Americans -- John Stalberger
and Mike Marshall -- are credited with inventing the sport in 1972. They based
it on an ancient Native American game that involved kicking a small, soft
The two called the game "hacking the sack," which led to the product they
later trademarked as Hacky Sack. Wham-O Inc. has owned the trademark since
Jeff Millett, marketer for Wham-O, attributes the sport's appeal to
its simplicity and its friendly atmosphere.
"There is a wide range of people that can play it," Millett says. "It's
not really a competitive sport -- it's an inclusive sport. Whether you're
really good or you're new, you can go to a place [and] you can find people
who are playing it and you can be included."
For many players, footbag isn't just a sport -- it's an obsession.
"The type of personality that this sport draws is people who tend to be
obsessive," says Tricia George of Oregon. "You kind of have to be, to get
really good at it."
George should know. She has won more world titles in footbag than anyone,
male or female. She has earned more than 50 world titles in the last 19 years.
George and another player, Gary Lautt, hold the Guinness World Record in
the category of open doubles consecutive. The two of them kicked a footbag
132,0ll times. The amazing feat (with their amazing feet) took nearly 22 hours.
"We've maintained the doubles record, because who in their right mind
would go and kick it for 22 hours?" George says, laughing. "So, we have it
based on insanity alone."
Footbag is growing in popularity, with organized clubs all over North America,
as well as a World Footbag Association (WFA), based in Colorado. The WFA boasts
a membership of 47,000 players in 39 countries. Growth is especially strong
"Western Europe is really starting to explode, as far as popularity is
concerned," says Bruce Guettich. He is the WFA director. "I have seen an enormous
amount of interest in the last two years."
When a club was started in Finland, it had 800 members within a year. Other
European countries are starting to follow suit.
Guettich has played footbag for 21 years, earning numerous world titles.
He says the kind of people who play footbag have kept him involved in the
"It's that friendly, welcome feeling that all footbag players kind
of exude," Guettich says. "It's an amazing thing -- the energy associated
with footbag is what has kept me involved with it for so many years."
There are two popular competitive footbag sports: footbag net and freestyle.
Footbag net is played with one or two players per side, with rules similar
to volleyball. Players kick the footbag over a five-foot net in an exciting,
fast-paced display of athletic prowess.
Footbag freestyle is like figure skating, with players performing a choreographed
routine. Points are awarded for factors like creativity and level of difficulty
Local clubs often hold competitions. As well, the world championships are
held annually. The Canadian Footbag Alliance (CFA) is hosting the August 2000
World Championships in Vancouver.
Scott Milne, CFA director, expects as many as 300 competitors from Canada,
the U.S., Western Europe, and Asia. They'll be vying for a total prize
purse of $15,000 to $25,000.
"It's really gotten a lot bigger and more organized than people think,"
Milne says. "I think you'll see that this year, at the world championships
in Vancouver, it'll be the largest [spectator] turnout ever."
All you need to play this sport is a footbag. Most cost between $8 and
$20. They vary in size and bounciness. Players' preferences depend on
their style of play and the types of tricks they want to do.
A level area of ground free of obstacles is also desirable. You can play
with running shoes, sandals, or even barefeet, but tennis shoes are the preferred
attire. After that, it's just a matter of kickin' it.
Footbag can be played almost anywhere. On the beach, in a parking lot,
and even at night by the glow of a streetlight, players can be found. And
all you need is a small sack filled with sand or plastic beads.
A popular trick is to "stall" the footbag. This involves catching the footbag
on a foot, between the knees, on the chest, on the back of the neck, or even
under the chin. This trick is most easily done with a soft footbag that flattens
out when it comes down.
Some footbags even glow in the dark. The WFA sells more than 40 styles
of footbags from its Web site, including a footbag made of injection-molded
latex that's filled with plastic beads and a small flashlight you can
turn on. Even nighttime is no longer a barrier to playing!
Footbag can be played alone or in a group of any size. To achieve a "full
hack," everyone in the group has to kick the bag at least once.
Flexibility, reflexes, and speed are all assets in this sport. However,
people without much athletic ability can play. Injuries are not common, but
when they occur they tend to be minor.
"If anything, it would be a pulled muscle," Guettich says. "It's really
a pretty safe sport."
At the competitive level, excellent physical condition is the norm. Competitors
are serious about their sport.
"With the competitive side of the sport, just like anything competitive,
you're pushing the limits," Guettich says. "I'm always amazed by
the dedication that players have to a sport that there really isn't a
lot of money in. They're doing it out of the sheer love of the game,
but they're training as hard as any athletes in any other sport."
Because of the minimal equipment required for footbag, few players have
sponsors. If they do, it's for items such as bags or shoes. For example,
Adidas is a sponsor of several top competitors.
Top players can make a living with footbag, but it isn't easy. For
Guettich with the WFA, footbag has been his full-time occupation the past
"There are people who do this for a living," Guettich says. "I'm obviously
one of them, and there are a number of people that work for the World Footbag
Association putting on schools and clinics for kids across the country.
"We're always looking for talented feet that can do that kind of work,
basically as a performer."
Guettich says such performers are not paid well. Also, living on the road
for months at a time can be tough to endure. For some, however, their love
of footbag outweighs the drawbacks.
To find out more about this activity, check out your local footbag club.
There is also plenty of information online. You can find out all about types
of footbags, rules of footbag sports, tips on cool tricks, and much more.
Of course, the best way to learn about footbag is to play it. Buy a footbag
and start kicking it. You just might discover a new obsession!
World Footbag Association
P.O. Box 775208
The Hacky-Sack Book,
Footbag World Magazine
Offers classes, camps, and more for footbag and other unique
Everything you could ever want to know about footbag, from rules
to history, from products to records
International Footbag Advisory Board
Official rules of footbag sports, as determined by the International
Footbag Advisory Board
Read research papers about footbag
Footbag World Records
Check out current world records for footbag. You won't believe
the feats (or feet)!
A great source of information on the company and its products