Boomeranging is both a very old and a very new form of recreation. The boomerang has existed for thousands of years. But the growth of boomeranging as a popular sport has mainly been over the past 20 years.
The boomerang originated in Australia. The design is based on throwing sticks used by Australian Aborigines for hunting. Large, non-returning sticks were used to fell animals. Smaller, lighter sticks that could return may have been used to hunt birds. These are the ancestors of the modern boomerang.
The first international competition wasn't held until 1981. It was between Australia and the U.S. (the U.S. won). That was the year the United States Boomerang Association was formed (USBA).
Today, the USBA has about 300 members. This is just a small portion of the people who regularly play with boomerangs, estimates Ted Bailey. He is a past president of the USBA.
Bailey estimates there are as many as 15,000 players in North America. His personal database includes 4,000 names of boomerangers. Worldwide, Bailey estimates there are as many as 25,000 avid throwers.
Bailey competed regularly in the 1980s, winning numerous titles. Today, he's the editor of the USBA's quarterly newsletter, Many Happy Returns.
Like many boomerangers, Bailey especially enjoys designing and making boomerangs. "I've done all these beautiful, exotic ones out of all these different kinds of wood," he says. "They're just esthetically appealing."
Being able to make your own equipment is a major advantage of the sport. John Cryderman, like Bailey, sells boomerangs he makes himself.
"I enjoy tuning them so, comparable to a car, they fly like a Mercedes," Cryderman says.
Traditionally, boomerangs were made out of hardwood. Today, some still are. Boomerangs are also made from plastic, several types of plywood, and various synthetic materials. High-quality boomerangs are usually made from aircraft-grade Finnish birch plywood.
Sizes range from three inches across to three or four feet. Lighter ones are easier for beginners to throw and travel about 50 feet. Experts use heavier ones, with ranges of 150 feet or more.
The traditional boomerang has two blades, and is shaped like a V or a C. Today, the shapes of boomerangs are limited only by imagination (and some physics). In fact, a boomerang can be made in the shape of any letter of the alphabet -- even the letter "I"!
In the mid-'80s, there was much discussion about the design of boomerangs. Some people wanted to limit the number of blades. What designs qualified as "real" boomerangs was in dispute.
Bailey, an engineer by trade, came up with a definition that settled the dispute. "If it returns using gyroscopic procession in combination with lifting forces, it's a boomerang," Bailey says. "Gyroscopic procession" means spinning on an axis as it moves through the air.
Several tournaments are held each year in North America. Brief descriptions of the events follow:
Accuracy: Throw boomerang, with yourself as the bull's-eye with a six-foot radius (this is the only event where the boomerang isn't caught)
Aussie Round: Points for distance and for catching within a 98-foot circle
Doubling: Throw two at once and catch both
Endurance: Most number of catches in five minutes wins
Fast Catch: Time for five throws and catches is measured
Maximum Time Aloft: Must catch within a 164-foot radius
Trick Catch: Points awarded for various catches, including under leg, behind back, and foot catch
Everyone has their favorite event to compete in. Their own personal style comes out when it's their turn to perform.
"There's a wide range for individual expression, because there are events like trick catching," says boomeranger Kelly Sagert of Ohio. "There's a lot of room for different techniques and different styles."
Most boomerangers are male. Bailey estimates only 10 percent of USBA members are women. But he says the association hopes to attract more females.
Very few people, if any, make a living at the sport. Many supplement their incomes by selling boomerangs on the side. Competitions pay little in prize money and sponsorship is virtually non-existent. This may change as the sport gets more exposure, especially after the 2000 Olympics in Australia.
You don't need to be a great athlete to play the sport. Anyone with a decent throwing arm can get a boomerang to make a nice sweeping arc and return -- with a little practice!
Kids as young as three can learn to throw a boomerang. However, it's dangerous for kids under 10 to catch them because they lack the proper hand-eye coordination. On the other end of the spectrum, people 80 and older continue to throw.
It's extremely easy to get started in the sport. You can buy a plastic boomerang for as little as $6. Most range in price from $15 to $70. High-end, handcrafted ones can cost $120 or more.
Foam boomerangs are a good idea for kids under the age of 10. Also, beginners may want to start with a foam one to avoid injury. Wood or plastic can hurt if you get bonked in the head!
You can even make your own. Boomerang books and Web sites have instructions on making basic boomerangs. You can even make a boomerang out of cardboard in less than half an hour.
Little other equipment is needed. Safety glasses are recommended to avoid eye injuries. Experienced throwers buy padded gloves for catching, a stopwatch for timing throws, and an anemometer -- a device to measure wind speed.
For safety, you should only throw in areas clear of obstacles. If other people are around, make sure they're aware of what you're doing. People can be hurt if hit with a boomerang.
As an extra precaution, experts advise against catching the boomerang at head height. Instead, back up until it's at waist height or just let it fall on the ground. Competitive players, if they can't avoid catching at head height, look the other way to protect their eyes.
Injuries are uncommon and can be avoided with precautions. When catching, slap your palms together. If you try to do a Frisbee-style catch with your fingers, you could break them. Also, you're less likely to miss with the hand-slap method. Boomerangs with three or four blades are easiest to catch because they rotate around a solid center.
Boomerangs vary widely in their range. Some can be thrown in a small yard, while others can travel the length of a football field. The range it's designed for can help you decide the best place to throw it.
Boomerang clubs can be found all over North America. A good way to start is by receiving instruction from an experienced thrower. Getting the technique down takes a couple minutes for some people, weeks for others. Just remember the old joke: throwing a boomerang is easy -- it's getting it to come back that's tricky!
United States Boomerang Association (USBA)
1868 Panhandle Rd.
All About Boomerangs,
Lorin Hawes and John Mauro
Boomerang: Behind an Australian Icon,
The Boomerang Book,
Boomerangs: Making and Throwing Them,
How Boomerangs Work
A detailed overview of the sport
Rocky Mountain Throw
Back issues of Boomerang News and other newsletters
The Wonderful World of Boomerangs
A plethora of boomerang links
Boomerang games, links, and more