I first met Dexter at the German Footbag Championships in December 1999. He had crazy colored hair, wore sandals and had a huge, hurky-jerky style, which he explained to me, was the result of learning to play from reading trick descriptions on line before ever seeing them. So when I met him again at the first Todexon the next year I at least recognized him.
I ended up at Todexon by complete accident. I checked footbag.org and saw that a tournament was happening in Prague, "There are footbag players in Prague?" I thought. The tournament (which I won, yay me) ended up being one of the craziest, most fun days of my life. The amount of alcohol that was bought for me should have been lethal but somehow I survived. I got about 4 hours of sleep the night before, played for around 13 hours straight, then we all went out clubbing till 5 or 6 in the morning. I got another 4 hours of sleep then sat on a train for 6 hours so I could get back in time for classes. I litterally almost couldn't walk the next day.
After TODEXON 1 the Prague crew just couldn't get rid of me. Whenever I had some days off I would head back to Prague, and survive on Footbag and beer, but no sleep and little food until I had to go back. Dexter, if you ever read this, thanks again for your hospitality and for putting up with me back then.
Sometime in 2000 I also got interested in video editing and 3D animation. Mostly I was just manipulating photos or short video clips. I had already created some animated gifs including one of nemesis. As a joke when the subject of nemesis (and whether it had been hit) came up on the old e-mail discussion list I posted "Oh yeah, I hit that all the time," and posted a link of my animated gif as proof. I never expected or wanted anyone to believe me, but a whole Zapruderesque frame by frame analysis of my animation followed. I had never intended to fool anyone, but I am a bit of a prankster by nature so I couldn't help but be amused. Finally everything came together at euros 2000 in Paris.
Footbag was finally starting to take off in Europe after many false starts, what it lacked was a super star. World's was still dominated by the Americans, what we needed was something to draw attention to footbag in Europe. When I met Dexter (he had smuggled beer across the border into France in his camera case) I told him of my plan: "I've been doing some video effects lately and I got the idea to create a fake Czech Footbag prodigy. I can make a 3D model, You can take some video of people reacting to him in a circle then I'll digitally insert him. At first we'll just have him in the background or doing like one trick to make it more believable, then we'll have some short runs. By the time the video's shrunk and encoded no one will notice it's been faked."
Dexter seemed enthusiastic so when after I left Euros to go to South Korea (I only took 6th place, blah) I had a project. At first everything seemed to go alright. The first short videos (it has to be short, faking something like this in a convincing way takes a lot of time) of Czech players with Vasek in the background went online without anyone suspecting anything, but then not a lot of people watched those videos. Ditto for the first videos of him doing just a couple tricks. We steadily got better at it till we had him hitting some longer, pretty good combos. Soon the excitement level was high for this new player, just like I'd planned, but still no one suspected anything. By the way, I didn't choose the name, the Czechs were responsible for that.
Finally when I came back for the next Euros excitement for this kid was getting almost to a frenzy, there was a constant buzz of "I heard he hit mobius to vortex last week," "well I heard he hit gyro baroque." At the tournament the sport of footbag in Europe was still closely knit enough we were able pull off the illusion, with only the concession that the other American players had to finish above him so as not to bruise any egos. Steve Goldberg, who had always been a strong force behind spreading footbag dutifully went back to America telling stories of this amazing Czech kid and how the sport of footbag was growing strong in Europe. But at that point the Vasek creation was out of my hands. I was traveling and then going back to America and wouldn't have the time to keep up something like this anymore, so I passed off the responsibility to the CFA.
Whereas my plan was to stir up some interest then have my creation quietly disappear before anyone suspected anything, the Czechs weren't about to let their superstar simply fade away. The videos just kept coming, but imagine my surprise when Vasek won World's in 2002. I was there but I'm still not sure how they pulled it off (although I have my theories). Anyway they certainly weren't content to stop there. A record number of consecutive world championships, multiple other tournaments, TV spots and commercials later the Vasek phenomenon shows no sign of stopping. I figure if it's survived this long, me telling my part in it's creation won't hurt anything.
I plan for this to be the first in a series of stories about the history of footbag that I've witnessed, but we'll see how much time I have. Feedback is very much appreciated. You can reach me at feedback at outsideworld dot org. Thanks for reading.