Like a lot of you I started out playing "Hacky Sack" before I ever found out what Footbag was. Unlike most of you though I first started kicking back in 1995, when few people were on-line and I certainly wasn't one of them. Back then information was harder to come by. Boy bands were frequently reduced to playing malls to promote themselves and footbag promoters were sometimes reduced to actually calling people (with a non-mobile telephone) to tell them to come. Where I was all I had were rumors, legends of "the pros," of these crazy, rubber-legged tricks, of world championships, sponsorships and videos.
On a sunny weekend back then you could walk down Portland's waterfront park and find over 50 people kicking in 10 or more circles. I'd get there early (I didn't have a choice in the matter, it was get a ride at 6 or ride a bike 25 miles). I'd wait for a circle around my level and play all day until I soaked up everything I saw. As far as I knew it was like this everywhere, and logically if footbag had such a big presence there must be professional players, clothing and equiptment endorsments, rankings and the whole lot. I built this whole picture in my mind and there sitting at the top of it was our own local footbag superstar, the Enforcer himself, holder of 50+ world footbag titles, Kenny Shults.
It might be posible to overstate Kenny's role in the history of footbag. Or to put it another way, he's so much more visible than a lot of early players because of his role in the formation of BAP and the Tricks of the Trade video that other player's contributions to the foundations of the sport may sometimes go overlooked. I can say this with many years retrospect, but to us then he was practically a demigod.
Back in the days that osis confused me and mirage was a mystery I would meet players who after amazing me with a frantic blur of legs would further astound me with stories of Kenny Shults. I couldn't even understand what these guys were doing and here they were telling me about a guy who made them look like they were playing in slow-motion, a guy who could hit tripple around the world blind folded while fighting dragons with a blurry onslought of his firey blades. From one of these players I finally got a card of Sole Purpose, for many years "the" freestyle club. The fact that they even had cards just further added to this picture I had of the great footbag empire.
After I'd been playing for a year I was better than almost all the guys I played with. I could hit mirage, I could hit legover, I figured I was ready to kick with the "pros" and I called up Sole Purpose. I think I was expecting some huge professional player's organization. As you can imagine I was slightly confused when I got someone's house. On the other end of the line a very nice woman seemed slightly confused by the way I was asking question, but she understood the word footbag and told me they usually kicked on Wednesday and I could come over around 6.
When I showed up more confusion followed, I think I was expecting us to leave from there to the practice hall. You see part of the local legend of Kenny Shults was that he'd built a dedicated Footbag gym onto his house called "the Skool House" where the pros gathered from far and wide. It quickly became evident to me however that there was no magical super organization of pro players and I'd unintentionally invited myself over to Kenny and Kendal's house for a private session. I then sat on their couch for half an hour waiting for Kenny to get home from work. You see the great demigod Kenny Shults was a family man with a normal job who didn't have much time to play anymore. The "Skool House" was a poorly ventilated garage with some carpet duct-taped to the floor. Kenny did still manage to blow me away though.
Fortuantely I wasn't too disillusioned and I had a great session. I hit blur, weak side butterfly and bunch of other moves for the first time, in front of my hero no less. And as it turned out Kenny and Kendal were great people and thankfully very patient as well (as was anyone able to put up with me back then). Kenny even gave me a few pairs of shorts. You see I'd turned up to play with the great demigod wearing jeans and Airwalks :) Thanks for reading.