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THE GREAT OUTDOORS: A GUIDE TO ORANGE COUNTY RECREATION
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Kicking It

For Simple Fun With Your Feet, Footbag Is a Sport With Sole

May 28, 1999|ARA NAJARIAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The instruction manual for fun is simple.

Bag it.

Not sure what that means? Try footbag in all its forms. Those participating in the Southern California Footbag Championships at Hermosa Beach recently might even say "In all its glory."

Footbag? So you're not really sure what that is.

It's very literal, but most are probably more familiar with the trade name: Hacky Sack.

A niche sport to be sure, but perhaps it's the niche for your athletic itch.

The common perception of the sport is that of kids in a circle seeing how many ways they can manipulate the footbag through a wide variety of highly coordinated moves.

It's not a misconception; that is often the entry level of freestyle footbag.

Orange County is home to one of the world's best footbag freestylers, Ryan Mulroney of Placentia. Mulroney, a 19-year-old student at the University of California, could fast become a poster boy for the sport.

Bright with an engaging sense of humor and perspective, Mulroney admits he was less enamored with the sport before he tried it.

"Oh yeah, I used to make fun of it before," said Mulroney, who said he probably first saw footbag on MTV Sports. Before long his point of view had turned.

His mother, Marsha, remembers the day she became aware of her son's newfound interest in the sport.

"He came home and he said 'Mom, I got in the circle with the Hacky Sack Gods today!' and I thought, 'Hmmm,' " Marsha Mulroney said. "Now that I have learned about it I think it's great--they really work hard but they really enjoy it--but I wasn't really sure what to think then."

It turns out that the "Hacky Sack Gods" were just a couple of guys at Troy High School who liked to kick the bag around and have a friendly competition to perform tricks, or "shred," in the lingo of some of the younger freestylers.

Righteous.

The next step was the shoes.

"You can by the shoes," says Mulroney on how to identify the more accomplished (dare we say, serious) players. Then with a laugh he adds the other definitive characteristic: "We get the shoes and then we lace them up stupid."

Although the brands may vary, the preferred shoe is very basic and a special technique of lacing is used to achieve maximum control of the footbag. The shoes are in the $50 range and a good quality footbag starts around $20.

Then Mulroney got ahold of the Kenny Shults video "Tricks of the Trade."

The video shows several moves, and from there Mulroney took off on his own. His experience as a soccer player helped with the initial phases of foot-eye coordination, but soon he moved beyond that basic level.

"It's a very disciplined sport," says Mulroney, who says he works out with the footbag four or five days a week for about 1 1/2 hours per session. Mostly he practices with others at Berkeley who are interested in kicking the bag.

And, although he describes it as a "total addiction" because of the quest to be original and better, he admits he has to make time for the sport. It's not as if he can sign up for a footbag PE course like others can for swimming or aerobics.

"You know, coming up with original moves is difficult," he said. "There's always something new to learn. But you also learn that just about everything has been done, so it's more how you string [moves] together."

Saying that, Mulroney looks across the cement surface at Valley Park in Hermosa where the freestylers are competing, and checks out the field where the Footbag Net competition is going on.

Footbag Net is a very different version of the sport. It's probably best described as being like volleyball at a badminton net, except footbag is used and you can only use your feet.

As odd as it may sound, it is rather compelling to witness. Flying kicks that would make Bruce Lee proud lead to spikes that would make Gabrielle Reece proud. Well maybe not proud, but probably impressed.

At the Footbag Net matches, the players are more serious and they grunt in the relative silence of the park.

While freestylers have fun in the circle, they don't seem to tap into the competitive adrenaline the net players do. At the net, it is much more of a 30-and-older crowd with something of a reputation as being like fans of the Grateful Dead because of their passion for following footbag events all over the country and even internationally.

"It's a little bit tribal--there's a community here," says Scott Clear, who participated in the Southern California Regional Footbag Net competition. "I guess you could say it's an athletic extension of that kind of culture."

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