Archers hone their skills at the shooting range at Hi-Tech Archery in Fullerton. (Lawrence K. Ho, Los Angeles…)
Archery had long been relegated to the realm of men in tights, apples atop heads and junior high summer camp.
Then came "The Hunger Games."
The hit young-adult trilogy debuted in 2008, starring a heroine in a post-apocalyptic future who wields a bow and arrow to survive in gladiator-style contests. Key to the plots are several of Katniss Everdeen's dramatic shots and the increasingly advanced designs of her bows and arrows (including explosive shafts), as well as the rebellious symbolism of her archery skills.
The highly anticipated film adaptation opens Friday and has already broken the record for first-day advanced ticket sales set earlier by teen favorite "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse."
The archery industry is among the beneficiaries of "Hunger Games" mania, attracting new fans such as Aldrin Gamos, 23, of Northridge.
"In our world, archery isn't something you'd really need day to day," Gamos said, "but the way it's described in the books made it sound so cool."
Gamos usually spends his recreational time playing video games or in front of his computer, but is now so enamored with the "Hunger Games" books that he's organizing his friends for a group visit to a shooting range in Los Angeles.
"Before, I knew that it had existed," he said of archery, "but had no interest at all."
Ranges that used to attract just a handful of hobbyists are now crowded with would-be Katnisses and Robin Hoods. Requests for archery lessons for birthday parties have increased. At some free beginner classes held weekly by clubs around the region, such as the Pasadena Roving Archers, participants read "The Hunger Games" while patiently waiting to be suited up with arm guards and finger tabs.
"Normally, attendance fluctuates throughout the year, with fewer people in the colder months," said Gary Spiers, president of the Pasadena club, which has used the same outdoor range near the Rose Bowl since 1935. "There would have been empty spots.
"But this year, there's been consistently high interest. We've had to turn people away."
Sales of archery equipment have increased more than 20% in the last year, according to figures provided by the Archery Trade Assn., and at the group's annual show in January there were 20% more exhibitors. Representatives of some major athletic companies, including clothier Under Armour, were spotted perusing the show.
But even before the "Hunger Games" movie, Hollywood was pushing the new wave of archery popularity. The character Legolas, played by heartthrob Orlando Bloom in the "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, carried a bow and arrow, as did aliens in "Avatar" and characters in lesser successes inspired by Greek mythology: "The Lightning Thief," "The Immortals" and "Clash of the Titans."
And coming up: Pixar's animated "Brave" and comic-based "Avengers," both of which have main characters who are archers.
"The movie industry has definitely had an impact on us," said Joe Kim, owner of Hi-Tech Archery in Fullerton. "It seems like Hollywood is very intrigued these days with the bow and arrow."
Archery ranges like Kim's, which would feel like a warehouse if not for the massive stuffed and mounted bison and deer heads, are busier than ever. Cypress resident Mary Robbins, 19, was there practicing this week with her father, who introduced her to the sport.
"Lately, all my friends seem to be asking me how to shoot, how to get into archery," she said. "It's just kind of strange that, even though I've been shooting for a year and a half, all of a sudden now everyone's starting to get interested."
The demographics of those getting involved in archery seem to be skewing younger.
At nearly every recent national event held by USA Archery, the largest age division was made up of 15- to 17-year-olds. Youth participation in the National Field Archery Assn.'s World Cup tournament in February in Las Vegas shot up 40% from the year before. The world's top-ranked male archer, Arizona native Brady Ellison, is 23.
"We don't look at people as nerds on the field," said Courtney Walth, president of the State Archers of California.
To stay up-to-date and hip, the look of the sport is changing as well.
Mostly gone are the staid uniforms of white shirts and white pants that for years were de rigueur for archers; now jeans and sneakers are welcome. Manufacturers have altered their marketing strategies to gear them more toward the younger set, using more colorful themes.
And archery organizations are trying to modernize by focusing on the Internet and social media. In 2010, USA Archery's website averaged 14,277 unique visitors a month; by February 2012 the number had soared 67% to 23,855. In the same period, the group's Twitter profile has added 263% more followers; its Facebook fan base is up 175%.
Another plus for archery — it's not that expensive to try.
"Going to the movies costs $40 for two kids for two hours," said Bob Bingham, manager of the Archery Outpost commercial shooting range and shop in Los Alamitos. "Here, it's $10 per kid and they're smiling all day."
USC graduate student Mallory Klum, 22, has been shooting off and on for years. Now vice president of the school's once-obscure archery club, she said that more people in recent semesters have sought out the organization and are staying on as members.
The club started in 2003 with two members. In 2009, there were 20. This year, there are 41, Klum said.
"Archery is definitely a different kind of cool than football," she said. "When I used to tell people that I did archery, they either thought I was a giant dork or they thought it was really cool.
"Now more people think it's the latter."