In October of 2019, I joined the Fun Hangers Shuffleboard League. I had just divorced and my dear friend, Neil Rodrigue, harangued me about sitting around mopping. He said I had to get out there and do something fun and different. He’s the president of the league and he introduced me to the game of table shuffleboard.
I will always be grateful to him for the huge gift. Table shuffleboard has been an amazing experience. Yes, it’s played in a bar setting. Yes, there are those who get drunk and stupid. But, it is overwhelmingly the coolest game I’ve ever played. And the camaraderie of the league, the team members, is just wonderful. Neil often says it’s like a family and I think that’s an accurate description.
The game itself is awesome. At first blush it may seem to be easy. Just throw the weight down the table. How hard can it be? Well, let me tell you, there’s a significant amount of skill required to get that weight to a good scoring position, and then to keep your opponent from knocking it out and scoring on you.
The table may seem flat, but it isn’t. It is actually concave. And so you have to learn how to use the inertia of the board and the physics of the table, the speed of the weight, and your body position to get your weight to the right spot. You need to concentrate on your breathing, your hand position, the position of your body relative to the shot you are trying to make, and all these factors create a uniquely zen feeling when you are playing. It’s almost mediative. You can’t worry about anything else, just focus on the board, your weight, and your body.
Some people who see no value in the game just get up and throw the weight nilly willy. But when you begin to really see the beauty, the mathematical and physics elegance, of it, you take note of the various kinds of shots. There’s several ways to send your weight down the board. The primary is the Jersey shot, but there’s the span, the free hand, and several others. When you are standing there, preparing to shoot, there’s a focusing of all your energy.
Besides the game itself, the camaraderie is phenomenal. It’s competitive, but there’s no put downs if you miss. The players all encourage you to keep trying. They give you feedback on your technique. Some players go out of their way to meet up and help you practice, like the amazing John Hayes who taught me so much in my first seasons and continues to be a great sensei for the sport.
And, there’s a feeling of safety here. Sure, it’s a bar sport, but the community of shuffleboards won’t let one of their own get hurt. They step up when some idiot is trying to get stupid with one of the ladies. They walk you to your car. As I’ve engaged in some first dates with only matches, this is were I like to meet them. Because here, amongst my shuffleboard tribe, I’m going to be safe no matter who the guy turns out to be.
The Grand Championship match for the season that is closing will be this coming Wednesday at the Ashford Pub off Eldridge near Westheimer. If you want to check out what Fern is gushing about, come out and join me there. Who knows, maybe I’ll make a shuffler out of you?