If you’ve ever felt the mysterious urge to take down a galloping horseman, absentmindedly measured a distance in “paces” or bought a pair of green tights, you could be a secret archery enthusiast. This activity was once so important to British daily life that King Edward III made mastering the longbow compulsory for boys over 14. Imagine that in a riot.
Banish images of Kevin Costner in a tunic, though. (Why were they even there in the first place? Weirdo.) Nowadays archery is performed in sports halls, with bows that look like arms torn from robots and arrows made not from wood but from synthetic materials such as carbon fibre. It’s a highly social, club-based sport, with plenty of opportunities for beginners.
The feet, hips and shoulders are placed parallel to the target; the archer draws back the string at eye level. If right-handed, the left elbow, shoulder and right hand should be in line. The “nock” of the arrow is gripped between the second and third fingers of the drawing hand. Then let go (not both hands). If it’s target archery, you score an ascending number of points the closer to the bullseye you land it.
Archery works the core muscles, builds upper body strength and increases flexibility, but also helps improve mental focus, patience and attention skills: it’s impossible to shoot well if your mind isn’t on the game.
Equipment, costs and practicalities
You need a bow, some arrows and a safe place to play. So unless you live on a raft in the middle of the North Sea, that means a club. You can find your local on the Archery GB website or by phoning 01952 677888. Clubs run regular beginners’ courses, with qualified coaches teaching you to shoot short distances using equipment supplied as part of the fee. There are also plenty of “have a go” events at local fairs. Archery GB’s Big Weekend, designed to sell the sport to new audiences, takes place from 25-27 August this year.
If you find you want your own stuff, a decent bow will set you back £45, with a set of five fibreglass arrows coming in at around £15. Annual club membership will cost somewhere in the region of £100. Once you start competing, the money involved can climb considerably due to the higher quality of kit needed. One tip is to find a used bow to start out with – make sure you check for visible cracks and replace the string immediately.
Trendiness rating: 5/10
Archery is approximately 10,000 years old, so it’s never going to be the next zumba, but organisers hope the wild success of The Hunger Games will signal a resurgence.
Peter Jones, Team GB Archery: “Archery is the ultimate sport for all. Able-bodied or disabled, tall or short, young or old – whatever your shape or size, you can enjoy archery. Indeed, 27% of respondents to a survey among young people last year said that archery was the Olympic sport they most wanted to try – 9% more than the second most popular, swimming. There’s a great camaraderie at clubs, if you just want to enjoy archery as a pastime. If you want to try your hand at competitions there is a provision to support you all the way – all the way even to the highest level, if you find you have a natural ability! That’s how [2004 bronze medallist] Alison Williamson started – and she’s been to five Olympics!”
Lucy O’Sullivan, archer: “I would recommend archery as a sport any one can participate in. With archery, all equipment is set up in each club across the country, making it easy for people to take their first steps in learning this sport. I started when I was 10, but I have coached many juniors younger than that age. I’ve also coached beginners of 40+, so it truly is a sport for all.”
Find out more
Archery GB – the official website for archery in Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
World Archery – contains information and news on the sport worldwide, including records and all-time bests.
The Guardian’s interactive guide to archery.
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