Countdown to Vegas – Day 1

10 February, 2018

I suppose I should stop calling this a countdown, but hey. Vegas kicked off today. The earliest line calls were at 7am, but luckily I managed to avoid that draw and shot my first set of 30 arrows at 12noon, in the big rodeo hall. They’re all big rodeo halls.

And it went OK. I loved the moment of silence immediately before the first scoring end. The whole hall seemed still. I didn’t feel  seriously nervous, but during the first shot in anger, after two practice ends, I froze up. Aaagh. Eventually, eventually, I got through the clicker and got the bolt on the face. The first couple of ends were testy, after that it settled down a bit and I started to be a bit more aggressive with the expansion, and things started to group a lot tighter. Not bad.

Ignore that bad four. Practice arrow.

I also realise there was a small problem with my nocks, a couple of them have drifted around a little. You may be reading this thinking, wow, what sort of n00b idiot doesn’t check his nocks before he shoots a tournament? You’d be asking an entirely reasonable question. I decided to shoot the single face rather than the three spot, like 90% of my recurve flight.  Perhaps one day, the three spot. Not now.

I really like the way Vegas dances entirely to its own tune in terms of tournament rules. The ‘bottom’ line – the archers with their faces on the lower half off the boss – always start. Then at the halfway mark there’s a switch from bottom to top – after fifteen arrows, you take the face off and replace it on the top or bottom respectively, pushing the washered nails in to the burlap with your bare and increasingly raw thumb. (Oh, apparently you’re supposed use the metal part of your tab. Why did no-one tell me that?) Ow. Some people change the faces between the practice ends and the scoring ends too. Some people.

Everyone has to do this jump.  Even the pros. It’s a quintessential gesture of American sport.  You’re all in this. You’re all part of it. The first end after that a handful of people invariably shoot the wrong face, so the judges have to make a sweep of the top faces to remove the rogue arrows. Duhhh. (Yeah, I almost did that).

My target mates have been here before, and everyone is super helpful. You sense how good everyone is feeling about this event. It’s a big weekend off to do something you like doing, and then you can lark around in Las Vegas afterwards, the greatest playground for adults in this world.  I finish on 240 out of 300, putting me comfortably in mid-table mediocrity in the flights category. Plenty of space to improve though. Two days to go.

Two people got married today, at the Mathews booth in the trade fair. In Mathews shirts. With a bucket of arrows as a bouquet. That was kinda weird.

My next line call is at 9am tomorrow. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Countdown to Vegas – one day to go

9 February, 2018

The format for almost everybody is pretty simple. Shoot thirty arrows a day, add them up. That’s your competition. No head-to-heads. International teams and kids at their first tournament. Men and women all piled together. All in the same boat.

Jesus, this is huge. I’m still pretty tired; I tried to do some stretch-band work in the toilet of the creaking British Airways 747 that brought me here from London, but it really was not big enough. So I ‘missed’ a day of practice, but whatever. Am going to shoot what I’ve brought, despite waking bolt upright at 4.50am, body clock set wrongly. I post on Facebook shortly afterwards and get a reply from fellow Brit Patrick Huston saying ‘can’t sleep either’. Heh. Breakfast at half-past-five in the morning, why the hell not. This is the perfect place for it.

The Vegas Shoot is the largest indoor competition in the world, and regarded as the most prestigious. It actually comprises two major tournaments: the fourth leg of the indoor archery World Cup season and its grand finale, and the various categories of the Vegas Open shoot, the main event finishes in a shootdown amongst compound archers that can be summarised as ‘one miss of the x ring and you’re out’. Alongside that there are a dozen or so sub-tournaments; local and junior finals ringing out over the PA over the preceding days. The big dance. There’s plenty more facts and superlatives, it’s easier to read Andrea’s excellent guide to it on the NFAA website.

All this is held in a cavernous casino hotel called the South Point, a couple of miles south of the ‘end’ of the famous Las Vegas Strip, which has two immense halls split into two ranges each and a further events arena for the finals. This year is the biggest gate ever, and almost 3600 archers have arrived from all corners of the USA and fifty one different countries. Today, the last day before competition begins, the buzz is rising.  The place is jammed. There are queues for many things and there’s a constant chatter of fat arrows rattling in quivers in every hallway. This really is tribal gathering of American archery. You sense that no-one here would rather be anywhere else.

Today (Thursday) is a free-for-all open practice: grab a target, grab some pins and find a spot at any one of the hundreds of bosses. (Vegas, even for the pros, is quite do-it-yourself and doesn’t rely so much on an army of volunteers for organisation and scoring). Every hall is full of archers, and from tonight, you can practice literally around the clock in the city that, needless to say, never sleeps.

The symbol of Vegas is the iconic three-spot target, although not everybody knows that you can turn it over and shoot on a regular single ten-zone target (outside of the championship division). I haven’t quite decided which one I’m going to go for yet. It seems a bit churlish to go to Vegas and not shoot the three-spot, but in practice, it’s clear I’m getting the better results on the single-spot.

I watch and chat with legend-of-Sydney-2000, Simon Fairweather and Sjef Van Den Berg. Simon, like me, is shooting in the recurve ‘flights’ division (another unique Vegas feature of which more tomorrow). Sjef is, as usual, at the top of the pile of the championship recurves, with a lot more at stake. Unlike most events, they can practice almost anonymously here amongst an ocean of compounders. Both look almost absurdly relaxed, practicing in the vast hall at the back of the hotel that has rodeo bars at its entrance. I mean, I’m more nervous about this.

Sjef moving at quantum speed

I talk to Chris Marsh, the World Archery events director, here to supervise the World Cup event leg. “Vegas is unique, because it’s the only event in the calendar that unites two worlds; the enormous NFAA with its field and hunting audience, and World Archery, which is of course focussed on target archery. It’s a meeting and mingling of the two worlds which doesn’t happen anywhere else.” It’s an immense expression of the American side of archery in one of the country’s most American of cities.

yes, this man has a blade on his barebow

So I join the throng, and practice ends up going really smoothly, starting strongly in the middle and wandering off a little towards the end. I’m glad it’s only thirty arrows a day, anyway. If it was sixty, I’d be in more trouble. So I’ll decide tomorrow morning which side I’m going to shoot. The bow is working well and reasonably in tune, and apart from a moving clicker, fixed with a bit of brute force, is easily going to outshoot the archer. So we’ll see where we are at tomorrow. It’s time to face the first thirty.

the main arena, where all the action is


Mongolian archery: “responsibility and sports”

6 February, 2018

“A monk reading his sutra and meditating, and an archer focusing on his target, it’s the same thing.”

Very strong 14 minute video about the traditional and Olympic sides of the sport in Mongolia from a couple of years back. Some great recurve advice in there as well.

Mongolia retains a deep tradition of archery where the bow is part of the cultural identity of the country (rather similar to Bhutan, despite the countries being many thousands of kilometres apart). Some great crafting of a composite Asian bow, too. Well worth your time.

Countdown to Vegas – five days to go

Kate, my coach, sits on a chair and gets ready to deliver more punishment. “Again. Three more.”  I’ve seen Kate be wonderful with floundering beginners, but as you get a bit further up the food chain, she doesn’t waste her charm. This evening, in a joint lesson with resident club fletcher Emma, we are expected to listen and be good, and the instructions get more curt.

We are doing an exercise involving coming up to full draw and alternately pushing and pulling with the front arm and the back muscles. Suddenly the bow feels twice as heavy. “Five more on the front, then again on the front.” It’s torture.  “Strength strength strength this week. The most important thing.” Apart from all the other important things.  Kate never misses anything. There is no getting away  from poor form, weak shots, that-thing-you’re-doing.

It’s pretty simple, but the thing that has been missing from my recurve life for many years is regular coaching, and I am lucky to be near enough to Archery Fit here in London to come and get it. It is the single most valuable thing in the sport. For all the free advice and information that the digital revolution has brought us, you can’t learn archery from YouTube, and you need structure to improve. If there is no coach, nothing will change very fast.

My arm extension is looking good now. “How many pushups are you doing every morning?” I tell her. OK, I lie. Kate recommends 100 pushups every morning. I would find that difficult to impossible.  “One pushup equals one shot.” Still, I’ve been doing some, and reversals in front of the TV, and pulldowns and pullups at the gym. It’s made the difference.

After four days of several hundred arrows more than I’ve ever shot in my life, large chunks of my upper body are aching and my back is killing me. But the strength work has made a difference. I feel more in charge of the bow, and able to hold for much longer without collapse, more able to keep… on… pulling…. Vegas is only thirty arrows a day. Thirty good arrows. That’s more than doable now.

This Thursday saw a painful late change to hand position in order to fix an alignment problem that saw weaker shots start to smack into the bracer. It’s a fix that kind of covers over the fact I’m still not turning my elbow over enough. But it’s still better than having one in every six shots score a big fat miss to the right of the six zone. Kate is sanguine about my chances in Nevada. “Never mind about what is down the other end. The important thing is that you enjoy yourself. The rest of it doesn’t matter. The point of archery is to enjoy it.”

There’s been some technical changes as well. I’ve long known my arrows were a bit stiff, and I finally managed to put in some 120 grain points to replace the 100s. Bingo. Straighter flight. Bareshaft close to bang on. Shot sounds better. Group a tiny bit tighter. Like, duhhh.

At the recommendation of my ‘arrow doctor’ Yulia I’ve added offset AAE WAV vanes to my ACGs. They worked for her indoors. I hope they’ll work for me. She also shows me a vastly better method for fletching. This should be taught from the get go; part of beginners courses.  I reject her kind offer to set me up with some spin wings as I don’t have enough time to get used to them before Vegas. Maybe next time. You may be reading this thinking “why is he only sorting this stuff now?”. You’d be asking a very reasonable question.

There’s been some other work down. After a ‘hangry’ day at the range resulted in bad moods and worse archery, I started paying a bit more attention to diet, trying to make sure I balanced carbs and protein better. I kind of know what I need, I just don’t always get it right – especially when busy. One less coffee per day too, but have brought a sack of jelly babies for instant sugar thump if necessary.

Finally, after several weeks hard-ish work, the shot is stable, the arrows are staying on the face, and the scores are starting to ratchet up. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s something. It’s the physical expression of an internal desire. I’m starting to sense the deep magic of achievement based on solid work. I’m annoyed, but not angry if I don’t see a dark flash downrange across the yellow of the target post-release.

I suppose I’d settled for being a very mediocre recurve archer too long ago, without wanting to put the effort in to not settling for making up the numbers. Now I feel a little bit more possibility in the wind.  Finishing tonight with a crisp 29 left the last proper practice session on a real high. I hope I can deliver a performance out there that justifies the work and effort.

Damn, it feels good to be an archer.

Countdown to Vegas: 12 days to go

29 January, 2018


“I play tennis for a living even though I hate tennis, hate it with a dark and secret passion and always have.” – opening line of Andre Agassi’s autobiography.

I don’t hate doing archery. For the first time in a long while. The self-doubt fog is lifting. Lucky, lucky me. I have time to go and shoot, although it’s being fitted around a million and one other things. And things are going…. OK. I mean…

yes, I know the Vegas ones are different, don’t @ me

… you know, I’m not going to be worrying Brady Ellison come Saturday week, but they’re all landing on the face, right? Which makes a marked change from my last international tournament. It’s like, I have some kind of a shot, and can deliver it down range, but I’m still a bit short of the reserve strength to handle it and get that kind of consistency towards the middle.

But it’s looking better than it has, ever. Archery Fit in Greenwich, who I’ve written about before,  have been helping me down the road with some amazing coaching, as usual. I sense I’m keeping occasional pace with the better club recurves, rather than being a few minutes behind the peloton as usual. I can smash up gold paper with the best of them at 18m.

I start eyeing up the fun bits of Vegas on the internet, wondering what I’m going to do when not destroying the middle. This is gonna be goooood. 

Of course, this all goes well for several sessions, until a relatively stressful Sunday and a long and tiring Monday leaves me arriving at the range feeling empty and rattled. There’s a often repeated maxim, apparently attributed to Fred Bear, which goes like this:

I’m really sorry, but this is complete and utter bullshit. Unless old Fred shot blank boss all the time. Your mileage may vary, but for me it’s literally the opposite situation; nothing reveals and reflects a troubled, tired mind quite like shooting a bow at a target, amplifying the struggles and marking out distraction with numerical clarity. There’s loads of things I love doing to clear a troubled mind: walking on a beach, cooking risotto, listening to Eliane Radigue – but archery isn’t one of them. It increases my stress levels if they’re up there already.

What’s wrong? I can’t hit a barn door today. I rip the Vegas three-spot down and put up a piece of golden yellow A4 paper folded in half (an Archery Fit trope, apparently originally borrowed from rifle shooting drills). Today, I can barely hit that either. I have no energy and precious little willpower. I want to throw the bow across the room. Of course, I should just stand at a blank boss, but my ego – the one that was doing so well last week – won’t let me. Eventually I give up and put it all back in the case and stomp off to get a beer and the train home.

A couple of hours later, I’m thinking: maybe it wasn’t that bad after all. And I didn’t eat properly, or plan the day right, or stop for a moment and breathe. It’s part of being human, though, right? Huh.

God I hate archery. Tomorrow will be different.

It has to be.


New rules, new strategies in target competition (and an idea)

17 January, 2018

The decision of the World Archery executive board to make some changes to World Cup competition is great news. You can read the full post here, but here’s the juicy bits:

…the winner of each stage of the circuit automatically qualifies for the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final.

As they note, this wouldn’t have made a lot of difference to the Final line-ups in recent years, but will increase the importance of the gold medal match, especially to broadcasters and highlights packages. It also makes the final stages a little more exciting.

An adjustment to medal match procedures on the circuit sees the higher-seeded athlete choosing to shoot first or second, and the lower-seeded athlete on the left or right target.

This adds just a little bit of strategy to the play. There are always a few athletes who claim – rightly or wrongly – that the wind affects one target more than another. I suspect based on my limited experience that most of the time this simply is not true, but if athletes believe it to be true, then it may as well be. 🙂

Only the top two seeds at the Hyundai Archery World Cup Final will be pre-seeded at the top and bottom of the bracket, with the other six competitors drawn out of a hat two days prior to the event.

This mixes things up just a little and may well result in the ‘home’ athletes getting a slightly more favourable draw and more than one match, which is good news for audiences.

Generally speaking, I am in favour of increased strategic elements to matchplay, on the grounds that it will increase the audience for archery and drive TV figures, which I think ultimately will be good for the sport.

I think they could even go a bit further. 🙂 I’m going to share with you an idea I had about shoot-offs, to add a deep strategic element and allow for maximum drama under pressure. See what you think!  Leave me a comment here or on Facebook. Suggestions and brickbats equally welcome:

A shoot-off is declared.

The archers choose who goes first by coin toss, or it is decided randomly in the scoring software.

The first archer due to shoot shoots ONE arrow.

He then gets the choice as to whether to shoot a second arrow or let it stand. (YES/NO)

He indicates this choice to the judge.

If NO, he lets the arrow stand as scored and his opponent gets to shoot ONE arrow, and the closest wins as usual (just like a normal shoot-off).

If YES, his first arrow is removed from the target, and he shoots another.

This becomes his scoring shoot-off arrow.

His opponent then gets to shoot TWO arrows. The closest one to the centre counts as his shoot-off arrow.

Whichever archer is closest to the centre wins as usual.

Anyway… looking forward to this outdoor season a little more now. 🙂


Vegas here we come

I’m going to Vegas. I’m not just going there to write and report. I’m going there to shoot. Regular readers may remember this isn’t my strongest point. Although I’ve improved a lot over the last year. Have I?

This picture, taken tonight at Thanet Archers who are currently welcoming me as a guest in east Kent, sums it up pretty well. (They always shoot a Portsmouth round on Tuesdays. I didn’t wanna demand they put up a three-spot or something).


I’ve been working hard. Shooting. SPTs. The gym. Of course, there’s the hitting of another odd plateau; the one where you know you have at least half-a-decent shot in the armoury, but can you put three of them down the range one after the other? Can you f**k. One of them will have to fall by the wayside, like some kind of mandatory offering to the archery gods.

I know there is no excuse, no cure other than disciplined practice, focus, and listening to your coach. There is no sentience in that arrow. It does not listen. It does not represent me. But nevertheless it sits there, wrong, away from the others, laughing at me. Like a little gremlin. Even if you know you’ve improved and moved further towards something rather strong, there’s an inkling that you’re still an imposter at this party. It’s not fun. But I’m going to do what I can. I will stake whatever I can bring. I’ll try and drag you along with me.

It’ll be my first time at the Vegas Shoot, the longest running, largest indoor shoot in the world, and one that is most famous for its professional compound open division – the recurve class is very much a sideshow, and the recurve division I’ll be shooting in is rather more about making up the exceptionally large numbers.

I’ve been to Las Vegas before, but only to play poker and gawp at the world’s largest playground for adults. Will I manage to produce enough decent archery to do myself justice in one of the world’s most notoriously distracting cities? Who knows.

“At that point I ought to have gone away, but a strange sensation rose up in me, a sort of defiance of fate, a desire to challenge it, to put out my tongue at it. I laid down the largest stake allowed -and lost it. Then, getting hot, I pulled out all I had left, staked it on the same number, and lost again, after which I walked away from the table as though I were stunned. I could not even grasp what had happened to me.” Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Gambler

Archery stock photo delights

17 November, 2017

Embed from Getty Images

Many of you recently saw on my Facebook page this horror-show stock photo of an archer doing at least six things wrong, wrong, wrong. He even lends his friend the same bow. Urgh.

It’s clear from the sheer number of stock images of archers that it’s a popular enough trope amongst stock photo archives, of which Getty Images is probably the biggest worldwide.

I’ve written about nightmaare stock photos before, e.g. here.   Basically, I believe people tend to recognise authenticity when it is put in front of them. When something technical is presented you can always tell when you are seeing an expert doing something rather than just a model, and with archery-based ads that little gleam of reality is only going to enhance the image of rugged individualism / ‘aiming high’ / ‘hitting the target’ etc. that they are trying to project with the product. I mean, some of these things have real archers in them, and they look a lot better. Right? Anyway…

Businessman-in-a-field is pretty popular. I mean…

Embed from Getty Images

This guy, handed a bow at least strung the right way round, just looks awkward, like he’s never picked up a bow before. A long way from the chisel-jawed thrusting target-smasher they’re presumably wanting the image to sell to you. See also this.

Embed from Getty Images

This futuristic lady, who is apparently a ‘Pacific Islander’ is so far into the future, she’s managed to string the bow backwards. Whooo.

Embed from Getty Images

Absolutely no idea what this guy is up to. Maybe he’s trying to work his biceps or something.

If you can understand what’s going on here, please send me a postcard.

Plenty more of this stuff out there with a bit of searching. There’s even video of this kind of thing too. If you can bear it.

You want more? I suggest you follow the Back To Front Archery Club on Facebook. 

Tak you very much

12 November, 2017


Made a brief stopover this weekend at the World Archery Excellence Centre in Lausanne. Turned out to be a good day to go.  The IOC athletes commission was in town for a conference, and all of them got to do have-a-go led by master of ceremonies Juan-Carlos Holgado.

I got to say hello to Olympians Janet Evans and Willie Banks, which was pretty damn cool. Willie Banks, legendary USA triple-jumper, was keen to point out that he had an archery merit badge from when he was 13 years old and in the Eagle Scouts.

At the same time, at the other end of the hall, the legendary Kim Hyung Tak was giving one of his rare masterclasses outside Korea to a small group from across Europe. It was a long weekend of serious shooting and video-assisted training. Good stuff.

Bhutan: the home of archery

3 November, 2017

In September, I visited Bhutan on behalf of World Archery, and found it one of the most bewitching places on the planet. I wrote a very long piece about archery culture there, which has been split into three parts.

The first part is about the country and Bhutanese traditional archery:

The second part is about the national Olympic team:

and the third is about how archery is infused into the culture of the region:

Enjoy, when you have a moment. There’s plenty of pics in the piece, here are some of the other photos I managed to take, when I wasn’t wielding World Archery’s video camera (look out for the results of that a little later :)).

Traditional bowman on the Changlimithang range, Thimphu. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Bhutanese bow weights range from 30 pounds to about 50. Your bow is usually as tall as you. © The Infinite Curve 2017

There’s a lot of this. As there should be. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Heavyweight Hoyt compounds are usually the order of the day. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Damn. I forgot my national dress. (What is British national dress anyway?). © The Infinite Curve 2017

This was a team from the Bhutan Broadcasting Corporation. One of them came over and wanted to talk about 4K cameras for a bit. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Prizes! © The Infinite Curve 2017

I mean, it kind of all looks like this. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Bhutan recurve represent (1) © The Infinite Curve 2017

Bhutan recurve represent (2) © The Infinite Curve 2017

Compound target at the Bhutan Archery Federation’s range. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Shooting rate ‘card’ at the Paro range. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Sitar Tshering, traditional bowyer and arrowsmith. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Image of the Bhutanese royal family. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Hoyt is a crazy big brand here. Like Superdry or something. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Scoreboard, Paro range. © The Infinite Curve 2017

just wow. © The Infinite Curve 2017

Watch the documentary ‘The Archers Of Bhutan’ here

You can read more about Bhutanese archery at the Yangphel Archery website