Cate Foster finds bows and arrows are no longer the domain of preschool cowboys and Indians.
You'd have to be dead or living under a rock to not have heard of the resurgence in interest in the ancient sport of archery. In case you have been in either of these states, this is all due to the recently released movie, The Hunger Games, where teenagers in a post-apocalyptic world revert to survival mode, using bows and arrows to hunt and protect themselves. Since this is due to become the biggest teen genre movie franchise in years to come, it's a safe bet archery will continue to reap the benefits in the foreseeable future.
But far from being a fleeting fad, the sport has a venerable history in Auckland. Two of the clubs, Auckland Archery in Cornwall Park and Mountain Green in the crater of Mt Albert, have been in existence in their present locations for more than 60 years; the club that is now Auckland Archery has been around since the 1870s, although in different and sometimes unspecified places.
While the North Shore is also catered for with a club in Glenfield, it is fair to say the history of the sport is located fair and square within the farms and estates of the historic Auckland of the 19th century.
Over the millennia since bows and arrows were the weapons of choice on the battlefield, technology has adapted and improved on the original longbow, until the weapons of the 21st century are as sophisticated as the longbow was simple. Many recreational archers in New Zealand use the modern recurve bow, (the only type of bow permitted in the Olympics and many other sporting events, as it is seen to be the weapon in its "purest" form), but there is also a significant proportion of the more advanced archers who move on to the more mechanically complex and hugely accurate compound bow. Because the two are so different, there is no cross competition between them, and beginners generally start with the recurve.
The recurve, which I had demonstrated to me and used for my lesson at the Auckland Archery club last week, is so called because the ends in profile curve back towards the archer.
Its manufacture is a miraculous mix of technology and science, combining relative ease of use with a high degree of accuracy, especially when skill and experience are added to the mix. Or so it seemed to me as I watched the lines of novices and juniors target shooting in front of the clubhouse. Under the patient eye of my tutor, 21-year-old engineering and commerce student Sam Wong, I discovered it is not half as easy as it looks. It might be one thing to let fly with the arrow, quite another to send it where you want it to go.
However, with the pull strength of the bows matched to the strength and size of the individual, I watched children as young as 10 attain feats of accuracy I couldn't even begin to emulate.
As Sam told me, "It's all about practice. You can have all the enthusiasm in the world but you have to put in the practice hours as well."
Some in the lineup I was watching compete in the Junior and Midget Archery (Jama) competitions. Jama links archers of compatible grades around the country, so national champions are arrived at without the need to meet in one place.
However, I'm sure many of the teenage girls saw themselves more as Katniss Everdeen lookalikes than future Olympians. Whether or not this is the case, the future for archery looks brighter now than it has for many years. Says Sam: "It gets under your skin and, if you're like me, you make time no matter how busy life gets."
Join the club
* Auckland Archery Club: Cornwall West Rd, Cornwall Park Domain, One Tree Hill. Novice courses: Four two-hour lessons $150. Ten years and up.
* Mountain Green Archery Club: Owairaka Domain, Mt Albert. Various courses, training and competition options.
* Shore Archery Club: A.F. Thomas Park, 9 Argus Place, Glenfield.