In the course of a one-hour demonstration of a game called kubb, Leigh Northrup referred to it as “viking chess,” drew comparisons between it and tennis because of its back-and-forth strategy, and endearingly christened it as “a kind of thinking man’s cornhole.”
For different reasons, kubb is all of that and more.
But this legendary sport, which seems to be a natural fit for playing in the backyard or at a social gathering, is still obscure enough that newcomers will likely find their own ways to describe it.
Making players out of new curiosity seekers and raising money for charity at the same time has become the mission of the Kubb Krew, three Cannon School teachers that include Northrup and Jeremy Mattson, both of Concord, and Paul Borowicz, of Charlotte.
On July 10 through 12, the Kubb Krew will participate in the U.S. National Kubb Championship, which is billed as “the largest kubb tournament outside of Europe,” according to the www.usakubb.org. The tournament will be held in Eau Claire, Wis., which claims to be the “Kubb Capital of North America.”
When they are not competing for a national championship, Northrup, Mattsson and Borowicz showcase their new pastime at festivals and gatherings. They hope to begin raising money to support Special Olympics of Cabarrus County, an organization Cannon School staff and students have aided over the past couple years.
“Our point is to grow the game, expose it and have fun,” said Northrup, 40, Cannon’s Dean of Innovation and Technology. “It’s a kind of thinking man’s cornhole. There’s definitely a strategy to it.”
Added Borowicz, “I like to say it’s the next evolution of yard games.”
So, what is kubb?
Whether you trust the annals of the past 25 years or wish to believe a 1,000-year-old legend, kubb is a game that originated in Scandinavia. In its modern form, kubb became popular in Sweden in the 1990s. But some people claim the game has a deeper history.
“Legend has it that it was played with skulls and bones after Vikings were done raiding a village,” Northrup said.
A complete kubb set is comprised of 23 pieces: 10 blocks of wood called kubbs (10 centimeters high and 7 centimeters squared), six 30 centimeter-long wooden batons (4.4 centimeters diameter), one larger wooden piece called a king (30-by-7 centimeters), and six marking pins that determine the field of play (8-by-5 meters).
Teams are usually made up of three or six players who take turns throwing the batons to knock down the opponent’s kubbs. The rules become more complicated as kubbs tumble to the turf and get tossed to the opponents’ side of the field. The winner is the first team to knock down the king kubb, placed vulnerably in the center of the field.
Northrup was introduced to the game four years ago by some friends from New York, part of the northeast U.S. region where kubb seems to be more popular. Northrup exposed some of his local friends to the sport, including Mattsson, 37.
They contacted Kubbspel Classic (www.kubbspelclassic.com), a company that manufactures kubb sets, about marketing its product. As a result, Kubbspel Classic sponsors the Kubb Krew to attend festivals and showcase its sport.
Northrup and Borowicz, 25, say they often arrive at a location, set up the game, and have dozens of curious onlookers within the first 20 minutes.
In Huntersville in May, the Kubb Krew played in the Spring Fling tournament, hosted by Queen City Kubb, a Charlotte-based kubb organization. Out of 19 teams, the Kubb Krew won the championship.
The Kubb Krew shares Queen City Kubb’s mission to benefit charity. The Kubb Krew plans on supporting Special Olympics by selling T-shirts at the festivals it attends.
The Kubb Krew is in official training mode for the upcoming national tournament. As the player who specializes in the strategic placement of his team’s kubbs, Northrup is known as the “inkastare.”
He said he tosses about 200 kubbs a day in his backyard. When he gets with his teammates, they often play at James L. Dorton Park or at Cannon School.
Kubb’s uniqueness and novelty is not lost on Northrup.
“Backyard games pop up all the time,” he said. “And they’re usually based on throwing something at something.”
Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.