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|June 19-25, 2008
• Play it by ear
by Kie Relyea
• Upcoming Events
Sailing into the mystic with a boomerang
It’s also a great form of exercise
by Sam Mcmanis
With a brisk swing of the arm and a slight snap of the wrist, the projectile is launched. It is, literally, out of Joseph Bossenmaier’s hands now.
Wherever that multihued boomerang is headed at Sacramento’s Larchmont Park is anyone’s guess. But where it will end up, more likely than not, is right back in Bossenmaier’s waiting grasp.
The expression on Bossenmaier’s face as he watches the boomerang, which veers sharply left of the lacrosse field and then whooshes up and to the right over the tennis courts, speaks volumes about why he spends most afternoons in this activity.
It is a look of wide-eyed wonder, almost childlike for this 54-year-old. And as the boomerang changes direction once more and heads near the tree line, gaining altitude, Bossenmaier sprints a few feet toward it, doubles back, bounces from foot to foot.
Fifteen seconds later, the boomerang descends and slows so much that it almost hovers near its thrower. Bossenmaier takes five quick steps to get in position and snatches it, chest high, out of the air.
He looks across the way at his son, Casey, who is too busy flinging his own ’rang to notice that Dad has just completed one of those sublime throws that is as much a philosophical exercise as a physical one.
“What it is,” Bossenmaier says, “is the energy in is the energy out.
“When you have the finesse of throwing out that perfect, balanced [boomerang] and it comes back to you, it’s like life itself.
“It’s, like, summoning energy itself. It’s about balance, ease and peak experience. That’s my fascination. The throw sets this whole thing in motion.”
Boomerang as metaphor for life?
Well, why not?
Forgive Bossenmaier if he waxes poetic. But the man is just wild about the boomerang, which is a sport (the world championships will be held in Seattle in August) little known, practiced and understood by the public at large. This, despite the fact boomerangs can be traced back 14,000 years to Australian aborigines.
An aerobic sport
But it’s not just a quasi-spiritual thing for Bossenmaier, who is a professional magician and runs a party business, Absurd Entertainment.
He swears it’s a great workout, too.
At the end of 33 minutes of throwing on a warm, still day, he glistens with sweat, lifts up his T-shirt and unstraps a heart-rate monitor and consults his watch.
“OK,” he says, slightly out of breath, “my current heart rate is 155. The top rate was 169. I was working at 92 percent capacity and was above the zone [of optimal exercise] 29 of the minutes. It says I burned 437 calories.
“I mean, that’s better exercise than you’ll get on a treadmill.”
As a fitness activity — or even just an amusing pastime — boomeranging could hardly be classified as popular.
It turns out, though, that one of the top boomerang designers in the world, Ted Bailey, first stumbled upon the sport as a graduate student at Sacramento State in the mid-1970s. Bailey, who lives and produces boomerangs in Michigan, says he does have about a dozen customers from the region.
“But it’s an individual sport, so people tend not to flock together [to do it],” Bailey says.
The Zenlike solitude is what the iconoclastic Bossenmaier finds particularly appealing. It is, essentially, playing catch with yourself.
“It’s pretty much a loner sport for me,” Bossenmaier says. “It must say something about me. Hey, maybe it was that my parents failed me miserably, and I lost my trust in humanity as a child and channeled it into the boomerang.”
Then he cackles and waves away the joke.
“Nah. But I always was a quirky kid. Wasn’t much of a team player. I didn’t like basketball or football or that whole organized thing.”
Persistence pays off
Something of an autodidact — not to mention a prodigy — Bossenmaier says he taught himself to throw at the tender age of 7.
“I saw something about a boomerang on TV and said, ‘Wow, you can throw a stick and make it come back?’” he recalls. “I went out and tried it, and it didn’t work for the first couple of hundred times.”
But persistence paid off. He recalls the first time he ever caught one with almost reverential awe.
“Ah, yes, it was memorable,” he says. “Like riding a bicycle the first time. You’re all wobbly, going ‘Whoa,’ then get your balance and then, finally, you do what you’re supposed to do and you can’t believe it. I remember seeing that crazy arc and then getting excited when it was coming back.”
Bossenmaier proudly pulls out that first bulky red wooden boomerang he bought. It’s in a satchel alongside about 20 other boomerangs — left-handed and right-handed models. (Bossenmaier is a lefty but can throw right-handed ones. His son is right-handed.)
His boomerangs range in size from 2-1⁄2 feet to 10 inches, with materials from wood to fiber composite (like a surfboard) to foam rubber, and in design from the traditional (long arm, short arm) to multiwing.
Considering that most of the ’rangs cost up to $30, Bossenmaier has made quite an investment over the years. And because there are times when, yes, an errant throw means that a boomerang spins wildly and never comes back, he’s lost a few. Which is why he puts his name and phone number on each.
A spectator sport
All of the ’rangs get a lot of use, too. If conditions are right (sunny, no gusty winds), the Bossenmaiers are out at Larchmont Park near the American River most weekday late afternoons.
“We draw a crowd [of onlookers] sometimes,” Casey says.
Sometimes, strangers will ask to have a go with the boomerang. Bossenmaier will warily comply. Boomerangs are not dangerous, per se, if handled correctly.
“Decapitation hasn’t happened ... yet,” he says, jokingly.
“Sometimes, they’ll scrape your hands pretty good when you catch it,” he says. “And you do have to keep a heads-up and throw in an open space with not a lot of trees.
“The biggest mistake for beginners is that, instead of throwing in an arc at a 45-degree angle, they’ll throw across the body. The boomerang goes straight up, catches the wind and comes right back at you. Those are the ones you don’t catch.”
And what do you do in that case?
“Get out of the way,” he says, laughing.
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