The Knights of the Pool Noodle take Whangārei.
On every second Sabbath, grown men and women armed with foam chase a dog skull around Whangārei’s Kensington Park.
For a bunch of adults and kids who spend every second Sunday afternoon whacking each other with weapons made from yoga mats and pool noodles, the NZ Jugger League takes itself very seriously. This year, the league became an incorporated society, which means it now has officers and can host international tournaments.
Never heard of jugger? Not many of us have in New Zealand, although there are leagues in 18 countries worldwide. The cult sport – which mixes the game “Rob the Nest” with medieval combat – originated with the 1989 Mad Max rip-off The Salute of the Jugger, for which the concept was invented. German film buffs picked up the idea and ran with it; in 1995, the first jugger tournament was held in Hamburg, and international matches began in 2007.
New Zealand’s home of jugger has become Whangārei, where players and parents gather at Kensington Park every second Sunday, all year round. In April, the city hosted the first-ever international jugger match on Kiwi soil, with our two teams, the Black Swords and Silverbacks, taking on Australia’s Drop Bears (the Aussies, who have leagues in several cities and more international experience, won every match).
What now attracts dozens of followers began a few years ago with only two. Regan Morgan, who works as a civil servant by day, first came across jugger when he saw medieval enthusiasts playing it in Hamilton. Keen to get into something more energetic than the Warhammer spin-off board game Blood Bowl, Morgan showed The Salute of the Jugger to his mate, Alex Mason, who hated the film but loved the idea.
In 2015, they roped in current league secretary Adam Goddard, who taught fencing to Ellena Weissmeyer and invited Weissmeyer and her mother, Bonnie Levin, along for a game. Levin is now president of the New Zealand Jugger League.
The game of jugger involves two teams of five players who take the field to fight for possession of a “dog skull”. Enforcers, armed with weapons including pompfen (sword-clubs coated in pool noodle foam) and even a ball-and-chain, defend their lead player known as the qwik, who tries to get the skull into a goal. Time is kept by throwing 100 stones one by one at a gong (or, in Whangārei, a volunteer banging a drum).
The skull the players chase around the field is, rest assured, made of foam. “Although I’ve got neighbour’s dogs in my yard all the time and I’ve offered to use theirs,” Goddard says with a grin.
Nerdy? Yes. Geeky? Not exclusively. Many players are also into live-action roleplaying (larping), Dungeons & Dragons and Norse weaponry, but that’s not everyone’s scene. After all, who doesn’t enjoy bopping people over the head with a pool noodle? “Go to any playground and you’ve got kids running around whacking each other,” says Goddard. And, on every second Sunday in Whangārei, grown-ups can too.
“Juggernauts” (from left): Adam Goddard, Douglas Jopling, Tony Pittman, president Bonnie Levin, Regan Morgan and Sean Stanley.