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.

North & South - - North & South - MICHAEL BOTUR

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.

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