"In that moment, I basically fell in love with the game of Kubb."
Photos by Megan Monday
Eric Anderson | Eau Claire, WI
“It was midsummer’s eve in Sweden. My wife and I were living there for a year, and we were over at a friend’s parents’ house.
Her family lives up on this hill in the middle of a beautiful orchard. We were looking out over a thick forest and a lake, and with this gorgeous scenery surrounding us, our friends invited us to play a Swedish lawn game called Kubb (pronounced 'Koob'). I was up there in that serene place, listening to the hollow sounds of the Kubb wood blocks knocking together, and I remember thinking to myself, 'Man, this is really a lot of fun.' In that moment, I basically fell in love with the game of Kubb.
There are rumors that Kubb was invented by the Vikings a thousand years ago, but it most likely started on the island of Gotland in Sweden, out in the Baltic Sea, in the 1920s or a little earlier. A lot of times people compare it to a combination of horseshoe, bocce, and bowling.
It’s played by two teams, or two people, and the object is to knock down your opponent's Kubbs, (little blocks of wood), on the other side of the field by throwing a wooden baton. As the Kubbs get knocked over, they get thrown back into the field and have to get knocked down again without hitting the 'king' piece in the middle. That’s where the strategy comes into play, which is where Kubb gets its nickname: Viking chess. There’s more to the game than that, but that’s the gist of it.
During our year in Sweden, my dad kept in touch with us through a blog we were writing, and he read about just how much we loved playing the game. So when we returned to the States, he had a Kubb set waiting for us. We took that Kubb set with us when we moved to Helena, Montana. I loved Kubb when we were in Sweden, but when we moved to Helena, we had some friends who we played with all the time. I’m not kidding, we played every weekend for several hours at a time.
After living in Helena for less than a year, I got a job offer here in Eau Claire. We moved here to Wisconsin, sight unseen, in January 2007. We knew zero people and had to start all over in a new city, but I still had my Kubb set, and we had even more passion for the game. I figured, maybe we could try to invite some folks to play Kubb, it could be a good way to make friends.”
“After months of playing Kubb every weekend with good friends in Montana, we were now in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, a place where nobody knew the game. It wasn’t easy to make friends. My wife wasn’t working, she was staying home with our oldest daughter and pregnant with our second daughter. Our daughter was still in preschool, and it’s kind of tough to meet people until your kid gets into elementary school.
At the same time, my mind was also consumed with concern about some of the bigger problems happening in the world. There was war and atrocities and genocide happening in Darfur, Sudan. I wanted to try to help raise awareness about Darfur and I wanted to raise money to help the people there. My passions came together in one idea: We would start a Kubb tournament and use that to raise awareness and funds for the people of Darfur.
I would go places and promote the tournament and try to educate people. I would go to the farmer's market and have Kubb set up. I would hand out information about what was happening in Darfur and ask people if they wanted to play.
At first, I was so passionate about the game that I didn’t realize how odd it might have looked to others. I mean, if you walk by and you see somebody playing it, you’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ There are these blocks and sticks and you’re moving back and forth…and there I was, asking passersby if they wanted to stop and play. But that’s how I kind of started getting to know people. Even some of my closest friends I have now, I met during those days when I was hanging out at the farmer’s market.
That first Kubb tournament raised $500, and we collected some eyeglasses for people through an organization called Unite for Sight, and some school supplies to send to a refugee camp.
Looking back at that first year, how the tournament was run, I laugh at myself. I was running the brackets, grilling brats, trying to be the referee, trying to do everything. I couldn’t believe people wanted to come back a second year, but we were on to something. The first year, we had 15 teams, and one drove all the way from Michigan to participate. The second year, the tournament doubled in size. We had 31 teams.
Pairing this fun game with fundraising has become a theme, and so at each Kubb tournament we help raise money for different causes. In recent years we’ve raised funds for Chippewa Valley Girls on the Run and the Wausau-based We Help War Victims.”
“Kubb is a beautiful game. There's skill, there's strategy, there's luck, but there are no barriers when it comes to gender, age, or anything. You’re competing as an individual because you want to knock something down. But there’s also a team dynamic, and it’s intense because both teams really want to win, but you have to interact with each other respectfully, based on a couple principles of the game. I think people love that.
Kids, they love to knock stuff down, that’s why we have Kid Kubb. But even at my age, I want to do it just as much as them. In Kubb, that’s the whole premise of the game…to knock something down, hit that wood on wood and hear the sounds while enjoying the outdoors.
Something must have gone right with our tournament. It doubled in size in the second year, when we called it the U.S. Midwest Championships, and we even had to move to a bigger park. The third year, we had to find a bigger park again.
In 2010, we decided to really raise our flag and call it the U.S. Championship. We had 64 teams, and the park we were at was just too packed. After that, I drove around every park in Eau Claire one Sunday afternoon. I needed to find a park that we could grow in, but there was no park in town that could hold us. The only place we could have it was at the soccer park, so we worked with the city and moved it there in 2011.
When my wife and I moved here, nobody knew Kubb, and now we’re filling the soccer park. What’s amazing is how supportive the community has been, how supportive businesses have been, our sponsors, the city itself.
I remember one day I went to talk to the city manager at that time, Mike Hoggins. I remember going into his office and saying that I’d love to label Eau Claire as the Kubb Capital of the U.S., and I gave him the sales pitch.
I expected him to look at me like I was crazy, but he said, ‘Okay, but why don’t we just call it the Kubb Capital of North America instead? It’s bigger.’
So they put a resolution together, went to the city council, and next thing you know, they signed a resolution that we are officially the Kubb Capital of North America, the city of Eau Claire.”
“My wife and I absolutely love Eau Claire. If we had moved to Madison or Milwaukee or Minneapolis, I honestly think Kubb would’ve gotten lost. If we’d have moved to a really small town, there wouldn’t have been enough people to really create a community around it. But Eau Claire was the perfect size.
It’s been a whole community effort; so many other individuals have fallen in love with the game and have started different leagues and tournaments. Kubb is now a part of the P.E. programs in the local schools. The city is trying to promote more block parties, so they invited us to be a part of that, as well. If someone signs up for a block party, they can pick up a Kubb set and we volunteer to come out and teach them.
It’s one of those things that just has a life of its own, now. When I go to the dentist, we talk Kubb. I go to the grocery store, I usually see somebody that I know, and we talk Kubb.
We want other communities to have this sense of togetherness, so we started a program to give away one or two free Kubb sets to people who want to start a club or movement in their community, get the word out. That one Kubb set my father gave me is now here in Eau Claire. That one drop of water started a waterfall. To honor my dad’s great gift, we’ve named it the Steve Anderson Kubb Set Program. So far we’ve sent over 60 Kubb sets to communities all the way from Massachusetts to Washington.
The motto of the World Championship in Gotland, Sweden is, ‘Kubb unites people and creates peace on Earth.’ And some people when they hear that, will laugh, you know, 'Oh, ha ha,' but I think the motto makes sense. Without trying to be a philosopher or anything, when we find those things that we have in common, those things that unite us, even if that is as simple as wanting to be outside playing a game like Kubb, it is amazing what you can build together.
Kubb’s not a game…it’s a lifestyle here in Eau Claire. It’s not just me, I’m not just the weird one. People have fallen in love with this game, and it’s amazing to see that.”
-Eric Anderson | Eau Claire, WI