Home Life, Outdoors & Sports
Meet Eric Anderson, the Man Who Brought Organized Kubb to AmericaOctober 8, 2015
When Eric Anderson and his wife Erin moved to Eau Claire, Wis., in 2007, their relocation set off a string of events that led to the city of 65,000 landing naming rights as the official Kubb Capital of North America.
The couple visited Sweden in 2002 and played kubb (pronounced koob), the game known as “Viking chess,” with friends. Upon returning to the U.S., they never played again. A yearlong graduate school program in Sweden a few years later re-hooked the Andersons on the Nordic lawn game, and Eric Anderson’s late father Steve had a kubb set waiting for them upon their return to America.
“We fell in love with it,” said Eric Anderson, a regional planner in Eau Claire.
When the Andersons moved sight-unseen to Eau Claire in January 2007, the couple didn’t know anyone in town. So they used kubb as an introduction, later launching a small tournament to raise awareness and funding for war-torn Sudan.
As these things go, the small kubb tournament in Eau Claire launched a big kubb movement in the United States.
In July, the U.S. National Kubb Championship (of which Anderson is director) drew 108 teams and more than 380 competitors from 12 states and Sweden. The Championship is set up as a nonprofit and gives all proceeds to charity; it also established a grant named in honor of Anderson’s father that supplies kubb sets to communities where the game isn’t currently played. The Championship also has outgrown three separate parks in Eau Claire and is hosted in the city’s massive soccer park.
For the uninitiated, kubb is “a perfect combination of mental skill and physical strategy,” Anderson said. The game is a mix of horseshoes and bowling with a splash of chess strategy, played in a rectangle area. Players on opposite sides of the pitch throw batons at the other teams’ small wooden blocks, or “kubbs,” and try to knock over a single king piece in the center.
As kubb players improve, the strategy component becomes more apparent.
“That’s the part that keeps you coming back to it,” said Anderson, also the editor and publisher of the annual Kubbnation magazine.
Prior to the Andersons bringing kubb to Eau Claire, there were no organized, official tournaments in the United States. The rise of kubb in the city sparked tournaments and organized clubs throughout the country; there were more than 30 tournaments this year, mostly in the Midwest, and many players from those clubs convene in Eau Claire each summer for the Championship.
After the first tournament in 2007, and growing interest in the game, the Andersons approached schools in Eau Claire to teach elementary-age children how to play.
“The next thing you know, the school district bought a handful of sets for elementary school P.E.,” Anderson said. “And now the high school has it in their P.E. class.”
Kubb is a perfect fit for schools, Anderson said. It teaches kids teamwork and even a little math and strategy. It also doesn’t take physical prowess to master, meaning that a dodgeball king could be taken down by the flute player. “Kubb is a lifelong sport that boys and girls can play on an equal playing field,” Anderson said.
The Andersons didn’t stop at schools in their kubb takeover. Eric proposed to the city that Eau Claire make its love of kubb official.
“I went to the city manager and said: ‘I would like to become the Kubb Capital of America,’” Anderson recalled. “And he said, ‘How about the Kubb Capital of North America?’”
So in 2011, Eau Claire City Council passed a resolution naming it the Kubb Capital of North America, a title that no other town in the country has argued. “That helps build the brand when you want people to come here to play in the championship,” Anderson says.
And while it’s a fun game, kubb also is a way for Anderson and others with Swedish heritage to connect to their roots.
“It’s a tool Nordic organizations can use to get families and younger generations involved in the culture,” he says.
If you have a hankering to play kubb, Anderson recommends buying a quality kubb set made with hardwoods (“poplar”); his preferred vendors include JP’s Backyard Games, Old Time Games, and YardGames.us.