Published in the Summer 2005 issue • Sporting Goods
Hacky sack isn’t just for slackers anymore
The room sweats with the body heat of about 50 guys, many shirtless, and two women. Camille Surovy is one of those women and an organizer of this event, Toronto’s first freestyle footbag competition: the Great Lakes Area Shred Symposium (GLASS).
Surovy hops and jumps, twisting her limbs around the airborne bean-filled bag, catching it on top of her shoe and kicking it up into another trick. It looks like a cross between Riverdance and juggling a miniature soccer ball. Just watching is exhausting, and this is only practice.
“It really annoys me when people think we’re just hacking. Most people don’t even take the trouble to find out what it’s about,” Surovy says. “Freestyle footbag [also known as shredding] is really challenging. The best players practice many hours every day. It’s really complex, mentally and physically.”
Competitive shredders focus on performing tricks and setting them to music, pushing the limits of gravity and their bodies. But where hacky sack is considered the pastime of slackers, footbag is the sport of the future. At least, that’s what Surovy thinks.
“The sport is developing. Back when I started playing, I had to order videos to learn moves; now you can watch videos online. I think that as humans evolve, they need new sports. They’ll begin to appreciate footbag. It doesn’t cost much and it’s good exercise for your mind and body. It’s also a really great way to meet people. You can travel all over the world and meet strangers who play. It’s like speaking a different language.”
Surovy is only 20, but she wears many hats in the footbag community: competitor, coach, recruiter and advocate, all on top of a full-time administrative job and dreams of film school. She played a big part in getting GLASS off the ground. The competition attracted shredders from all over Ontario and even as far away as Seattle. Despite the high attendance, it’s still a misunderstood, underground sport.
“We used to go to concerts and events like Snow Jam and try to join hacking circles so we could show people what shredding was about. But it was really frustrating because I’d get called a hack hog, or we’d intimidate people and they’d just walk away.”
Recruiting is essential to Surovy. Her dream of one day seeing footbag become an Olympic sport hinges on getting more people playing, especially women. She started five years ago, encouraged by her boyfriend, Andrew Weglarz, and his friend Paul Toews.
“I was really scared at first. The guys were really good and they would play in circles, with lots of people watching them. I refused to try it for a long time but then I started practicing on my own and eventually started playing in circles. Andrew and Paul were great. They’d take me aside and work with me, give me videos of Carol Wedemeyer, the reigning freestyle champ, so I could see a woman doing moves.”
Surovy has rarely felt singled out as a female footbagger. She stresses that the footbag community is really inclusive and most of her experiences have been positive. But, there are always exceptions.
“What really bothers me the most is when I’m playing with a bunch of guys and the bag comes to me and the people watching just look away or walk away, like I can’t do anything.”
In fact, Surovy can outshred a lot of guys. While there are no official rankings, she’s considered the second-best female footbagger in Canada, just behind Caroline Bourgoin of Montreal. Not that she’s bragging. Shaking her head, she admits, “It’s not much. There are only about nine women playing consistently in Canada. It’s such a shame more women don’t play.”
It’s a situation she intends to change. This spring and summer, look out for her and her fellow shredders at street festivals, rallies and outdoor concerts. And if you find yourself standing on the edge of a footbag circle, don’t be afraid to give it a kick.