Photos courtesy of Bryan Jones and Kyle Weakland.

Robert (Bob) Hickes of Morgantown, Pennsylvania is a co-founding member of Keystone Kubb Club and plays as a member of the Kubbstaches. He has been on the kubb tournament scene since 2015 and is already making a name for himself and his team with six first place wins, three second place finishes, and one third place finish. I (virtually) sat down with Bob for an interview to give us a look in on his experiences with kubb.

Bryan: We’ll start with the basics. When and how were you introduced to kubb?

Bob: I was first introduced to kubb by my wife’s family around 2002. Her grandfather made a couple sets and we started playing at family picnics [and similar events]. Eventually he made sets for all of the extended family and we’d play a few times a year.

Bryan: How long after did you become a competitive kubb player?

Bob: In 2013 I started a new job with a little software company in Morgantown and they played kubb and bocce at lunch when the weather was nice. That’s when it started to get a little more competitive, but it was still another year until we knew that playing kubb competitively was a thing. In August of 2014 we found out about the U.S. National Kubb Championship and immediately decided to play in Eau Claire, Wisconsin in 2015. That’s when things really started to escalate as far as training and discovering techniques like drilling I’d say though that I really didn’t become a competitive player until after the 2015 National Championship. That’s when I realized what it was going to take to get to the top, and it’s been a little bit of an obsession ever since.

Bryan: What is the most helpful piece of kubb advice you received from anyone?

Bob: That’s a tough one. We’re pretty isolated here in Pennsylvania so my exposure to good players has been pretty limited, Most of what we learned early on was from watching Eric Anderson’s practice videos on YouTube and reading articles like “The Drilling Manifesto” in Kubbnation Magazine. These resources were invaluable to me early on and in some respects are still helpful today. I’ve picked up a lot just going to nationals and watching the best (players) in the country play. Every year I find something else that I need to work on to hopefully get to the next level, but I don’t think there really was one piece of advice that stands out to me.

Bryan: What is your greatest kubb accomplishment to date?

Bob: I’m very team oriented with kubb so individually this is a tough one to answer. I’m very proud of what our team (Kubbstaches) has accomplished over the years. We have a pretty high podium percentage at tournaments. That consistency takes a ton of work, but to see that work pay off is awesome!

Kubbstaches (Jake Leavitt, Bob Hickes) pose with their second place medals at the 2017 Ohio Kubb Championship.

Jake Leavitt and Bob Hickes of the Kubbstaches pose with their second place medals at the 2017 Ohio Kubb Championship.

Bryan: What goals do you have for the 2018 season as a player?

Bob: As a player, my goals for 2018 are to play as consistently as possible throughout the season. I want to maximize every shot whether it’s a drill or a baton, but at the same time be able to move past bad turns or bad shots because they are going to happen. Kubb is very much a team sport for me so I want to play my best and help my team be successful. I feel like I’ve stepped up my training in ways that I haven’t before and hopefully that pays off for me individually and for my team.

Bryan: You’re a big part of Keystone Kubb Club. What advice do you have for other clubs?

Bob: Thanks, we started Keystone Kubb Club mainly on a whim. It just seemed like teams at nationals represent kubb clubs, so Keystone Kubb was born. As far as advice for other clubs, I’m not sure we’re always the best example. I feel like we have really only just started to get things going here in Pennsylvania locally promoting kubb and getting people playing. The reason for that is, I think, it just took some time to figure out what we really wanted to do and what we could do to make a difference. So my advice would be to do the same. Every club is different and every community is different. The kubb community is so welcoming to new clubs. I’d say put yourself out there and take part in the conversations on social media. Travel to a tournament or two and see what other clubs are doing and then you can take some of those ideas back home to start building things locally.

Bryan: Keystone Kubb hosted the inaugural East Coast Kubb Championship. What are some things that helped make for a successful tournament? Are there any new things you have planned for this year’s tournament?

Bob: We are very fortunate that we have so many well-run tournaments to use as examples for the East Coast Kubb Championship. Whether it’s nationals, or Burning River Kubb from Ohio, or Queen City Kubb from North Carolina, every tournament that we attend was very well run so we felt like the bar was high, but also that we could draw on what they were doing to help make the East Coast Kubb Championship a success. I think it’s important to make sure everyone is on the same page. We knew [the tournament] was going to be a lot of people’s first kubb tournament and we wanted to make sure they felt like they knew what to expect and we also wanted to make sure that their first experience was a good one. So for us, communication is huge. We wanted to make sure that everyone was comfortable with the rules and understood the rule set that we were using because we knew there were potentially a lot of crazy variants being used at backyard get-togethers. The website was huge for that because we were able to clearly lay that out with the help of Kubb United’s rules video, and we were also able to clearly set the schedule for the day to hopefully keep everything running smoothly.

There aren’t going to be many changes for 2018. We’re working hard to keep our momentum going from last year and hopefully grow the tournament. I think having the website up for over a year now and doing promotional events at Scandinavian festivals, both locally and in New Jersey and Virginia, will definitely help. One addition to this year will be East Coast Kubb Championship t-shirts which we’re pretty excited about.

Bryan: How do you see kubb growing on the East Coast and what are you doing to spur that?

Bob: We tend to focus a little more on the competitive side of things because that’s one of the things we love about kubb. When we started the East Coast Kubb Championship it was definitely with East Coast growth in mind. The East Coast is a really big place and a lot of people already play kubb, but most of them have no idea that anyone else plays this crazy game and they almost certainly don’t know that anyone plays it competitively as a sport. In order to grow kubb in the east we designed the East Coast Kubb Championship to, hopefully, do a lot of that work for us. The tournament will move locations every two years. We hope that will bring opportunities for players and teams that don’t travel much for kubb a chance to play in a bigger tournament when their club hosts it. Keystone Kubb, with the support of Country Kubb, will maintain the kubb sets used and those sets will be provided to the hosting club for the tournament. This takes away one of the major barriers to entry for clubs looking to host a tournament. The hope is that after hosting the East Coast Kubb Championship for two years, the hosting club will take some of the profits gained from entry fees, etc. and invest back in kubb by starting a league, starting a tournament, or trying to get kubb into gym classes. Really, anything that gets people playing more kubb. The sky is the limit with what can be done and we’re definitely excited to be a part of it.

Bryan: Pennsylvania is considered a bit of a kubb island. How does having to travel so far for most tournaments affect your ability to compete?

Bob: I hadn’t heard it put that way before but I guess it is true. This was another motivation for starting the East Coast Kubb Championship. It’s nice to have a home game every once in a while, but also to hopefully spur the growth of more tournaments closer to home. Other than the East Coast Kubb Championship, we generally have to travel at least five hours by car or fly to any tournament we compete in. We’re already starting to see things change in that regard. Last fall there was a tournament in western Pennsylvania, [about a] three hours drive, and this spring there is a club in northern Virginia hosting a 1v1 that’s around three hours away. As far as how it affects our ability to compete, I think it actually helps us be more competitive. We only get so many chances to get out there and see what we can do. We have long stretches of a lot of hard work that leads up to every tournament. So when you’ve worked hard to prepare and you have to drive eight hours one way to compete, the last thing that you want to do is face the long drive home disappointed by a bad performance, or even worse a long flight home. All in all it’s pretty motivating.

Bryan: Your team, Kubbstaches, has been making a name for itself in the kubb community. What helps your team succeed and what goals do you have for the Kubbstaches in the coming season?

Bob: As a team we try to stay on the same page and set realistic goals for every tournament [and] season. I think it helps to have dedicated players that work very hard to continually improve their individual games. Our goals for 2018 are pretty high as always. At the very least we want to get on a lot of podiums. We’ve been very successful at that over the years and obviously we want that to continue. Last season was our first season participating in the U.S. Team Cup and we were a little surprised to get second place, mainly because we weren’t sure that we competed in enough big tournaments to score enough points. This season we’d like to win the U.S. Team Cup and to do that we’ll need to win [and get on the] podium [in] some big tournaments. Our plan is to play at the Midwest Kubb Championship, U.S. National Kubb Championship, U.S. Kubb Open, East Coast Kubb Championship, and the Burning River Kubb Klassic. Our main focus though has always been to win a national championship. We understand the effort and dedication that it takes to get to that level, so we want to continue to progress towards that goal.

Bryan: Kubb players sometimes specialize or focus on either inkasting, blasting, or 8 meters. In which of those would you say you are strongest?

Bob: I’m definitely strongest at inkasting and blasting. I work hard on all facets of the game but I find that those two are by far my most consistent skills.

Photo of Bob Hickes blasting.

Bryan: Which is your weakest, and what are you doing to try to improve?

Bob: Eight meters has always been my weakest area. I’ve made a lot of improvements in that part of my game in the last nine months or so, but I still feel like I have a long way to go. One of my takeaways from nationals last year was that a lot of the top 8 meter players have a routine that doesn’t vary. So I’ve tried to find one that works for me. I already had a routine for inkasting and blasting but at 8 meters, for whatever reason, I didn’t (have a routine). So other than trying to get my baton rotations consistent at 8 meters, I think developing a routine and then getting a ton of reps has helped a lot.

Bryan: Walk us through your typical practice regime. Do you focus on one thing at a time or play things out like a regular game? How long/often do you try to get in practice?

Bob: My practice routine has changed drastically since last fall. I had a job change so I no longer work in the same location as my teammates. Before, our team would play two versus two matches every day at work during lunch and rotate teams and roles so everyone was getting reps at every different aspect of the game. I had felt that, after three years, things were probably going to have to change to get to the next level. Now I work from home, so I still practice during lunch every day but now I’m mostly on my own. I tend to focus on pieces of the game and do drills more than I actually play the whole game.

An example of a typical week might be grouping/blasting on Monday, 8 meters on Tuesday, work on the transition from a 4 meter shot to an 8 meter shot on Wednesday, advantage lines [and] 6 or 7 meter shots on Thursday, and on Friday I typically go into my old job and play matches with teammates. I also will try to get at least a couple of hours of work in on the weekend, but that’s completely schedule-dependent with what my family is doing.

Bryan: Ok, now for some advice to those new to kubb. What would you tell someone who is attending their first tournament?

Bob: First of all enjoy yourself! Don’t worry about results as much as just soaking in the experience and meeting new people. Don’t be afraid to ask more experienced players for advice, as everyone is more than willing to help out. There’s no right or wrong in kubb, and by that I mean that things that work for one player might not work for another. Sometimes it can be a combination of techniques that will work, so don’t be afraid to ask. Most importantly, though, just relax and have fun.

Bryan: Obviously you have a supportive group of friends within the kubb community, but what about outside? What do your family and non-kubb friends think of your devotion to the game?

Bob: My family has been incredibly supportive. Whether it’s my wife having to shuttle the kids to and from their activities all weekend because I’m traveling to a tournament, or it’s other family members giving us a place to crash for the night so we can save on hotel costs, they all seem to understand how much I love doing what I’m doing. Plus they see how much work I’ve put into it. There are definitely times that they all think I’m a little crazy. When I’m outside throwing hundreds of 8 meter shots in the rain or whatever, they just shake their heads. I think the East Coast Kubb Championship in 2017 helped them see why I love it so much, because other than that they hadn’t ever been to a kubb tournament. I had friends that hadn’t ever played [that] went to the tournament just to watch, and after that they bought their first (kubb) sets and are off and running, which is awesome to see.

Bryan: Let’s top things off with your favorite thing about kubb. What keeps you coming back for more?

Bob: It’s tough to pick a favorite. As a player, I love working on my game and getting better. Kubb is great in that you can work on it alone and that work translates well into your team’s success. I love that there is a lot of strategy involved and there are a lot of different skills to master; like inkasting, 4 meters, 8 meters, 6 or 7 meters, advantage lines, etc. Most of all, though, I think the people and the incredible sportsmanship of the kubb community keep me coming back. Everyone is genuinely rooting for everyone else. We all want to win but because there’s little to no defense in kubb, opposing players want everyone to perform at their best and are always cheering for good shots. It’s what makes it so much fun.

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