Between the Olympics and the success of the Hunger Games trilogy, with its bow and arrow-wielding heroine, archery is experiencing a resurgence. For the UCLA archery team, the timing couldn’t be better.
Last season, UCLA sent a full team to the national championships for the first time in more than 10 years. But shortly after that squad earned a fourth place finish, several key archers graduated, leaving the team in need of new talent to replenish the ranks.
Enter New Archers Week, which offers the UCLA community five days of free archery lessons. The event, which took place last week, was moved this year to the Intramural Field in hopes of attracting curious students walking to class. In years past, New Archers Week was held where the team practices ““ Sycamore field, next to the South Regional Library, hidden behind Saxon Suites. With hundreds of people per day lining up to take their turns at the row of targets across the Intramural Field, team members say their recruiting efforts were a greater success than they thought possible.
“So many people have been coming up asking if they can compete,” said Jessica Leung, a second-year mechanical engineering student and the team’s internal vice president. “We set up bows for 100 people, but there’s still been a huge line every day.”
Many students took full advantage of the opportunity, attending the event on multiple days and refining their skills before Friday’s informal competition. Among that group was first-year biology student Randy Chow, who came to three of the event’s five days. Chow, whose only previous background with the sport was at summer camp, found the experience to be much different from what he remembered as a child.
“It’s been a long time since I shot, but I’m doing a lot better than I used to,” he said. “Holding the bow and pulling it back actually takes a lot of stamina. When I used to shoot, I was a lot shorter and didn’t have the muscle for it, but this time I didn’t have any trouble at all.”
Team members were quick to agree with Chow that the sport’s physical demands are often underestimated. Alan Chan, a third-year aerospace engineering student who was one of the team’s best performers at nationals last year, said he spends 20-30 hours a week working on his conditioning and technique.
“A lot of people think you need strong arms, but it’s really all in your lower back,” he said. “People with strong arms actually have a hard time because they think they have to use them. The coaches have to go in and mold their bodies, and teach them to use their muscles efficiently.”
Chan’s hard work has paid off: he placed 13th at the national tournament last year, and hopes to break into the top 10 this season. But he said new archers shouldn’t be intimidated by the team’s growing national reputation.
“There’s lots of local competitions that anyone can compete in,” Chan said. “Most competitions, you just have to be able to shoot without hurting anyone.”
New team members have plenty of time to get competition-ready ““ they won’t compete until after winter break. Leung said that much time is needed to teach proper shooting form and avoid injury.
“It’s a lot of technical stuff, because one little thing can throw everything off and you have to start all over. It’s about how you hold the bow and how you set your bone structure, because the weight needs to go into your bone rather than your muscles,” she said.
Such attention to detail, Leung says, makes archery practice a very different affair than that of other sports. Archers focus on one aspect of their technique ““ from how they’re holding the bow to how they’re using different back muscles ““ for the duration of the three-hour practice. But the archers don’t let this razor-sharp focus distract them from having fun.
“At first, I was dead-set against competing ““ I was worried about losing the fun of shooting,” Leung said. “But they emphasized the fact that we’re not competing for the sake of competing ““ it’s about the love of the sport.”