Sunday, August 17, 2014

Channel Your Inner Katniss / Geena Davis FREE Saturdays with Pasadena Roving Archers

Saturday and Sunday mornings are sacred.  Usually for Ultimate Non-Morning People like yours truly, it's dedicated to catching up on sleep sorely missed during the hectic work week.

But, some things are worth the sacrifice - mostly involving my favorite four letter words: food and free.  Occasionally, I will make another exception for 'adventure'.

When I first heard about Pasadena Roving Archers (from a fellow diner at Petit Trois) - a volunteer group who offered lessons, including all equipment on loan, for free every Saturday morning, I thought it was too good to be true.

Being both a Geena Davis (fascinated by her achievement beyond acting - a Mensa member, gender in media activist, and Olympic semi-finalist in archery!) and the more obvious Hunger Game fan - I was excited to go check this out with fellow foodie and (way more of an) adventure-lover @jennybawel

Lessons start at 8:30am, but since it's free and space is limited, we heeded others' warnings to get there early - arriving at 7am to stand in line.

Around 8am, they started processing people in small groups of about 7-8. First, we had to sign the requisite waivers.

Then they test for participants' dominant eye before fitting us for equipment.  Apparently, your 'dominant eye' is the one you use to aim - and that has no correlation to whether you are right or left handed.  They test for this by having us hold our palms up and out, thumb and index fingers crossed to form a triangular 'hole', held up to our faces and looking through at the coordinator.  The coordinator then calls out whether each of us are right or left eye dominant, and hands us a red or white casino-style chip accordingly.

We then head to the equipment line, where we are fitted with:
  • A small piece of leather with rope (this is for your string pulling hand, to prevent your fingers from getting worn down)
  • A padded arm guard, to prevent the bow / string from banging against your arm/elbow
  • A quiver to carry your arrows around
  • Four arrows (not the sharp, speared head kind intended to do damage - they're round tips for amateur sport)
  • A bow that has the arrow rest etc. set up on the side that corresponds to your dominant eye, per your earlier test!
A verbal overview is given so we knew what to expect from our time there.

Apparently the Lower Arroya Seco Park range has 28 targets, set up 'like a golf course'.  The PRA has spread their passion for the sport from this venue since 1935! For the beginner's session, team leaders take their small groups and stay at one station to teach and let us practice.

Our instructor was super patient and informative - after running through basics on parts of the bow and arrow and of course safety rules, we were taught to line our arrows up, aim, and let 'em fly! (Before arriving at the course, I was apprehensive about having such poor aim that I could possibly injure people far off from target - but the boards are pinned on hay bales set with their backs to a hill, so there's no chance of mistakenly shooting someone with an arrow!)

We spent about an hour taking turns shooting in breakout groups.  While at first some of us (ok, mostly me) were so off that arrows rebounded off the headboard - over time everyone improved with tips and adjustments from the instructor.

I liked that you didn't need to be athletic to do this - it's more about form, and controlling your movements.  Also, there is a lot of instinct involved as you can't really just aim the arrow straight at bulls eye - no matter what you do it's going to have a slightly curved trajectory, up, then down and over. So you just have to adjust, mainly lower than you'd expect, hold your bow arm steady while you pull the string back with the other, and gently let go - until you get it to land in the right area.  And once you get it, repeat and try to be consistent.

I felt like a kid on Christmas morning the first time I actually hit a color on the target board - there was something strangely satisfying about the combination of raw energy, alignment of every part of your body, the visceral connection with your bow, arrow and environment, and the feeling, motion and sound of the arrow cutting precisely and swiftly through the air to penetrate your target.

The thing that I also absolutely loved about the experience with PRA - our instructor, like others in the group, a volunteer there just for the sheer love of the sport and desire to share his enthusiasm for it.  In fact, his whole family is part of the club, and his daughter taught another small group at the station right next to ours! 

After our small group lesson, we were taken to the main range, where first we got to see what it feels like to shoot side by side with other archers from other groups.  Of course there are safety measures in place - everyone stands at a chalk line, and no one is allowed to retrieve arrows until the whistle sounds three times!

Just before we end our session, there is a fun contest where volunteers stuff dollar bills in balloons and attach them to target boards.  Then archers line up in groups and attempt to be the first to pop the balloons.  Winners get to keep the money!  (So proud of @jennybawel for winning one - so she was actually 'up' for the day by a $1, ha!)

The instructors are also great sports about helping us take photos after the session was over.  Once you've completed the early morning intro lesson - they hand you a certification card that allows you to come back at later times for other lessons / practice (at 9:30am on Saturdays) - donation encouraged of $5 which includes equipment on loan!!

The Pasadena Roving Archers are a charity organization and do operate with donations only - so please be sure to contribute what you can into their collection box on the picnic tables afterwards!

For those not willing to get up so early on a Saturday morning, even for this fun free activity - there are other companies / organizations around the city that offer archery classes at later start times, and sometimes at a cost.  I haven't tried any of the other ones yet, but I can confirm that what other reviewers have said about PRA is definitely true - nothing beats learning from people who are just purely passionate about the sport and eager to share it with others.

Thanks PRA for an amazing time - I'm adding you to my list of reasons to love LA - I'll definitely be back soon to practice!!


Pasadena Roving Archers
Lower Arroyo Seco Park
415 South Arroyo Blvd., Pasadena California


Parking: free in open air lot inside park

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