Hobbies

Why archery hits the bullseye for millennials seeking a new hobby

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Brenda Fisher

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It may have been kickstarted by Jennifer Lawrence wielding her bow and arrow as Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games, or maybe even Orlando Bloom as Legolas, a speedy bowman-sniper in Lord of the Rings.

Archery among younger players has taken off with the swiftness of an arrow fired by Robin Hood himself.

With the TV series Game of Thrones (GoT) — the latest season of which starts on Sky Atlantic on Monday — even more are now set to join the ranks: after all, there is only so much swiping one can do on Tinder, and only so many smashed avocados to post on Instagram. As one Team GB member who competed at the Rio Olympics put it, there is something “wonderfully sexy” about archery that “satisfies that caveman instinct”.

Clubs and equipment-makers are expecting a renewed surge of interest as GoT fans work their way through the new series.

According to Archery GB, the sport’s national governing body, there are at least 4,300 university club members and their junior participants (aged under 21) have increased from 6,500 in 2012 to 10,000 last year.

The increase is being “driven by the culture of wanting to do something a bit different — like Parkour [obstacle course training], circus skills or pole-dancing as a fitness activity”, Will Peel, the organisation’s marketing manager, said, adding that it was “the Netflix generation driving this increasing interest”.

Roman Godkin is the owner and founder of Archery Fit, a club in London that targets the younger generation.

He said that before his company entered the market, archery “was really quite middle-aged and a senior sport”. He described his club as “modern and funky with very flexible hours, a lot of opportunity — it’s for millennials”. He added: “All these movies and cultural things relating to archery drive people in. We have been open for two years, we have been growing [ever] since and we’re still growing.”

In its first year, Archery Fit had 1,200 customers and this rose by a further 1,000 the following year.

Michael Holecek, the company’s receptionist, said: “We’re quite geeky in here ourselves.” All the bows they use are named after superheroes and there is even a range dedicated to the 2016 action fantasy film Warcraft.

“We incorporate a lot of the geekiness in what we do here and our members are the same and are really into movies,” he said.

In Northern Ireland, where GoT is filmed, fans can practise shooting their bows while in costume. Andrew Porter, director of Winterfell Tours in Downpatrick, Co Down, runs GoT events, but he also offers archery classes where customers are given costumes and lessons on the GoT set.

He is expecting an influx of new customers after Monday. “We are extremely busy even when the series is not running, but whenever it starts there’s a spike in the number of people booking,” he said. “I think people are curious — there’s a cool factor to it.”

Patrick Huston, who was part of Team GB’s archery squad at last year’s Olympics, agreed that pop culture was a “huge drive behind this increased interest”.

“The thing about archery is that it’s a wonderfully sexy sport,” he said. “It’s primally driven and has been around since cavemen years. When it’s demonstrated in a way that appears in high-level productions, that plants that seed in people’s minds that it’s a really cool sport.”

Mr Huston, 21, owns Urban Archery in Shropshire but he travels around the country catering for parties, stag functions, school activities and paintball archery, which involves shooting at players with rubber-headed arrows.

“I think this is going to get more popular [and] there’s the possibility for archery to become more mainstream,” he said.

“It’s a sport anyone can enjoy, be it at an eight-year-old’s birthday party, a 28-year-old’s stag do or an 88-year-old doing pensioner activities.

“When these [TV] shows get more and more traction, more people are getting the idea of archery in their heads and people know it is something you can go and enjoy.”