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After 60 Years, Boomerang Returns

  • Eric Darnell selects one of his boomerangs from his collection. Henry Homeyer Photograph

    Eric Darnell selects one of his boomerangs from his collection. Henry Homeyer Photograph

  • Eric Darnell demonstrates the proper way to throw a boomerang. Henry Homeyer Photograph

    Eric Darnell demonstrates the proper way to throw a boomerang. Henry Homeyer Photograph

  • Eric Darnell selects one of his boomerangs from his collection. Henry Homeyer Photograph
  • Eric Darnell demonstrates the proper way to throw a boomerang. Henry Homeyer Photograph

As an 8-year-old boy I was given a boomerang. It was made of plywood, and I had no illusions that it was an original aboriginal boomerang made in Australia.

But I did believe that if I threw it right, it would come back. I spent hours in my backyard, throwing it again and again. But it never came back. I chased after it — sometimes shaking it out of a tree — always believing that I would eventually master the art of throwing one.

Persistence does pay off. Sixty years later, I met someone who was willing — and able — to teach me how to do it.

Eric Darnell, of Strafford, is a six-time world boomerang champion, five times as a thrower, once as a coach. For 13 years he held the world record for the time a boomerang stayed aloft (1 minute, 45 seconds). I met him a year ago while waiting for the Dartmouth Coach to go to Boston. When I asked what he did, said, “I’m an inventor.” He told me he had invented many different kinds of things. Not only boomerangs, but also sports helmets and a free-flow wood stove. So I called him up recently, and he reminded me that he had offered to teach me how to throw a “ ’rang.”

We met on a sunny afternoon at Chase Field in Hanover. He unloaded a veritable museum of boomerangs: Genuine aboriginal boomerangs, plastic boomerangs, plywood boomerangs, and yes, the boomerang I had as a kid. It was still in its original cellophane packaging with a 1950s price: $3.99. It was touted as the Deerslayer. My jaw dropped. I asked Darnell about it. “Oh,” he said, “That one never comes back. Bad design.” I felt my confidence swelling considerably. Maybe I would actually throw and catch a boomerang. I was ready.

First, Darnell stuck a pole in the ground, with thin plastic streamers attached that allowed us to see if there was even a faint breeze, and which direction it was blowing. The Deerslayer boomerang instructions did not tell me to pay attention to breezes, but Darnell said the direction of the breeze is important. We should throw a boomerang at a little less than a right angle to the breeze, he explained. Throw to the right of the wind if you are right handed, and to the left of the wind if you are left handed. Often before throwing a boomerang he would pull a few blades of grass, drop them from his hand, watching which way the breeze was blowing at the exact moment of throwing.

Darnell explained that the Aborigines used boomerangs mainly for the joy of flying them, and to show off their skills. They had throwing sticks that looked much like boomerangs, but those did not return. Unlike a spear or arrow that an animal can see coming, the throw sticks followed a curved flight pattern, surprising unsuspecting kangaroos or other animals from behind. Yes, he said, boomerangs were occasionally thrown behind birds, mimicking hawks, to scare them into nets, but they were never considered weapons in their native setting.

Finally the moment of truth arrived. Darnell told me to cock the boomerang back so that one arm of the boomerang touched my arm. Wrist action is important, he said, and so is a forward step. We were some 50 yards from a stand of mature maples and he told me to aim my throw just above their tops. So I did, and the boomerang took off, climbing, turning …. and heading off in the wrong direction. The wind had changed, he said, and I had not released it just right. I threw again, and it came toward me … but crashed. On the third or fourth try, I caught my boomerang! Darnell slapped me five. Victory.

I went home with lots of boomerangs, gifts from Darnell. He is generous, perhaps to a fault. He told me that he has attended boomerang competitions where he has been beaten by competitors who were using boomerangs that he had made and lent to them. Recently he went to an international competition in Perth, Australia, where he coached the Japanese team to victory. Now approaching 70, Darnell doesn’t compete much himself. But he still loves to watch them fly, and he throws them with great enthusiasm. Being good with a boomerang doesn’t require power, it requires skill. Boomerangs are a good metaphor for life, he told me. What you put into a throw is what you get back. The better you read the conditions and adjust your throw, the better the results.

Will I keep throwing boomerangs? You betcha. All I need is a big open field and my collection of Darnell’s boomerangs. It’s good exercise; often boomerangs require a short run to get in just the right spot to catch them. For me, at least, boomerangs rarely return to the exact spot from which they were thrown.

With the plastic boomerangs Darnell invented and produced, you can tweak the ends a bit to compensate for wind or the lack thereof. “They’re the thinking man’s Frisbee,” Darnell said. And I’d like to teach my grandchildren how to enjoy throwing boomerangs. I’d like it if they didn’t have to wait 60 years for success.

Henry Homeyer is a garden writer, coach and designer, and the author of five books. His website is www.Gardening-Guy.com.