Making a Pitch for Kubb

Nordic lawn game has found a devoted following in Chaska.
Fun for all ages: Chaska Kubb Club members (from left) Matt Erdman, John Oman and Jason "JP" Larson show the game to Lilly Erdman in the backyard of Cuzzy's Restaurant.

John Oman spends hours working in his Chaska yard—it doesn’t require a green thumb but a deft touch at toppling awkward-shaped wooden blocks. Winter or summer, Oman is outside by himself or with friends, perfecting his aim in the old Nordic lawn game with the peculiar-sounding name: Kubb. “I’m sure my neighbors think I’m crazy since I’m out here all the time,” says Oman, a teacher at Shakopee East Junior High School.

Kubb (pronounced koob) has exploded in popularity in recent years, including in Chaska. Oman and about 10 other enthusiasts formed the Chaska Kubb Club. They play against each other in their yards or nearby parks or travel to tournaments. Oman and five other members journeyed last summer to Gotland, the largest island in Sweden, to play in the Kubb World Championship. It’s the birthplace of tournament Kubb.

In the game, according to the U.S. National Kubb Championship, two teams try to knock over the opposing team’s wooden blocks (kubbs) and be first to topple the larger king kubb block. They do so by strategic throwing and placement of batons and kubbs, within the boundaries of the rectangle playing field (a pitch).

 “There’s enough complexity to keep you wanting to get better at it,” says Paul Knutson, Oman’s Chaska neighbor, who started playing after wondering what Oman was doing in his yard. “I’m not going to slam bean bags, for example. [But] you throw a bean bag, and you keep score, and it’s just a bag in a hole.”

“Another name for Kubb is Viking chess,” Oman adds, “because there is a strategy side of it, a way you go about attacking those kubbs.” People of all ages and skill levels play, but Oman says practice is key to improving. “There’s no advantage to being just a ripped gorilla throwing kubbs,” he says. “You have to have some finesse.”

For Oman, Kubb has become a passion, one he almost gave up due to a nagging right arm injury. “I was almost ready to quit,” he admits. “But I had purchased tickets to go to the world championships with five of my good friends, and I wasn’t going to let them down."

His solution?—throw left-handed. “It didn’t occur to me to switch hands for two years,” he says. “I wish I figured it out sooner. I feel like I got my passion and joy back for Kubb.”

Chaska Kubb made it to the world’s quarterfinals. Members plan on going back in 2018. “We were right in the mix,” Oman says. “We cooled off in the quarterfinals. The team that beat us got second.” (The club will be represented once again at the National Kubb Championship on July 7-9.)

Jason Larson, the club’s founding member, began playing Kubb with Oman in 2007. Larson, assistant principal at Eagle Creek Elementary School in Shakopee, makes Kubb sets (other yard games, too) and sells them at JP’s Backyard Games (jpsbackyardgames.yolasite.com). “There were only a few tournaments when we started,” Larson says. “Now, there’s not an open weekend from May to October. It’s taken off.”  

Rules to play by

Jason Larson, the founder of the Chaska Kubb Team and owner of JP’s Backyard Games, says people ask him all the time how to play Kubb. He keeps his explanation simple:

  • Throw stuff and knock stuff down. Think bowling.
  • If you knock all the stuff down before your opponent, you win. Think darts.
  • Don’t topple the king too early.
  • Think pool.

For complete rules, visit the USA Kubb website here.

Chaska Kubb Club welcomes new players. For more information, visit the team’s Facebook group.