We’re just here to do the shuffleboard shuffle... —INGRAIN, Summer 2019
STORY / Jesse Valenciana
From Chicago to Brooklyn, shuffleboard is leaving cruise ships and upstate summer camps for a hipster haven near you. What once was a punch line to a geriatric joke is becoming the sexy option for those looking to join weekday rec leagues fueled by chic cocktails and craft beers. (Fine. “Sexy” might be a stretch, but it sounds sexier.)
There’s no “chicken or egg” debate when it comes to shuffleboard. Table shuffleboard, that game you decide to play at taverns when you’re four beer/shot combos deep, wins the “who's first” game over the deck version.
Table shuffleboard was born in 15th-century England in public houses (local watering holes); the game later caught on in Colonial America with the arrival of British soldiers. It is played with coins that each player pushes with their hands into a scoring area at the opposite end of the table.
Deck shuffleboard first appeared in the 1840s on the ships of P&O Cruises, formerly known as Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company (P&O was a postal shipping company before offering the first vacation cruises). It is said that this version of the game was created by the ships’ recreation directors who were tasked with coming up with new (and exciting!) games for passengers. *Players used a long cue stick to slide weighted colored discs into scoring areas, which were delineated by markings on the ship’s deck or, today, the court. With an audience in hand, deck shuffleboard (also known as floor shuffleboard) was on its way to premier leisure-sport status.
* One can only imagine that any over-the-hill folks on Caribbean cruise ships rejoiced; finally a movement-based activity that required little to no movement! And it could be played by those closer to life’s grand exit sign, giving calisthenics and chair yoga a run for their money.
By 1913, the craze for listless games had caught the eye of bored Floridians. Shuffleboard courts were built at Daytona Beach resorts and in retirement villages, kicking off a fad that swept across the country. Shuffleboard clubs included the aptly named St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club (creative names were at an all-time low during this time, apparently). The largest and most successful amateur club had upwards of 5,000 members who played on 110 private courts. Covered grandstands awaited spectators who came to watch the games. Although not as robust as it once was, the club still has 65 operable courts (559 Mirror Lake, St. Petersburg).
The St. Petersburg club was also responsible for establishing the rules that would become the standards for the game in 1924. Five years later, the National Shuffleboard Association was born; the first national tournament was held in 1931. Women didn’t wait to claim their court time. The first national women’s shuffleboard tournament took place in 1932.
CUE TIME’S UP
The 1950s were the absolute heyday for shuffleboard. The game mirrored the social environment of the nation, which led to an influx of shuffleboard-equipment manufacturers who, it seems, spent their marketing dollars supporting tournaments all over the country. The Beatles-loving 1960s sports crowd would prove to be the opposite of those 1950s Elvis Presley fans, and the popularity of the sport tanked. Shuffleboard league disputes and infighting aided the decline; but the advanced age of the players also likely played a role because, well, old people die and that’s a surefire way to lose a league member. For whatever reason, most shuffleboard leagues and associations completely overlooked the obvious solution: Develop a youth program!
Not to fear, disc-shooting fanatics. Shuffleboard was down but not out. In 1979, a group of enthusiasts founded the International Shuffleboard Association in (wait for it...) St. Petersburg, Florida. Currently, six countries have national associations: the U.S., England, Canada, Australia, Brazil, and Japan. It stands to reason that unless you are a die-hard shuffleboard fan or you’re getting a huge jump on your retirement activity schedule, you likely have never heard of any such leagues.
Shuffleboard became so popular that the Works Project Administration (WPA), an employment and infrastructure program created by President Franklin Roosevelt during the bleakest years of the Great Depression, commissioned the construction of numerous shuffleboard courts at playgrounds throughout the country.
What is it about shuffleboard?
We asked an avid Chicago shuffleboarder why he is so enthralled with the game.
Probably how approachable it is. It was really easy to learn, and it can be as competitive or as social as you want it to be. Another draw for me is that it’s only a one-hour commitment per week for nine weeks, whereas something like a bowling league requires three or more hours of game time for thirteen to thirty-two weeks, depending on the league. —Ben Johnson
The game’s street cred would change in 2014, when Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club opened its doors in Brooklyn, New York, exposing the sport to a new generation of folks. Four years later, a branch opened in Chicago; today, the Windy City’s Royal Palms leagues fill up as quickly as spots are made available. At games, there are guest food trucks (naturally) and plenty of good drinks.
New York and Chicago are not alone in their newfound leisure-sport love. You have places like Atlanta that are getting into the game at the Painted Duck nightclub (976 Brady Avenue). At the new Pins Mechanical Company (1124 Main Street) in Cincinnati, a bowling alley with a variety of other games, the basement boasts shuffleboard courts and booze-spiked shaved ice. If the great outdoors is more your style, check out the new generation of summer rec leagues, like the weeknight (cocktail-hour!) gatherings at St. Louis’s Steinberg Skating Rink in Forest Park (400 Jefferson Drive). seasonal
Whichever setting you choose, in this seriously fun game (and one that requires little physical exertion, a win-win when eating and drinking), you have a recipe for success that’s sure to keep the sport alive and well for generations of leisure-sports fans to come!
COURT & EQUIPMENT
Standard outdoor shuffleboard courts are rectangular shaped (52 feet long by 10 feet wide).
Both ends of the court have a baseline and a scoring triangle painted on the surface that is divided into five sections; each is marked with a set number of points. Below the triangle is an area marked “10 Off” (see Scorecards section). Dead lines (discs that rest on a line are not scored) mark the 12-foot section in the middle.
The eight standard multicolored, weighted discs used during play are 6 inches in diameter and between 9/16- and 1-inch thick. The traditional colors are yellow and black; other colors are acceptable. Four discs should be lighter in color; the other four, a darker color.
Each player uses a cue stick (a pole with two prongs at the end) to push the discs. The cue may be no longer than 6 feet, 3 inches.
HOW TO PLAY
Shuffleboard is played in half rounds, with two or more players alternating using the cue to slide discs from the 10 Off section of one end of the court toward the scoring triangle at the other end each half round. Yellow plays first (teams should roshambo for it, but it’s not required).
Discs that don’t reach the far dead line or those that slide past the 10 Off section are removed from play, as are those that are played illegally. All other discs stay in play.
The goal is to score points with your own discs while knocking your opponent’s discs into the 10 Off area or keeping them from scoring.
Scores are tallied at the end of each half round. Players get the marked number of points for any disc fully within a section of the scoring triangle.
Discs that rest on a line are not scored. Any disc that sits within the 10 Off area has 10 points deducted.
The game continues until one player reaches 75 points.
Once that number is reached, play continues until the end of the half round. If another player also reaches or exceeds 75 points, the person with the highest score at the end of the half round wins.