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Wisconsin prepares for national kubb championship this weekend

Swedish lawn game has a major following in Eau Claire, where the largest US tournament has been held since 2007

A player throws a kubb block at the Eau Claire Soccer Park during the 2013 U.S. National Kubb Championship. The tournament, now in its 17th year, will bring hundreds of players from all over the country to Eau Claire, the “kubb capital of North America.” Photo courtesy U.S. National Kubb Championship

When Eric Anderson and his wife, Erin, moved from Montana to Eau Claire in 2007, they didn’t know anyone in town. 

“We moved here sight unseen. People laugh when I say that I didn’t even know how to say ‘Eau Claire,’” Anderson told WPR’s “Wisconsin Today.”

With a 2-year-old daughter in tow and no car, the Andersons had a hard time meeting people at first. But they had one special advantage: a kubb set.

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Kubb, pronounced “koob,” is a Swedish lawn game that likely originated on the island of Gotland in the early 20th century. It gained popularity throughout Scandinavia in the 1990s as commercial sets became more widely available.

Eric Anderson first played the game while visiting Sweden and then living there as a graduate student in the early 2000s. He described a Midsummer Eve when he and his wife visited some friends with an orchard overlooking a lake. 

“We played kubb all afternoon and all night, and just 100 percent fell in love with it,” he said.

Starting the kubb tournament

When the Andersons moved back to the U.S., Eric’s dad bought them a kubb set so they could keep playing. But Eric had bigger ambitions.

“I had this idea to start a tournament for kubb, and I found out that there were no other tournaments in the U.S.,” he said.

So he hosted the United States’ first kubb tournament at a small park in Eau Claire in the summer of 2007. That first year, there were 15 teams and more than 30 players.

Now, in the tournament’s 17th year, Eau Claire will be hosting 144 teams from 25 states around the country. There will also be a couple visitors from Europe, including a top player from Belgium flying in to compete and a kubb event organizer from Sweden coming to watch the tournament and see how things are done here. 

A large group of people is standing on a soccer field with event tents and a sign reading "U.S. National Kubb Championship"
Players congregate around the pitch and throw kubb batons at the 2023 U.S. National Kubb Championship. Photo courtesy U.S. National Kubb Championship

More than a game

For Anderson, the tournament is also an opportunity to support causes that matter to him. During the first year, he raised money for survivors of the genocide in Darfur. 

Since 2008, the tournament has teamed up with the nonprofit organization Girls on the Run Chippewa Valley, which operates the concession stands as a fundraiser.

At the concession stands, spectators can order a “Swedish brat,” a special culinary innovation for the tournament. It’s a Wisconsin brat served in lefse (a Norwegian flatbread) with honey mustard, fresh dill and crispy fried onions. The dish is a big hit — Anderson estimated they sell about 500 of them each year during the championship weekend.

While the tournament is the biggest kubb event in the country, Eau Claire has also become a year-round haven for kubb lovers in the area. 

“Pretty much every single school in Eau Claire has kubb sets, and it’s common to see it in (gym) classes here,” Anderson said.

Kids wearing gym t-shirts throw wooden kubb batons in a green field
Students at Northstar Middle School in Eau Claire learn to play kubb, May 2022. Kubb is commonly played in PE classes around the city. Photo courtesy U.S. National Kubb Championship

In 2011, the city council signed a resolution declaring Eau Claire the “kubb capital of North America.” 

There are kubb leagues around the state, including in Madison, Stoughton, Milwaukee and Beloit. The Eau Claire league that Anderson runs brings in players from as far away as Superior.

Anderson believes that kubb’s popularity in Wisconsin stems from its accessibility.

“This game is open to all ages, all skill levels,” he said. “You don’t have to be the biggest and strongest person to be really good at it. The entry level to get into the game is just getting out there and wanting to try something new.”

An elderly woman holding onto a wheelchair bends her knees while preparing to toss a wooden kubb baton
Virginia Moore throws a kubb baton on her 103rd birthday, September 2023. Photo courtesy U.S. National Kubb Championship

For the Andersons, kubb is more than a game — it’s how they built community as newcomers to Eau Claire all those years ago. 

“Wisconsin is the heartbeat of this game,” Anderson said. “And Eau Claire is like the mecca — it’s the pilgrimage.”

This year’s U.S. National Kubb Championship will take place in Eau Claire on July 12–14.

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