If you were trying to invent the best sport in the world in terms of potential for mass appeal, what would that sport look like?
Would it be outdoors? Involve some moderate sustained activity? High on the social quotient, but low on the competitive one?
It would probably involve beer.
If this sounds like your kind of sport, then it’s possible the best sport in the world has already been invented.
It’s called “hashing” and it involves healthy doses of all the ingredients listed above – especially the beer.
In fact, I have a wild theory that some local hashers may actually show up simply because the required physical activity is just enough to justify the beer drinking that takes place after the event. And during it. Oh, and sometimes before it, too.
My theory on this is mostly based on the fact that when I recently joined the Whitehorse Hash House Harriers (WH4) for an event, more than one hasher told me, “Yeah, I pretty much do this because the required physical activity is just enough to justify the beer that I drink afterwards. And during. Oh, and sometimes before, too.”
It’s brilliant, really, when you think about it.
If there’s one thing that intellectuals the world over can agree on, it’s that beer tastes better after partaking in some kind of physical activity.
Seriously, even the creationists and Darwinists find common ground here: teach it in elementary science classes and you won’t hear a peep of dissent from either of them (at least not until they start testing the theory).
One of the best beers I ever drank in my life also happened to be one of my first. At 15 years old I was working for the municipality of Hudson, PQ. We spent a brutally long day repairing asphalt in the simmering heat and humidity of a West Montréal summer.
When day’s end mercifully arrived, it found us slumped on the tailgate of the truck, blackened and burnt, withered from dehydration, when our normally sadistic boss produced a six-pack of ice-cold Molson Export and handed them out.
It was like that scene in the movie The Shawshank Redemption: the prisoners are slaving away, tarring the roof, when Tim Robbins’ character negotiates a beer break and they sat there in the hot sun and drank like free men.
That was a good beer.
Hashing was invented in Malaysia, in 1938, by a bunch of British ex-pats who would go on rambles through the countryside before retiring to eat grub and drink pints of cold beer at the local hash house (“hash” being a British colloquialism for pub food).
Since then, it has flourished into a global phenomenon with “kennels” all over the world.
Each kennel gradually develops its own unique customs, but there are certain traditions that appear to be non-negotiable, and the local Whitehorse kennel proudly maintains them: the “hare” goes out and marks a course using flour that the hashers must follow. When you spot a mark, you yell, “On! On!”
Somewhere along the course there will be a “beer check” where everyone stops, enjoys a cold beer (or water or sports drink) and waits for the whole group to reconvene before proceeding, which really doesn’t take very long because shortcuts are encouraged and stragglers can cut across fields or through wooded areas to catch up to the front runners who must follow where the marks lead.
Nicknames, or “hash handles”, are given out liberally based on merit or sometimes infamy, and once a hasher is dubbed, his or her handle must be used exclusively during events (a mixed blessing when local handles include Miracle Whip, Air Balls and Skid Mark).
After everyone finishes the course, there will be a “shout up” where more cold beer appears (and quickly disappears), newcomers are welcomed warmly into the fold and any guilty parties must answer for transgressions committed during the run.
The most heinous crime appears to be any perceived infringement of the most-guarded tradition of all when it comes to hashing: NO RACING.
Sentencing is usually accompanied by (what else?) beer drinking and the singing of songs that I vaguely recognize from my rugby days (although the hashers, perhaps in deference to the neighbours, seem to have adopted more PG-rated versions than the ones I used to belt out with my rugby buddies).
Laid-back. Cheap. Outside. Non-competitive. Social. A little hokey? Absolutely.
But it’s good to know that hashing exists in a place like Whitehorse where we sometimes get so busy racing each other at stuff that we forget the whole point is to enjoy getting outside and being active with your friends.
The local hashers are a fun, hospitable group of folks to be around. And they’ve got cold beer … lots of cold beer.
Interested in giving hashing a try?
The Whitehorse Hash House Harriers run events on a regular basis that people of just about any fitness level can enjoy. Drop an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org to find out more.
Special thanks to the local “Joint Master” (a.k.a. Forest Pearson) for making me feel so welcome.
Got a suggestion for an active pursuit that could be profiled in this column? Want to draw attention to your sporting or recreational organization? Are you staying fit in some unique way? Drop me a line and tell me about it at email@example.com.