The seed for The Rec Room was first planted on a cool autumn night in the year 2000 in the Arbor Lodge neighborhood of North Portland. Eight friends, without much to do, lounged about as "Kickboxer", featuring the diminutive Belgian Jean-Claude van Damme, played in the background. In one scene, JCVD is walking across a sunny Thailand beach while, behind him, four tiny Thai dudes played a sport none of us had ever seen. We watched, transfixed, as they performed aerial acrobatics to kick a small wicker ball over a high net, trying to defeat their opponents on the other side. Sepak Takraw, we learned, was the name of this sport popular with the locals on the beaches SE Asia. We knew we had to try it.
Unfortunately, the closest sunny sandy beaches were thousands of miles from our cold dark corner of the world, so we adapted. "Sonnis" (for SOccerteNNIS) was the name we gave the game that we played not just that night, but nearly every week for the next 15 years. We refined and tweaked it as we continued to play and introduce it to others.
While I was convinced that we'd created an entirely original sport, eventually we learned (thanks, internet!) that in most corners of the soccer-crazed world, they have their own versions: "futnet" or "nohejbal" in Eastern Europe, "tennis ballon" in France, "jogku" in Korea, "futbol tenis" in Brazil... the variations go on and on (as do the variations in the rules).
We just kept playing year-after-year on various Portland tennis courts on cold dry winter nights until, in 2014, the hybrid sport of "footgolf" landed stateside, specifically at our local Glendoveer Golf and Tennis. I knew if they were willing to let soccer players kick a ball on their beautiful golf course, that we could convince them to let us hold a sonnis tournament on their indoor tennis courts. And they did -- on November 29, 2014, we held our first public event, attracting 25 teams of all ages and skill levels. Buy all metrics, it was a huge success.
Buoyed by the energy and excitement around this event, I began planning more. Around the same time, I noticed another sport growing in popularity, one that I'd played in college but not much since: pickleball. I found and joined a local pickleball club and started playing again. What was immediately evident was that sonnis and pickleball had a shared DNA, in terms of the sports themselves, but also the relationship between the players and each sport. Everyone loved playing. LOVED it. Surely because you're getting exercise while competing with and against friends in a very social, no-pressure setting.
But I believe there's more to it than that. People love to feel like they're a part of something bigger than themselves. And these hybrid sports tended to attract - first, innovators, then (in the language of sociologist Malcolm Gladwell), "early adopters", then the "early majority". (Well, sonnis isn't there yet, but pickleball is, and we think that sonnis is in the same early stages pickleball once was in). There's so many kids now playing soccer in this country who love any variation the can find of "the beautiful game", especially if having fun is the main goal.
At this point, the vision was coming into sharper focus. The Rec Room (named as such because everyone, regardless of generation, basically knows what kind of experience you're going to have if you're headed to a place with this name) would be about an experience -- having fun recreating, and playing games that, at the end of the day, you just can't take TOO seriously.
And with that, the time has come to take this overground, to give it to the people, to let it breathe and become what it is meant to become...
March 11, 2017