ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Christine Page, president of the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club, knows the perception of her sport: that it's a game of days gone by, played sometimes on cruise ships, more often at a retirement home, by the elderly.
"The stereotype is older people, but the St. Petersburg Shuffleboard Club has been bringing shuffleboard back for younger people," said Page, who is 43 and has been volunteering with the club for eight years.
It's a place that's become an unexpected hub of fun in this small, Gulf Coast city. The quirky nature of shuffleboard — pushing weighted discs across a court with sticks — somehow matches the quirky, artsy feel of St. Petersburg.
The club hosts weekly, free shuffle on Friday nights, and it's common to see the courts packed with teens, families, twentysomethings, hipsters. People bring craft beer in coolers and the wooooosh sound of the weighted discs whizzing along the slick green courts fills the night air.
Sometimes Page and other organizers offer an art show, or ask a local band to play. Other evenings, someone hooks an iPod up to the sound system.
"Friday nights are magical," said Page.
2013 is an important year in more ways than one for the sport of shuffleboard. It's the 100th anniversary of the game in Florida, and the 90th anniversary for the St. Petersburg club, which is the largest in the world. There was a time when the club hosted 8,000 members and its own orchestra.
But the number dwindled to only a few dozen by the end of the 1990s. Many feared the city would sell the property to a developer and history would be lost.
Page and a handful of other local artists, musicians and residents stepped in, and now the club boasts some 200 members.
A sign that it's on the rise: on Monday, the club hosted the first of the five-day International Shuffleboard Association's World Singles Championship tournament.
More than 150 shuffleboard players from around the world are competing in the event; some came from as far away as South Korea, Russia and Australia.
Canada and the U.S. have the largest, and according to many of the players, most formidable teams.
While shuffleboard has few physical limitations, (people in wheelchairs can easily play) strategy is key for the serious players.
"You have to figure out the drift and the speed of the court," explained Kathy Brennan of Clearwater, a team USA member. "And the strategy comes in later."
To be sure, many of this week's expert tournament players are elderly. One gentleman who is competing celebrates his 86th birthday this week.
"There are a lot of older people playing for the US and Canada and there are a lot of younger people playing for Norway and Germany, so that's pretty exciting," said Page.
On Friday night, the old guard of shuffleboard — the tournament players — will mingle with the younger local crowd. Several hundred people and a few live bands are expected for the shuffleboard world's blowout party.
"It's kind of a cultural intersection here," said Carrie Waite, a shuffleboard fan in St. Petersburg. "It's young people, it's old people, it's families, it's people on dates. "The entire community can participate, and it's just a very welcoming and wonderful feeling to come out and see the club vibrant again."
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