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Hacky Sack: History, Rules, Balls And Games

Hacky Sack, or Footbag, is a popular game in the United States. In popular US culture, the game is famously known as Hacky Sack. However, this name came from the brand responsible for popularizing the game in the US in the 1970s. The term ‘Hacky Sack’ has become a generic trademark, and for this reason, ‘Footbag’ is also used to describe the game in many instances. We will be using these two terms interchangeably in this article.

A standard Happy Sack game involves a group of participants kicking a ball full of plastic pellets or sand and keeping it in the air, much like a keepie uppie with a soccer ball. However, there are other versions of the game which are also popular. We are going to look at the origin and various popular interpretations of Hacky Sack in this article.

History Of Hacky Sack

Games like Footbag have existed for a long time in multiple cultures and countries. For example, in the Chinese culture, a very similar game called Jianzi uses a shuttlecock instead of a ball. This game itself is inspired by an ancient Chinese game called Cuju – which was popular in the Han dynasty about 2000 years ago. FIFA also recognizes cuju as the earliest form of soccer.

In South Asian countries, sports like Sepak Takraw and Sipa are very similar. In Korea, a very similar game called Jegichagi had been quite popular traditionally.

The US version of the game was introduced in the 1970s by Mike Marshall and John Stalberger of Oregon City, Oregon, US. Mike met John in Oregon when the latter was undergoing rehabilitation following knee surgery. As part of his exercises, John started playing a game of kicking around a homemade beanbag with Mike. Both named the game ‘Hack the Sack.’ Intending to popularize the game, they designed and launched ‘Hacky Sack’ as a product in the US market. Both also came up with the generic term ‘footbag’ for the game.

Unfortunately, Mike passed away due to a sudden cardiac arrest in 1975. However, this tragedy didn’t stop Stalberger, and he kept promoting the product. In 1979, he obtained a patent from the US patent office for his Hacky Sack brand. By the early 1980s’, Hacky Sack had become popular in the US. Stalberger sold the Hacky Sack product to Wham-O, a US-based toy company, in 1983.

John was also responsible for establishing the first official governing body for Hacky Sack, called National Hacky Sack Association, in 1975. In 1984, NHSA ceased to exist, and in its place, World Footbag Association emerged as the leading governing body for Hacky Sack. Worldwide Footbag Foundation was established in 1994, and it evolved into International Footbag Player’s Association, Inc. in 2000. Currently, IFPA is the leading governing body, and it has a Footbag Hall of Fame and organizes regular international competitions.

Since the sport’s inception, several versions of Footbag such as Footbag Net and Freestyle Footbag have come up. The game of Hacky Sack peaked in popularity during the 80s and 90s’, but in recent years, its appeal has waned among the youth.

How To Hacky Sack

The only requirement to play a game of Footbag is a hacky sack ball. For a basic game of Hacky Sack, players must stand in a circle with an appropriate distance between themselves. The game’s main aim is to keep the ball afloat for as long as possible without using hands and arms.

The game starts with a player tossing the ball to an adjacent player at waist-level. The player receiving the ball is supposed to pass it to the next player and so on. When a player has the ball, they are allowed multiple touches to control it. When the ball is passed through the entire circle, it’s referred to as getting a ‘hack.’

Hacky Sack Ball

There are different varieties of Hacky Sack balls or bags available in the market. For casual circle Footbag, crocheted footbags are the preferred option. The outer surface could be hemp, cotton, or wool. Some other materials that are used for surfaces are synthetic suede, corduroy, or amaretto.

The most common filling materials used in Hack Sacks are plastic pellets and sand. The ones filled with sand are called “dirtbags” or “sand hacks.” Other materials used as fillers are metals, beads, cork, rubber, popcorn kernels, etc.

The commercially available hacky sacks can have 2 to 120 panels. Therefore, a 32-panel ball is an ideal fit for a freestyle game. The more panels a ball has, the more it is likely to retain its shape. However, it’s easier to stall balls with fewer panels. Thus, balls with more panels are more suitable for a playstyle that involves a lot of kicking. However, if you want to do stalling and tricks, then balls with fewer panels are preferable.

The size also matters as bigger Hacky Sacks make it easier to stall. Generally, Hacky Sacks are available in small, medium, and large sizes.

Hacky Sacks can weigh between 30 and 80 grams. Heavier ones are easy to control, but they can be painful to kick. The lighter ones are harder to control.

Hacky Sack Shoes

Tennis shoes are the best fit to play a game of Hacky Sack. Adidas Rod Laver nylon-mesh tennis shoes are arguably the most popular shoes among Hacky Sack players. These shoes have a thick sole, and they are good at absorbing shock. Furthermore, these shoes have a flat toe area, making it easier for players to stall a Hacky Sack.

Several players also modify their shoes to make them more suitable for playing Hacky Sack. For instance, many players use a popular lacing style to pull apart the edges of the toe area. This lacing technique increases the flat toe area and makes stalling easier.

Hacky Sack Rules

There is a lack of a standardized set of rules in Hacky sack. Furthermore, there are multiple variations of the game that are currently played. Like Freestyle Footbag, some are played professionally. On the other hand, circle kicking is mostly played casually and in a non-competitive environment. Therefore, an unwritten set of rules primarily governs such versions of Hacky Sack.

Circle kicking is arguably the most popular version of Hacky Sack. It involves a group of players standing in a circle. A player starts a game by servicing the ball to a player standing next to them. And then, the player receiving the ball is expected to pass the ball to the next player. If the ball is passed throughout the entire circle without touching the ground, it’s called completing a hack. If the ball is passed twice through every player in the circle, it’s called a double hack and so on. Some other rules dictate that players shouldn’t serve the ball to themselves, and if a player drops the ball, they are responsible for retrieving it.

Games / Variations

As we mentioned earlier, there are multiple versions of Hacky Sack that have become popular since the 1970s’.

Circle Kicking

We have already talked about this version in our article. It’s the most popular and recognizable form of Hacky Sack in the United States. However, it’s primarily played in a non-competitive environment and lacks any professional rules.

Freestyle Footbag

An individual plays this form of Hacky Sack at a time. It focuses on tricks, stalls, and routines rather than passing the ball amongst players. A player’s performance is judged on a series of maneuvers in a stipulated amount of time. For example, the ending position of one trick becomes the starting position of the next, and so on. Players are also judged on the difficulty level of their tricks. Various tricks are categorized under ADD – Additional Degree of Difficulty. This aspect is somewhat similar to the concept used in other sports such as Gymnastics and Diving. ADDs levels range from 2 to 7, with seven being the highest.

Multiple events come under Freestyle Footbag, such as Routines, 30 Second Shred, Sick 3, Sick Trick, Rippin’ Run, etc.

Freestyle Footbag is also played at a competitive level, and IFPA regularly organizes international freestyle tournaments.

Footbag Net

To a great extent, Footbag Net resembles the sport of Sepak Takraw. It is played on a court divided in two by a five-foot net. The standard dimensions of a court are 20 ft. wide x 44 ft. in length. The significant difference is that in Footbag Net, any contact with a player’s body above the shin is considered a foul. Thus, some might also call this game a mix of volleyball and badminton.

Some other popular versions of Hacky Sack are Hacky Attack, Hit the man, Basse, Bruce, Hack Slap, Footbag Golf, Kickback, War, Knockout, Numbers, Horse, Hot Potato, Count & Catch, etc.

How To Make A Footbag?

If you don’t prefer to buy a hacky sack, you can make one at home quite easily. There are several ways to make a Hacky Sack, and we will discuss one of those ways in detail here.

All you need to make a hacky sack are thread (polyester preferably) & needles, a kid-sized sock, and some lentils (or rice).

a) Cut the sock’s tip (towards the toe) at about 4-5 inches from the toe part.

b) Now, using your thread and needle, sew the open part of your sock. The thread lines should be close enough not to allow the stuffing to leak from inside.

c) Sew the open end until there is only enough open space left to stuff lentils inside.

d) Now, place a funnel inside the gap left and pour lentils inside the sock.

e) Once the sock is filled, finish sewing the hole. Your hacky sack is now ready to play.

Use the following video if you also need visual aid:

Where To Buy Hacky Sacks

There are several kinds of Footbags readily available to buy from online retailers such as Amazon etc.

The Sandmaster Footbag is considered the best option for beginners. It has 14 panels and weighs 30 grams. Currently, a pack of 3 Sandmaster footbags is available for $21.99 plus shipping.

Other popular models are World Footbag Dirtbag, Mighty Mite, Assassin 32, Quad 4, the Clipper, Paradox 14, Jester, Stally, Stellar Staller, etc.

Now, all these brands differ in the number of panels, filling material, and outer fabric. Hence, players should pick the one that’s best suited to their game.

Main Image: Wright Life

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