'Archers are a different type . . . basically loners . . . but social.'
In the early morning on the last Sunday of each month, a lawyer, a dentist, a probation officer, a bricklayer and a number of other people from various occupations and backgrounds begin gathering in the rolling hills of Portuguese Bend on the Palos Verdes Peninsula to chat, tell jokes, yell in frustration, drink a few beers and do what they love--shoot arrows.
For South Bay Archery Club members, it doesn't get any better than this. Since 1951, the men, women and children of the South Bay Archery Club have been pulling back their bows and taking aim in Southern California.
A little after 8 a.m., some archers are already on the practice targets preparing for the round that begins in less than an hour. Others stand around the clubhouse talking, some holding cups of coffee, others beer.
Topics vary from group to group, but from the look in the archers' eyes it is easy to tell what's on their minds--the vision of a target pinned to a hay bale less than a football field distant. It's getting close to the time when they will be facing that target, and although they may have different ways of preparation, all are ready.
Today's round will feature 14-target areas, with each archer shooting at 28 spots twice. Scores will be sent to the State Archery Assn. for handicapping.
Some shoots during the year feature three-dimensional plastic foam targets made in the likeness of animals. In October, the South Bay club will sponsor an invitational tournament for over 200 of the state's archers at Valley West Archery Club in Valencia.
Most of the men are hunters trying to stay active during the off-season, but there is also a mix of women and children milling about with bows in hand. They too are anxious to get started.
Once on the range, the archers seem content walking the hilly course. They make good-natured fun of each others' miscues as well as applaud well-placed shots.
"We holler all over the range. We make more noise than some of the peacocks around here," said Keith Postill of Huntington Beach, who makes his own longbows and arrows.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people out there are friendly," said Dave Crews of Torrance, a four-year club member.
But while the club's activities may give the impression of a social event, the sport remains highly personal.
"Archers are a different type of person," said Dave Romero of Long Beach, who works as a TRW lab technician. "Most archers are basically loners. When you're shooting, you're the only one pulling back the bow. It's an individual thing. But it's very social."
Concentration is an important element. In archery, the slightest movement can mean a bad miss.
"It takes a great deal of concentration," said Ben Ehrlich, 63, of Palos Verdes. "There are so many variables. . . . The least little mistake you make will have a reaction on the arrow."
"It's something you have to do repetitively," said Bruce Primm, 32, who holds the club archery record. "You have to be a perfectionist."
For many club members archery is a relaxing change of pace from life's daily decisions. There are no deadlines to meet, no reports to complete and no meetings to attend. The only thing on the mind is the challenge of hitting the bull's eye.
Ah, the simple life.
"I do it because I really enjoy the outdoors and the challenge," said Ehrlich, who relaxes by shooting arrows at a target in his backyard. "I just enjoy coming here to meet people, have fun and see how I do against my previous scores."
Ehrlich, an engineer and plant manager for for an airline subcontracting firm, has many scores to compare. He has been shooting arrows with the South Bay Archery Club since 1953.
Since then, a lot has happened to the club and the sport.
For about 20 years, the South Bay Archery Club competed in Torrance before losing its land lease to development. For the next few years, the club roved from range to range in Long Beach and Griffth and Eldorado parks before settling down about 10 years ago at its current 15-acre site about half a mile up a dirt road off of Palos Verdes Drive.
The archers don't have to contend with problems of changing ranges anymore. Now they have to deal with moving targets.
Because of the unstable nature of Portuguese Bend land, the range and targets frequently tend to move--literally. One target moved eight feet in a matter of two months, club members say. The clubhouse had to be moved more than 100 yards from its original site because the land movement.
"This range needs a lot of work," conceded Romero, who edits the monthly club newsletter.
The club maintains the range by assigning a target area to certain members for general upkeep. Some groundskeepers use creative touches to reflect their personalities. One target includes a tomato patch. Another has a man-made goldfish next to the target area. The course is landscaped with white pepper trees and cactus planted by club members.
"It gives people pride in the course and the club," Romero said.
Along with the constant environmental changes, South Bay archers must also contend with changes in the sport. A lot has changed in archery since Ehrlich, then 14, made his first bow and arrow, following instructions in an article in Popular Mechanics.
These are no longer the days of crude longbows and arrows made from wood, as used in numerous Robin Hood adventures and Western movies. Pulleys, mechanical draws and fiberglass arrows now rule the scene. The compound bows, which involve a pulley system, are the most widely used now, although some archers use a recurve bow, which utilizes its peak weight at full extension, and a few still shoot with the traditional English standard longbow.
Archery remains a relatively inexpensive sport. Compound bows begin at around $150. Fiberglass arrows cost about $3 each.
"I don't think anyone foresaw what was going to happen to archery," said Ehrlich, who is one of the club's oldest members.
Since the club began nearly 35 years ago with 12 charter families, membership has grown to about 160 people. There are an estimated 50,000 archers statewide, according to the State Archery Assn.
"If someone would have told me 20 years ago that I would be roaming these ranges, I would have thought them to be crazy," said Pat Gluch, 40, of Downey, walking through the dry brush which covers the area to the next target. Friends introduced Gluch, the club treasurer, to the sport 12 years ago.
But while the numbers of the club might have changed, the South Bay Archery Club remains family-oriented. There are a number of all-archer families.
"I raised four kids in this sport," said Jerry Miller, president of the State Archery Assn. and California Bowman Hunters and a South Bay member. "It's a lot of fun with a good social mix."
"Anything that is family-oriented is good," said Crews, whose wife and three sons also shoot. "I don't find it difficult to have the wife and kids along. I enjoy it. The family that plays together stays together."
The initial $25 family membership with a $20 annual fee gives South bay members unlimited use of the course. Monthly shoots are $2 an archer.
But for most, cost is of little consequence.
"The people in the club are like a big family," said Romero, who has been shooting arrows since his grandmother introduced him to the sport when he was 7. "Sharing something with friends makes it very personal.
"You don't want a tournament to end. You're hot, hungry and tired but you do it because of you're love for the sport."