Hal Weisfeld dutifully accompanied his wife and mother-in-law on a tour of the arts and crafts exhibits at the Ventura County Fair on Saturday until an unusual spectacle caught his eye.
On stage, two burly men were locked in a teeth-clenching arm-wrestling match as hundreds of testosterone-charged onlookers cheered and swigged beer. Biceps bulging, the men snarled and the crowd roared.
Weisfeld stopped in his tracks to watch the gritty competition with obvious envy.
“I think it’s great,” the 65-year-old produce broker said. “It’s being macho at your most. . . .How else do you prove you’re a man?”
About 75 men and women participated in the fair’s arm-wrestling championships Saturday afternoon, a one-day event sponsored by the World Professional Armwrestling Assn. The winners qualified to attend the national championships in Las Vegas on Oct. 7.
“It is just something we do annually that is fun,” said Steve Simons, who organized Saturday’s contest and manages similar competitions at about 30 fairs nationwide each year.
Participants pay $10 to enter and are divided into weight categories. Like-sized duos face off on a padded table situated exactly 41 inches above the stage floor. A referee hovers nearby to make sure competitors play fair.
Before Saturday’s 5 p.m. matches, serious wrestlers and curious fair-goers alike stood in line to sign up for the contest.
“I came for a trophy,” said hard-core arm wrestler Boris Dorfman, 17, of West Hollywood. A lightweight challenger, Dorfman drove to Ventura specifically to enter the competition--his first official bout.
“I just did it for fun,” the 170-pound student said of prior matches in Hollywood bars and high school courtyards. “Now, I want to do it professionally.”
Saugus resident Lisa Burke, 25, was equally driven to wrestle a win Saturday. A lean, long-legged woman who came to the fair for the rodeo, not to arm wrestle, Burke said bulk was not the key to scoring a victory.
“I think it’s attitude,” she said.
“We don’t think the winner is the strongest,” her friend “Jerrdog” Nelson said. “We think the winner is the meanest. She’s meaner than a junkyard dog.”
But Burke wasn’t mean enough, apparently. After a fierce wrestling match that lasted about 30 seconds and registered loud catcalls from the crowd, Burke’s grip gave out and she lost to her female competitor.
Simi Valley resident and Ventura auto shop owner Gary Hanna, 42, claimed an early victory in his first match, besting a huge heavyweight challenger.
“Good thing I tighten wrenches on cars,” he said afterward, recalling his bout. “I didn’t look at his weight. I was just concentrating on putting his arm down. He was a pretty big guy.”
Back in the crowd, Weisfeld watched the competition in awe. His wife, Carolyn, was not impressed, however.
“I think it’s silly,” she said. “I don’t know what they are trying to prove.”