A white shuttlecock drifts lazily through a lofty arc, when suddenly a featherweight racket strung to high tension slices the calm and sends the feathered projectile on a laser-like trajectory straight toward a waiting watermelon. The birdie pierces the hapless gourd, cracking it open enough that the creator of this devastating smash can easily split it with his bear hands into wedges suitable for eating. No, this astounding video-available on YouTube.com-isn't a preparation suggestion for serving watermelon, but it does provide a dramatic wake-up call to those who thought badminton was simply a gentile lawn game for blithe diversion.
Played in earnest, badminton is a serious aerobic workout of almost nonstop action. Its greatest allure is that it combines some of the fastest and slowest action of any sport-sometimes in the course of one point played. Its feathered shuttlecock-you may know it as a birdie-is capable of floating in the air almost interminably, then achieving speeds of up to 200 miles per hour when smashed with the proper technique and force, before being slowed down again by the right stroke. Played on a far smaller court, reactions times are much faster than in most tennis situations. When you factor in the ability to spin and slice the birdie, it adds up to a game of demonic stealth and deception.
If competition badminton bears little relation to the game most of us are familiar with it may be because it is exclusively played indoors (too much interference from drafts outdoors), but you can be excused if you choose to enjoy it alfresco this summer. Part of the charm is that you need little space (20 by 44 feet). The upgrade you'll definitely want to make, however, is to jettison those cheap rackets that came with the set you bought at the hardware store. The versions that will get you slamming hard use the same space-age materials and nanotechnology that distinguish great tennis rackets and allow them to be strung to high tension while remaining incredibly light. They come from companies like Wilson and Black Knight (pictured, courtesy of Paragon Sports)-Yonex is among the most preferred-and can command prices around $200. Of course, you'll also want the real feathered shuttlecock. Cheaper plastic birdies don't deliver anywhere near the same aerodynamics. Watermelons beware!
Visit blackknight.ca, paragonsports.com, wilson.com and yonex.com