Kauai Gateball Club secretary Marilyn Yamaguchi joined the club in 2010, not so much because of the game, but because of other incentives — a trip to China to compete at an international tournament.
“There were five of us that joined just to go to China … They needed players. They just wanted a bigger group going to China,” she said. “It was a really good trip. We learned a lot being such novice players. We thought we were so great until we saw those young kids that are really, really good.”
She did, however, stick around because of the good company.
“They’re really, really good people,” Yamaguchi said. “Also, there’s a lot of strategy. It’s really interesting.”
The club was founded on Kauai in 1985, three years after the sport was introduced in Honolulu, said club treasurer Itsuo Sakata. The game was invented in Japan during the 1940s.
Sakata was a charter member when the club was founded 29 years ago.
“In 1985, our past president Daniel Nishiguchi, he brought gateball to Kauai. So, he and I are still charter members from the old days,” he said. “Our club here, we only have 29 active members, but 31 total … We have a lot of new people right now. Some of them are still working. Some just retired.”
The object of the game is to accumulate more points than your opponents within a 30-minute time limit. Points are acquired by hitting the ball through the three numbered gates in order or getting the ball to hit the goal pole at the center of the field.
“The thing about gateball is that it’s not an individual sport. It’s teamwork. You have to coordinate with each other. You have to position balls so you can help your partner,” Sakata said.
He added while the game is fast paced and rules are more strictly enforced during international competitions, club members are much more lax when playing amongst themselves.
“Locally when we do this, it’s just for fun, exercise and absorbing Vitamin D, of course,” Sakata said.
Kekaha resident Julie Alvarez joined the club last year after a friend convinced her to check it out.
“If it doesn’t involve running, I’m fine because I can’t run,” she said. “I watched and it was a no-brainer. I just got to hit the ball and they (team captains) tell me what to do.”
Prior to joining the club, Alvarez said she didn’t know the sport existed.
“I’ve heard of the other stuff, but not gateball,” Alvarez said. “I’m retired, so I just wanted to find something to do with my Wednesday mornings … I figure I can kill a couple of hours instead of just staying home and just eat and watch TV.”
The club meets at Hanapepe Stadium every Wednesday and Saturday mornings.
Kekaha resident Selden Burtch has been in the club for 25 years. He, too, didn’t know about gateball before joining.
“My next door neighbor talked me into it,” Burtch said, who recently turned 90 years old. “I saw a lot of the world playing gateball. We used to go to the Mainland at least once a year … I was surprised to see a lot of players playing in Vancouver, Canada … Been to Japan. They’ve been to China.
“It’s good competition. It’s an interesting game,” he added.
The club had the chance to play against clubs from Maui and the Big Island last week at Kohala.
“(Big Island) sent an invitation to our club to come over and play,” Sakata said.
He added he will continue to play for many years to come.
“I’m sure (we’ll all play) until each of us leaves the Earth,” he said. “As long as we have harmony within the fellowship, this game is going to be continuing. There won’t be a time that it’s going to quit.”