Steamboat Springs It's tough to tell what is more impressive, Bruce Guettich and Peter Shunny's ascent through the footbag world or their ability to seize the attention of youth campers for longer than 20 minutes.
On Friday, before several dozen children at the Kids' Vacation Center in Gondola Square, Guettich and Shunny demonstrated freestyle and net footbag, mixing technical skill with comical charm that captivated the assembled audience.
Shunny and Guettich have been partners in footbag and folly since 1989, but both started much earlier.
Guettich, 44, began competing professionally in 1978. Shunny, 41, started in 1983 and is the No. 1 player in the world after scoring the most overall points in freestyle, net, footbag consecutive and footbag golf in last year's world championships.
He will retain that title for at least two more weeks until he and Guettich travel to the World Footbag Championships in San Francisco Aug. 5-11.
"It is the Super Bowl or World Series of footbag," Guettich said. "This is our pinnacle event of the year."
Guettich, a member of the Footbag Hall of Fame who has held world titles in all four individual events at separate points during his career, said many of his and Shunny's current competitors are half their age and conceded it would be difficult for either man to win an overall title, particularly with the level of freestylers around today.
Set to "Good Lovin'" by the Young Rascals, Guettich and Shunny kicked the footbag between their legs, over their shoulders and onto their heads without so much as a hint of dropping it.
The audience at the Kids' Vacation Center loved the freestyle demonstration, but their opinions and cheers will be of little help in San Francisco.
"We are so far out of the competitive realm in freestyle we wouldn't make it out of the first round," Guettich said. "To describe what some people are doing nowadays is almost impossible. We have two videos out called 'Tricks of the Trade.' If you haven't mastered three-quarters of the 41 tricks on the first tape, you shouldn't even buy the second. I can't do half of them on the first."
For that reason, Shunny said he is starting to specialize more in net footbag, an event played on a court 44 feet long and 20 feet wide with a net 5 feet high. On Friday, the men, who have faced each other in singles competition, showed flashes of how precise and powerful a participant needs to be.
Shunny, victorious in his and Guettich's most recent matchup in Chicago, compared the style of game to that of volleyball. Court placement is key, along with great defense and offense, which enables Guettich and Shunny to even out the field against their younger competition.
"Having experience and savvy is important," Shunny said. "These young guys think harder and faster will win."
The competition would be foolish to underestimate the talent of Guettich and Shunny even in older age. In addition to putting on physically focused clinics, Guettich runs and Shunny mountain bikes to stay in shape. Endurance and muscles are important for footbag, bucking the myth that it's an activity solely for concertgoers or backyard barbecuers.
In 1978, Guettich kicked the footbag 7,936 consecutive times.
The world record is 24,711 for women and 63,362 for men. Ted Martin, the men's record-holder, skipped lunch, opting to inside, outside and knee kick for 8 hours, 50 minutes and 42 seconds.
Guettich and Shunny aren't shooting for any world record in San Francisco. In fact, as they continue to hold clinics with the World Footbag Association, Shunny said it has become apparently clear their demonstrations are far more important than just teaching kids about footbag.
"We usually give demonstrations to crowds of like 400 to 800 kids with messages about sportsmanship, drugs and alcohol and having a good attitude," he said. "It has just evolved."