It's a sport rooted in history. ROB OWEN meets the hot shots of the City of Newport archery club
IT’S a sunny Sunday afternoon in Bassaleg and John Mitchell has his bow and arrow lined up a target some 50 metres away. Bullseye.
He lines up his compound bow once more, let’s fly, and again hits the stationary circular target.
The Newport resident uses a wheelchair, but archery is one sport which offers an even playing field for all.
City of Newport Archers was officially set up on August 1, 2002, with a total of four members. By the end of February 2004 membership stood at 25 adults and 26 juniors. Now it the club has an extensive waiting list.
Secretary Alistair Isaac said he was lucky to get on a course at such short notice two-and-a-half years, but touted as ‘one of the fastest growing sports in the UK’ on the Archery UK website, interest has picked up in the area, as it has most others.
“I tried it first at the Museum of Welsh Life and really enjoyed it,” said the Caerleon resident who shoots recurve style, but has recently started trying the long bow discipline.
“When you are shooting on a nice sunny Sunday afternoon, it doesn’t get much better than that.
“In terms of exercise it’s light, akin to golf I would say. There lots of competitions you can enter and there can be a good social side.
“The club runs a six-lesson beginner course but it has a massive waiting list and anyone wanting a place will have to wait for several months. We want new members, but they have to be trained and there is a long queue.”
The club shoots at Whiteheads Sports and Social Club on Tuesday and Friday evenings from 7pm, and on Sunday afternoons from 3pm during the summer months.
It also shoots during the winter, using indoor facilities at Graig Community Centre.
Andy Royle is the club’s main coach. He works with most beginners and any members who need some advice.
He said archery was all about control.
“We teach beginners that safety is paramount at all times, after that it is all about relaxing,” he said.
“From a physiology standpoint, when you are tense you have muscles working against one another and that isn’t conducive to a good solid shot.
“Novices can often be scared, to break something or hurt themselves, but they must be comfortable with the bow in hand. That is vital.”
After that it is about building up the shot sequence, Mr Royle said.
“The archer must be stood correctly on the line, with feet, hips and shoulders all aligned correctly. Then it’s about the draw.
“It can feel awkward at first because it requires the use of muscles which aren’t used much day to day, like smaller shoulder and back muscles and not the arms.
“People struggle most with repeatedly reaching what we call the reference point, which is where their hand sits on their face with the bow drawn.
“This ensures a consistent and repetitive point from which to measure their shot each time.”
“The theory of archery is that if you do everything exactly the same every time, the arrow will go to exactly the same place every time,” he added. “In practise it can be a bit different though.”
Archery UK says the sport has ‘captured the imagination’ of 34,000 members because of its year-round inclusive nature.
“Archery attracts seniors, juniors, young and old as well as able and disabled all shooting and competing together,” it says.
Disabled archer Mr Mitchell, who has been in a wheelchair since a car accident in 1991, is in his third season as a member of the City of Newport Archers.
He said: “This is one sport that I can compete in, where I am not at a disadvantage,” he said between shots at targets almost the full distance of a rugby field.
“It gets me out of the house, and it’s addictive trying to progress through targets of varying distances.”
Families and younger members are also high in numbers at the local club.
The youngest member is Llawdden Sotelano, aged just five.
The club doesn’t usually accept children younger than eight, but Llawdden’s father is another beginners coach, Martin – a long bow archer – originally from Argentina.
Working closely with his dad Llawdden uses a lighter recurve bow, aluminium arrows, and closer targets.
He called archery “exciting”, adding: “It’s like Robin Hood.”
Nine-year-old Amy Flanagan is another promising youngster. She regularly attends with her mum, Vicky, who said: “Amy loves it.
“We both enjoy the fact we have something we can do together, and it’s very relaxing.”
Ms Flanagan also competes, and is set to take part in the Llantarnam Herefords on Sunday (April 27).
She added: “I particularly enjoy the focus you have to have too. It’s about repetitive action and developing consistency.”
The club also boats a Welsh record holder, Mr Royle’s son Daniel.
The 13-year-old, who has shot for the Gwent County Archery Team in longbow, achieved the highest score submitted by an archer in the under 12 category of the Fita 18 indoor round.
Mr Royle said he was hoping a few others would follow in his son’s footsteps and shoot for Gwent this year.
“But more than anything else, we just want them to enjoy archery. That’s what the club is for.”
For more information on the City of Newport Archers see http://www.newportarchers.com/
Club membership costs around £130 per year for an adult, and around half of that for children.
A typical beginners bow, for comfortable entry level, complete with arrows and a bag costs around £200, and should last a few years.