Shuttlecock, a middle schooler’s favorite word, tends to raise eyebrows and provoke giggles among those who are unfamiliar with badminton. The shuttlecock, also called a birdie, is the only nonspherical ball used in a racket sport — its feathers and weighted head cause the birdie to fly in an unusual trajectory that’s difficult to predict. Badminton players combine speed, agility and strength to outmaneuver their opponents on the court. Calculated net shots tumble the birdie end over end, making it impossible to return, while explosive jump-smashes blaze a trail past your opponent’s racket at more than 200 miles per hour.
When compared to other intense racket sports, badminton combines the best of both worlds of ping pong and tennis. Similar to ping pong, badminton draws on reflexes and muscle memory during a fast-paced rally that leaves no time to relax. But strategy in badminton is just as crucial as it is in tennis, because you must set up your shots precisely to lead your opponent into a trap before delivering the finishing blow.
At UC Berkeley, badminton is serious business. California Badminton placed first in the 2013 Collegiate Nationals competition, and the club team hones its skills in tournaments against other colleges such as Stanford, UC Davis, UCLA and San Jose State University. Despite Cal Badminton’s intimidating reputation, professionals and beginners alike are welcome to practice their clears and drop shots in the Recreational Sports Facility during scheduled open gym times. Badminton is becoming more and more popular in the United States, and the supportive Cal Badminton environment inspires many students to strive for excellence at every practice. President Darren Sun says, “We’ve had more participation at open gym this past year than any other year I’ve experienced, and hopefully that trend continues this next year.” Open gym is held Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, and updated gym times are on the Cal Badminton website.
Cal Badminton hosts two annual open tournaments where top badminton players from all over the Bay Area test their skills. This fall, the Golden Bear LIV badminton tournament takes place Sept. 6 and Sept. 7 in the Blue Gym and Gold Gym of the RSF. Details and updates can be found on the Facebook event, and registration closes Sept. 1. According to last year’s president Jeechee Chen, UC Berkeley’s tournaments regularly draw 300 to 400 participants, so expect to see all your local badminton celebrities competing soon.