Dave Boehm stands alone in the grass at Edgewater Park.
"It's a perfect day for boomeranging," he says, holding up his wind gauge. It flashes 3 mph — a little slow.
Regardless, he assumes the position: feet firmly planted, right hand holding the boomerang vertically behind his shoulder. "If you can't see the paint, you're holding it the wrong way," he explains. He takes a powerful step forward with his left foot and hurls the wooden "L" in the air.
Barely visible in the sunlight, the boomerang makes a graceful circle, so slow that a bird has time to investigate. It arcs back to Boehm, hitting his old-fashioned white tennis shoe.
"That's about as close as you can get," he says, his crinkled mouth forming a smile.
If Boehm, 70, were competing, that throw would earn him major points. But he doesn't. Almost no one in Cleveland does anymore. The last annual Boomerang Extravaganza, held last year in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, drew only a few dozen participants. That's a far cry from 1987, when it attracted 1,200 people, the most of any boomerang competition in the world.
Without Boehm, the boomerang movement in Ohio would never have taken flight. In 1979 he founded the Cleveland Boomerang School, a company that helped catapult Ohio to the epicenter of boomeranging in the U.S. and even the world. But over time, interests among local enthusiasts diverged.
"Some people thought — I didn't — that they were going to get famous and wealthy," Boehm says. "And that didn't happen. So they got bored with it and left."
A boomerang purist, Boehm doesn't have much use for competitions, which have fueled the growth of the sport in other areas. Chet Snouffer, 55, lives in one of these areas: Delaware, Ohio. He moved there from Cleveland, where he and Boehm worked closely together in the past.
Snouffer has a different approach now. His competitive nature needs no introduction. He currently holds 12 national titles — the most of anyone — and has won the world championship three times. And he's working hard to introduce the sport to the younger generation.
"Yeah, yeah, we've got world champions — whatever," he says, brushing aside his own triple status as one. "You need to have an infrastructure at the lower level where kids can get involved and participate. We're teaching tens of thousands of kids in Ohio about boomeranging."
Unlike Boehm, Snouffer has no qualms about promoting the sport. "The boomerang stuff is going crazy right now," he says. "I'm traveling all over the country doing boomerang exhibitions and shows." A former president of the United States Boomerang Association, Snouffer is also actively involved in training programs, particularly in Ohio. The current world champion, Fridolin Frost, came all the way from Germany to train in Ohio last year. And two members of the current U.S. national team hail from Ohio — protégés of Snouffer in their 20s.
"They're young. They're strong," he boasts. "We have the best boomerang team in the world right now because we have continued to develop the younger generation."
Meanwhile, Boehm has had other priorities. He reaches into his duffel bag, which is overflowing with various boomerangs, including a few aboriginal models made from tree bark that he picked up in Australia 40 years ago. Most of the others he made himself, using imported wood from Finland. A true boomerang has five layers of solid wood, sanded to complete smoothness. Any imperfections or weight imbalances cause unwanted variations in handling.
Boehm takes pride in such details. He is the author of an 80-page booklet, The big small stick book, which has been cited in expert court testimony. And he is quick to dismiss misguided notions about boomerangs, like the idea that they're dangerous weapons used to kill birds. "If boomerangs were used as weapons, birds wouldn't be able to fly around them," he says.
Boehm's efforts received a big boost in 1982, when he formed a partnership with the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. There has been an annual Boomerang Extravaganza every year since. This year's event will take place this weekend, once again at Howe Meadow in Peninsula. On Saturday, a practice session will be held from 2 to 4 p.m. On Sunday, instruction and a "friendly competition" begin at 11 a.m.
So who has the right idea — the pedant or the enthusiast? The truth is, they have a symbiotic relationship. Boehm brought history and zeal to Ohio. And Snouffer, through the spirit of competition, keeps boomerangs coming back.
As Boehm takes his last throw of the day, a man of roughly his age passes by. "I haven't seen one of those in a long time," he says. Boehm chats with him for a few minutes, then returns to his duffel bag.
"I was more interested in who he was," he says, "than talking about boomerangs."