How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger

by Michael Botur / 12 December, 2018
“Juggernauts” (from left): Adam Goddard, Douglas Jopling, Tony Pittman, president Bonnie Levin, Regan Morgan and Sean Stanley. Photo/Michael Botur/North & South

“Juggernauts” (from left): Adam Goddard, Douglas Jopling, Tony Pittman, president Bonnie Levin, Regan Morgan and Sean Stanley. Photo/Michael Botur/North & South

Every second Sunday, grown men and women armed with foam chase a dog skull around Whangārei’s Kensington Park.

For a bunch of adults and kids who spend every second Sunday afternoon whacking each other with weapons made from yoga mats and pool noodles, the NZ Jugger League takes itself very seriously. This year, the league became an incorporated society, which means it now has officers and can host international tournaments.

Never heard of jugger? Not many of us have in New Zealand, although there are leagues in 18 countries worldwide. The cult sport – which mixes the game “Rob the Nest” with medieval combat – originated with the 1989 Mad Max rip-off The Salute of the Jugger, for which the concept was invented. German film buffs picked up the idea and ran with it; in 1995, the first jugger tournament was held in Hamburg, and international matches began in 2007.

Watch a clip from The Salute of the Jugger:

New Zealand’s home of jugger has become Whangārei, where players and parents gather at Kensington Park every second Sunday, all year round. In April, the city hosted the first-ever international jugger match on Kiwi soil, with our two teams, the Black Swords and Silverbacks, taking on Australia’s Drop Bears (the Aussies, who have leagues in several cities and more international experience, won every match).

Read more: NZ's Ploughing Championships: 'It’s a bit like Miss World, but you’re looking at soil'

Jugger in action. Photo/Michael Botur/North & South

Jugger in action. Photo/Michael Botur/North & South

What now attracts dozens of followers began a few years ago with only two. Regan Morgan, who works as a civil servant by day, first came across jugger when he saw medieval enthusiasts playing it in Hamilton. Keen to get into something more energetic than the Warhammer spin-off board game Blood Bowl, Morgan showed The Salute of the Jugger to his mate, Alex Mason, who hated the film but loved the idea.

In 2015, they roped in current league secretary Adam Goddard, who taught fencing to Ellena Weissmeyer and invited Weissmeyer and her mother, Bonnie Levin, along for a game. Levin is now president of the New Zealand Jugger League.

The aim of the game is to get possession of the 'dog skull'. Photo/Michael Botur/North & South

The aim of the game is to get possession of the 'dog skull'. Photo/Michael Botur/North & South

The game of jugger involves two teams of five players who take the field to fight for possession of a “dog skull”. Enforcers, armed with weapons including pompfen (sword-clubs coated in pool noodle foam) and even a ball-and-chain, defend their lead player known as the qwik, who tries to get the skull into a goal. Time is kept by throwing 100 stones one by one at a gong (or, in Whangārei, a volunteer banging a drum).

The skull the players chase around the field is, rest assured, made of foam. “Although I’ve got neighbour’s dogs in my yard all the time and I’ve offered to use theirs,” Goddard says with a grin.  

Nerdy? Yes. Geeky? Not exclusively. Many players are also into live-action roleplaying (larping), Dungeons & Dragons and Norse weaponry, but that’s not everyone’s scene. After all, who doesn’t enjoy bopping people over the head with a pool noodle? “Go to any playground and you’ve got kids running around whacking each other,” says Goddard. And, on every second Sunday in Whangārei, grown-ups can too. 

This article was first published in the November 2018 issue of North & South.

Follow North & South on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and sign up to the fortnightly email.

Latest

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automatic weapons and assault rifles
103805 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Crime

PM announces ban on all military-style semi-automa…

by RNZ

Ms Ardern pledged the day after the terrorist massacre that "gun laws will change" and would be announced within 10 days of the attack.

Read more
No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 years of GCSB & SIS public docs
103770 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Politics

No mention of right-wing extremist threats in 10 y…

by Jane Patterson

There is not one specific mention of the threat posed by white supremacists or right-wing nationalism in 10 years of security agency documents.

Read more
Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath of Big Tobacco
103798 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Profiles

Deirdre Kent: The woman who faced down the wrath o…

by Joanna Wane

As the face of anti-smoking lobby group ASH, Deirdre Kent played a vital role in the smokefree New Zealand movement.

Read more
Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ
103766 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Currently

Māori leaders say acts of terror nothing new in NZ…

by Leigh-Marama McLachlan

Māori leaders are calling on New Zealanders to reject the notion that 'this is not us' in the wake of the Christchurch mosque attacks.

Read more
Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes martenot
103723 2019-03-21 00:00:00Z Music

Cynthia Millar and the strange beauty of the ondes…

by Elizabeth Kerr

The sci-fi sound of the ondes martenot is playing a key part in the upcoming performance of an epic symphony.

Read more
Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white supremacists last year
103662 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Crime

Christchurch gunsmith warned police about white su…

by RNZ

A Canterbury gunsmith living and working says he told police less than six months ago they needed to look at the rise of white supremacists with guns.

Read more
12 moments that show how New Zealanders have united in the face of terror
103665 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Social issues

12 moments that show how New Zealanders have unite…

by Vomle Springford

In the following days after the Christchurch terror attacks, New Zealand has come together to support the victims of the shootings.

Read more
How modern art inspired the music of Anna Clyne's Abstractions
103649 2019-03-20 00:00:00Z Music

How modern art inspired the music of Anna Clyne's…

by The Listener

The works of the English contemporary composer feature in the NZSO’s forthcoming The Planets series.

Read more