July 24, 2008

Here’s The Scoop On The Hoop


Good morning, beach lovers. When a old friend flew into town back in May, despite the fact that she’s a Red Sox fan I decided to show her a few of the tasty treats on the north coast. One place I thought she’d like is Hole in the Wall Beach.   And in case you’re  wondering where the name comes from, just check out the first photo. When you come down the steep path from the parking area you are greeted by Panther Beach to the right and this massive arch.   This truly amazing sight is less than ten minutes from Santa Cruz and one of the hidden wonders of the north coast.

Hole in the Wall offers a beautiful wind-swept beach, towering cliffs and spectacular rock formations (photo #4.) This jewel along the coast is only accessible at low tide and has more natural beauty than a Miss Hawaiian Tropic contest. Nature has gone wild with sea stars (photo #5) of every race, creed and color and tide pools packed full of sea anemones (photo #6.) This is a place you definitely want to visit.  Bring and friend and a camera.

It’s also a great place to toss around a frisbee. And speaking of toys, it’s hard to believe in the age of iPhones, Xbox 360s and educational video games like Grand Theft Auto, that the Hula Hoop once was the hippest toy around. That’s right, boys and girls. All the hoopla began 50 years ago when entrepreneurs Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin sought a trademark for a plastic cylinder based on a similar toy that had enjoyed modest success in Australia’s school yards. Before long, the Hula Hoop had more hips swiveling than Elvis Presley on amphetamines.

Wham-O Inc. sold more than 100 million Hula Hoops at a suggested retail price of $1.98 apiece after just a year on the U.S. market. In the words of Bob Barker, “the price was definitely right.” “It became a real piece of Americana,” says toy historian Tim Walsh, whose book about Wham-O is scheduled to be published in October. Just like baseball, apple pie and cigarettes.

The Hula Hoop became so ubiquitous that the former Soviet Union banned the toy as a symbol of the “emptiness of American culture.” In response, the United States banned borscht as a symbol of ” a really weird colored soup” and forbid Americans from playing Russian roulette.

Not long after that, the Hula Hoop became a glaring example of the toy industry’s now familiar boom-and-bust cycles. Almost as quickly as they became a household staple, millions of Hula Hoops began collecting cobwebs in garages, closets and malt shops across the country. “The Hula Hoop was the grandaddy of all fads,” says Chris Guirlinger, Wham-O’s vice president of marketing and licensing. This was followed by Pet Rocks, the Chia Pets and voting Republican.

Like a Brett Favre pass in the NFC Championship Game, Hula Hoop’s downward spiral nearly ruined Wham-O, which had increased production to satisfy the once-frenzied demand for the toy. Fortunately, the company had developed another offbeat toy – a flying disc called the Frisbee – that took off just as Hula Hoop sales plummeted.  I could be wrong, but I believe this Frisbee thing is starting to catch on-no pun intended.

Saddled with a glut of unwanted Hula Hoops, Wham-O stopped manufacturing the toy until 1965, when Knerr and Melin came up with a new twist: They inserted ball bearings in the cylinder to make a “shoosh” sound. That helped revive interest in the Hula Hoop, which still makes money for Wham-O. Ironically, I threw out one of these “shooshers” two nights ago as it had snapped. As a youngster I had a Hula Hoop. I loved putting backspin on it so when I would throw it out it would come spinning back to me. That’s unconditional love between a boy and a piece of plastic.

Wham-O has had other iconic toys like the Superball, Slip ‘N Slide and the Make Your Own Diet Pizza Oven, but none of them came close to enthralling kids like the Hula Hoop once did. But the Hula Hoop might be poised for another spurt in popularity. It’s one of the activities featured in a new Nintendo Wii video game promoting physical fitness. Sadly, at this point in life, I prefer hula dancers to hula hoops.

That will do it for another week in the blog land.  Coming up on Monday we’ll return to the color in the sky.  So enjoy the Hole in the Wall, have a great summer weekend and we’ll catch you on the offensive side of the line.  Aloha, Yankee fans.

1 Comment »

  1. Wasn’t George Michael in that group Wham-O?

    Comment by Take It to the Hoop — July 25, 2008 @ 3:42 pm

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