With Russian River Hoop and Flow
Kent Borowick had never hula hooped in his life until a couple of years ago. The longtime Guerneville resident—who also happens to be the town’s Santa Claus—has now lost pounds and gained friends as he hoops weekly with the Russian River Hoop and Flow, the best reason to head to the Guerneville plaza on Wednesday evenings.
“It was the perfect pandemic activity since the hoops keep you at least six feet apart,” muses founder Jim Hendrickson, who started the group in the fall of 2020 as a way to get out of the house and into the company of others. Nearly three years later, the troupe continues to swell, drawing hoopers of all skill levels and ages—a testament to the timelessness of these plastic rings, popularized in the U.S. in 1958 by the Wham-O toy company (who also brought us the Frisbee).
As Kent can attest, it’s a great workout. According to the Mayo Clinic, hula hooping burns some 160-200 calories every 30 minutes and engages not only your core but your lower body glutes, hams, and quads. The work of keeping the hoop circling improves balance, posture and, as I can attest, mood. I showed up on a recent Wednesday, the sun finally out after days of gloom, saddled with the stresses of everyday life.
But not for long. Right away, there is Jim and his girlfriend Pearl Marill, clad in bright yellow from her blonde curls to the funky neon pants she designed herself, both hooping like they were born to do it, with zero pretense. I sit and watch awhile with an octogenarian named Christopher who offers headline suggestions for my piece (Hula Hoopers Hop at Holiday Hoedown). My load lightens.
Acrobatic and nimble, Jim tosses and catches his hoop, moving it from his neck to his torso to his lower body with ease, where a rhythmic calf keeps it spinning. “It’s basically contact improv jam with a hoop,” says Pearl, who at first resisted her boyfriend’s passion before eventually succumbing to the rhythm. A choreographer and dance teacher, Pearl has, in her own words, “learned to merge hooping with a post-modern dance aesthetic.”
“We’ve got surround sound now,” says Jim, pointing out the two speakers flanking the hoop area where tunes from DJ WT3’s radio show, Anthropology, are broadcast from the River Theater a block away. DJ and popular water aerobics instructor Walter Thompson keeps the vibe lively with show tunes and dance numbers, shouting out periodically to the hoopers.
Every few minutes another person bounds up, some regulars, others newer to the scene, nearly everyone is wearing one of the brightly colored, signature T-shirts that Jim designed. “You can be as social as you want,” Pearl points out, “or kind of stay in your own hoop bubble.”
In a mini skirt and heart sunglasses, Dale Swimer moves gracefully around the perimeter; with psychedelic painted toenails that match his sandals and purple leggings, also designed by Pearl (“Y’all are really repping the merch tonight!”), Elliot Lerman does off-the-body arm spins and over-the-shoulder rolls that, he says, took at least a year of practicing to get good at. Clad in a red tutu, seven-year-old Jazmin hoops with six-year-old Moira (both naturals) as her dad, Michael Scott, keeps it going around his neck.
Kent helps me select a hoop from the big pile, made from irrigation tubing and wrapped with grip tape to give them a little extra “stick,” says Jim. “The bigger the easier, the smaller the harder,” Kent instructs, launching into a story about how the red and white striped hoops came to be—thanks to a recent gig at a Rodney Strong winery lobster dinner. The group has also hooped a bat mitzvah.
The troupe invites anyone and everyone to join, including, at one point, an older woman who moves her hips without a hoop (“All movement/flow is welcome,” notes Jim; “Call me a purist,” quips Christopher, mock-shaking his head).
Gratified to find that my hips remember how to keep the large hoop aloft, I downsize to a smaller one and hoop for awhile with two women, in town from Duke University to do research with service dogs at Canine Companions. Someone orders a pie from nearby Smart Pizza. Moira christens me Queen Peaches thanks to the bright pink T-shirt I’m wearing, and Pearl gives me some tips on sneaking an arm down without disrupting the hoop’s spin. As the plaza moves into shadow, I realize that nearly two hours have gone by.
My mind and body feel at ease and energized, and there’s nowhere I’d rather be than in this flow.
Find the RRHF hooping in the Guerneville plaza on Wednesdays from 6-8 and most summer weekends. RRHoopFLow@gmail.com
Facebook: Russian River Hoop and Flow
When I’m hooping, I feel free. For me, I sometimes think I am in the center of my own small galaxy, and if I can keep that hoop going, I can do and endure anything.
“The best thing about hula hooping is, it’s fun!”
–Moira, age 6
“It’s soothing to the nervous system, the constant rocking. Hula hooping can be very healing.”
“I love how the time goes by and you’re just present, focused on the process. At first, I couldn’t hold it up for more than a few seconds. But I’ve been coming for a month now and I keep getting better and better.”