SYDNEY — `IS boomerang throwing anything like throwing a Frisbee?'' I queried innocently. Paul Bryden froze. Then he stared as though I'd just insulted his mother. ``You mean those unmentionable plastic discs?'' he sneered.
``No, it's not,'' he replied, amiable aplomb returning.
Boomerang throwing rule No. 1: Don't compare tossing a vacuum-molded flying saucer to what Australians claim is the world's oldest sport (based on 18,000-year-old cave paintings.)
Addendum to rule No. 1: Especially don't make the comparison to ``Mr. Boomerang.''
Corny as it sounds, if anyone deserves the title, Paul Bryden does. He's won two Australian overall national champion titles, and at least one national individual event title in every year he's competed since 1983.
Not surprisingly, Bryden is one of Australia's biggest boosters for this small but fast-growing international sport. Throughout Europe, Japan, and the United States, the sport is taking off. Ironically, there's probably more interest overseas than in Australia. In Paris alone, there are 12 boomerang clubs. The Boomerang Association of Australia, meanwhile, has only 120 members. And much to Australia's dismay, a US team won the first-ever World Cup Boomerang Throwing competition last year. The Aussies will be looking to regain the title in Japan in 1990.
One virtue of this sport is that getting started only requires some open space and about a $20 investment. ``Learning to throw a boomerang is relatively easy,'' says the former decathlete and primary school teacher. But he admits mastering the ancient flying stick is as difficult as mastering golf and maybe a bit harder.
``Those guys are just hitting a golf ball in one direction. On a breezy day, we've got to adjust our throw to handle the wind as the boomerang goes out and back,'' notes Bryden.
Boomerang competitions typically have six to eight different events including: maximum time aloft, long distance throwing, speed throwing and catching, trick catching, and accuracy.
In the ``Accuracy Without Catch'' event, throwers stand in the middle of what looks like a giant dart board - a series of concentric rings. The boomerang must travel out a minimum of 20 meters, circle back, and land at the thrower's feet. Highest score out of five throws wins.
As in golf, competitors arrive with a bag full of different boomerangs. Part of the challenge lies in choosing the right boomerang for the event and wind conditions.
IN the accuracy event, a small boomerang is thrown. Each arm of the vee shape is about 15 centimeters (about 6 inches) long. For long-distance throws, heavier, longer-winged hunting boomerangs are used.
One of the persistent myths is that Aborigines throw boomerangs which hit their prey and return. In fact, hunting boomerangs don't come back. Aborigines only use returning boomerangs for ceremonies and sport.
Another myth is that boomerangs are strictly an Aboriginal implement. A gold-tipped one was found in the Egyptian tomb of Tutankhamen. And this year, archaeologists in Poland unearthed a 23,000 year-old boomerang carved out of a mammoth tusk.
Most boomerangs today are mass-produced of laminated wood, although fiberglass and high-tech composite plastic ones are available. But because of the extremely complex aerodynamics - combining the properties of a wing, a helicopter rotor, and banking aircraft - the only way to tell exactly how a particular boomerang will perform is to throw it.
How does it work, exactly? ``Let's just say it's a combination of forward momentum, spin, something called `precession' - which makes it turn - and a little bit of Aboriginal dreamtime magic,'' demurs Bryden.
The owner of ``Benelong Boomerangs,'' a shop in Sydney, says his business is doing well. ``It's clear that what you give out, in time, is what you get back,'' Bryden says. ``The boomerang, literally and metaphorically, is really working in my business.''