It is cold all day. It is dark most of the day. I am proficient at throwing darts at no point during the day. How did I end up entered into a Swedish dart competition? And why am I wearing a bright yellow high-visibility vest?
It was Christmas 2016 and I have come to visit friends in Sweden. Most days were clear and cold. I flinched every time I stepped outside as the frigid air cut into my face. As a Californian, I would find myself dancing with delight just because the fog rolling in meant the air would warm up to the 30’s. My friend Patrik and his entire family were warm and welcoming. I was spoiled by their hospitality, food, and drink. We celebrated Christmas with a literal smörgåsbord along with plenty of traditional herring and schnapps. Even outdoors, while hiking or hunting for mushrooms, there was a supply of snacks and glögg, a mulled wine often served warm. Their coffee and cake break known as Fika was a tradition I would not be permitted to ignore.
Their town was a tight-knit community in the wooded hills of central Sweden. Many locals worked in the larger nearby city but, like a clan, their hearts were deeply rooted in their Scandinavian town. On this particularly dark and cold evening, I heard Patrik’s father, Alrik, heading to “the dart club”. I have seen darts at pubs and bars, but I hadn’t considered it as an organized sport, especially not one to necessitate an entire club. I bid Alrik farewell and good luck, but through his son’s translation, I was informed of my error; we were to accompany him. Though the activity of throwing darts thrills me as much as other exciting bar activities like eating pretzels and locating my coat, at this I was genuinely delighted. To experience something special to Alrik, Patrik, and their community was an honor.
After cladding myself to defend against the harsh attacks of a Scandanavian winter, we commenced our march down the hill into town. Visiting this far north this close to the winter solstice can make any time zone change difficult. It’s pitch black outside and my mind had to decide if it was past my bedtime or had I just eaten lunch? The town was peacefully quiet. The bright streetlights cut through the cold air offering an illusion of warmth. I found myself dancing as I walked, trying to fight the chill. My breath bellowed steam like a locomotive. We made a left turn from the main illuminated road and approached muffled music. Alrik opened the door and the music spilled out and filled the streets. I quickly entered, tore my layers off like an onion and shook off the cold.
The first room was what I expected. A basic bar with loud music and happy people talking in even louder Swedish. I turned left to see the dart room. I guess I was expecting a dartboard haphazardly hung on a wall in some corner of a bar. Instead, thoroughly illuminated dartboards were mounted at the end of fairly large booths filling an entire wall dedicated to dart throwing. The other walls were decorated with jerseys and memorabilia. Tables were placed opposite of the dartboards for drinks, food, and spectators. I was given a physical bar tab which consisted of a small piece of paper on which I could stamp my drinks or food to tally up for the end of the night. As I was taking my seat among the spectators, I was once again informed of my error; I would be joining them in the dart competition.
When I heard of my entry into the competition, I was in minor shock. I rushed to the group and explained I did not know the rules or even how to throw a dart. A player named Theo turned to me and assured me I would do fine. Patrik gave me all the details to the game but unlike the sharp darts, nothing stuck. What I did comprehend from the briefing was three things: One, this type of darts was played in pairs; two, at some point, I would need to try and hit specific points, but until then, I was to just try and keep the sharp ends of the darts toward the round thing on the wall; and three, I was not to worry as I would be teaming up with one of the senior players in the league, Josef. A stout white haired man stepped out with a matching white goatee. We shook hands and like everyone else, with his deep thick Swedish accent, he assured me that I would have a great time. Alrik brought me my first drink of the night and chuckled at the sight of my fearful face. He patted my shoulder and returned to stand with his partner. We each had our own lane and designated board. Our lane was on the far left and after some comments in Swedish, Josef started the competition by throwing his first dart.
I watched carefully as each lane threw their three darts. They were fluid and calculated. After one rotation, it was my turn. I stood at the throwing line with beads of sweat running down my forehead. I held the dart just as my partner advised and stared down the lane. For the perfect throw, there were apparently exact angles to position every single one of my body parts, but at this point, the only thing I could remember was to throw this overly complicated dart pointy end first. I pointed the dart and guided it towards the board. Just before I ran out of arm, I set it free. It gracefully glided through the air and planted itself into the board. Now, it did not land in such a way that awarded points but the fact that it made it from my hand onto the board had far exceeded my expectations. I wiped the sweat from my brow and got another well deserved drink.
Rotation after rotation, each player gracefully threw their volley and with each tally, the scoreboard numbers grew. That was of course with the exception of me. The sound of my darts missing the soft dartboard and nailing themselves into the beautifully painted black wooden wall behind were both humbling and loud. The kind of sound one could hear in their teeth. Along with everyone else, my bar tab had grown substantially. The beer was flowing. Alrik’s english had improved exceedingly and his partner, Theo, was passionately discussing his favorite classic American rock bands but in his best Scottish accent. The scoreboard continued to rise, but the inebriation did not improve my throw. My partner Josef would stagger to the throwing line. Dart poised in hand, he would sway side to side. Once in a while, he would extend his non-throwing hand onto the adjacent wall to steady himself. Despite any impairment, his darts would stubbornly find their marks.
The game continued into the night. There was yelling, laughing, and even singing. Even Patrik, who was the most responsible drinker in the room, was futilely challenging everyone to arm wrestle. It was absolute and exquisite chaos. With the exception of ours, the scores had finally reached the last few points. This added a far more difficult layer to an already difficult game. Each dart now had to land on the board to bring the tally to the exact winning number. Anything less brought you that much closer, but anything over would end your turn. We were far behind when each team began this stage. Curse words occasionally flew as darts flew into the wrong numbers. Despite the higher pressure, the party continued. With each round the other teams would miss the target number and return to the soirée completely blind to Josef, who with no help from his incompetent American partner, slowly brought us both up into the running.
Josef walked over to my table and interrupted with a mischievous grin. “You are up,” he said with an almost sinister undertone. We peered at the scoreboard and went silent. The rest of the group followed. Even the offensively loud music was drowned out by the suspense that filled the room. Our team was one shot away from winning. I picked up my darts and approached the line, confident. Confident that I was the wrong person for a potentially game winning point. After many hours of drunkenly celebrating my minor accomplishments in mediocrity, I was to take this unpredictable metal dart and hit a two by half inch stripe eight feet away.
How did I end up entered into a Swedish dart competition? I stand staring at a slightly blurry dartboard. The pressure is suffocating. I take aim, hold my breath, and throw to end this misery. My dart lands just short of complete failure. I receive a pat on the back and sarcasm from the jestful gallery. I’m awarded no points, so I have not gone over the target total. I’m forced to throw again. Defeated, I make my second disheartened throw. The dart, out of irony or pity, sinks into the tiny red strip. I stare in disbelief, “Well, what the heck does that mean?” After a short silent pause, I’m answered by the entire room exploding in celebration. The game is over and we have won. Josef and I stare at each other in disbelief. We pose for a picture in front of the dartboard and the party goes into overdrive. Drinks start appearing before me, I’m offered some terrible tasting but apparently traditional type of “snus”, and my bar tab somehow goes missing. I blame Theo and Alrik for its generous disappearance. The hours parade deeper into the night.
With no recollection as to when, the night eventually becomes the early morning. I am wearing my winter coat saying goodbye to this wonderful group. I don’t completely know why but we’re also wearing bright yellow high visibility vests. With no traffic at this hour, it’s only logical that when I pass out in the snow, my unconscious body can easily be spotted and plucked back out. We make our rounds of goodbyes at least twice and stumble out of the dart club. We march our way back up the hill towards their home. Alrik is having some trouble walking in a straight line. He staggers up the hill listing left and right, bouncing off Patrik and I like slow motion Pong. Exhausted and euphoric, the cold feels good on my face.