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Badminton, Anyone?

A backyard pastime for most Americans gets serious at BU

On winter Friday nights when the men’s hockey team is in town, the west end of Agganis Arena is a raucous coliseum. BU students roar on their team and taunt the opponent with ritualistic finger-wagging whenever the Terriers score, while the BU Band plays Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” and a shaggy alum known as Sasquatch strips off his shirt and waves it furiously.

At the same time, a very different scene unfolds across the way at FitRec, where the BU Badminton Club plays weekly matches. Wielding willowy rackets, students in T-shirts and shorts or sweatpants send shuttlecocks sailing over nets, the thwacks from slams and whispered pings from drop shots making a chorus with the mouse squeaks of sneakered feet on the hardwood. Shuttlecocks litter the floor as if shot from the sky (aptly: they’re also called “birdies”). Polite quiet during play is the unwritten rule; there are no rambunctious cheers from players at their own deft moves, no mocking an opponent’s misfires or missteps. And no half-naked guy bellowing.

Li-Ke Ko prepares to serve during BU Badminton Club practice

Li-Ke Ko (CAS ’17) prepares to serve during a BU Badminton Club practice.

“Everyone needs to be quiet during play,” says club president Darian Fard (CAS’17). “Between rallies, they can be going crazy.”

It is this living video of sound and motion that entrances Fard, who took up the game during high school in Toronto. “If someone smashes really hard, the sound is like a cannon,” he says. “It turns heads.” And “when you want to move around, you have to have the proper technique. When you have the proper technique, it’s like you float.” The best players, he says, look “majestic,” “graceful,” and “effortless.”

The different Friday sports in the Agganis wings are not just a tale of different games, but of different cultures. While pro hockey is Americans’ sixth favorite sport (pro football, of course, is solidly number one), badminton for most of us is a backyard diversion for Fourth of July barbecue guests. Three of the six nets the club strings across the courts on Friday are for such laid-back recreational players. The rest belong to those who share Fard’s dream of lobbing BU to the ranks of badminton powerhouses.

Fard showed up at the club’s games during freshman year expecting a huge turnout of players as competitive as he. Instead, “I saw everyone was just like very recreational and very relaxed. I wanted to really bring BU to the competitive level. My hope is that in a few years, we’ll be traveling—not just in Boston—but we’ll go around the country, and we’ll compete. And really build a reputation here for BU…to join some really big badminton associations and really compete at the intercollegiate level.” He’s working on starting a class and finding a coach to teach the sport.

Currently, the club competes in tournaments once or twice a year with schools like Harvard, MIT, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, but its main action is intramural play Fridays (7 to 10 p.m.) and Sundays (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) in FitRec’s lower courts 2 and 3.

Badminton Club at Boston University

Badminton is the fastest racket sport; one professional player sent a shuttlecock hurtling at 206 mph.

Fard recommends watching foreign tournaments on YouTube to sample the pile-driving hits and lightning rallies of serious shuttlecocking. (The fastest recorded smash in the sport clocked in at 206 miles per hour, which makes badminton the world’s fastest racket sport.) The game was invented by British soldiers in India in the 19th century and is dominated nowadays by players from China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and interestingly, Denmark. Fard estimates that 70 percent of the Friday night regulars are international students.

Club member Chenhao Zhou (CAS’18) has played since middle school in his native China. “I find it’s very competitive, and it’s interesting—how to control a birdie, to let it drop where you want it to drop.” Why do so few Americans find it interesting and competitive? Kevin Kwan (SMG’15), a badmintoner since high school in Palo Alto, Calif., suggests that Americans equate athleticism with muscle and strength, whereas badminton-crazy countries favor games of agility and finesse.

“Badminton appeals to me because you don’t have to necessarily be incredibly strong,” says Kwan. “You can rely on tools that don’t require as much strength to win points. You don’t need to be like a LeBron James.”

Unlike tennis, with its many baseline-to-baseline shots and attempts to make the opponent run his tail off, in badminton players try to outmaneuver their opponent, he says. “In tennis, you have to run. Badminton is much more agility-based, where you can get to every point in the court within a matter of a couple of shuffles.” And unlike in his younger, tennis-playing days, Kwan has yet to come down with tennis elbow while on a badminton court.

For those mere duffers with a backyard net, the club is willing to give lessons, Fard says. “If they are a weekend warrior, we will turn them into a BU warrior.”

7 Comments
Rich Barlow

Rich Barlow can be reached at barlowr@bu.edu.

7 Comments on Badminton, Anyone?

  • Shurik Zavriyev on 03.11.2015 at 1:13 pm

    Although 206mph is the fastest smash recorded while in game, the fastest badminton smash ever was hit by Tan Boon Hoeng of Malaysia in 2014 i believe. That smash was clocked at about 306 mph, and was hit with the 2013 model yonex racquet, nanoray z-speed

  • Jackie Chau on 07.14.2015 at 9:27 am

    Can staff join the club or is it just for students at BU? where can one buy a good badminton racket and good birdies? Thanks.

  • William Davis on 07.24.2015 at 8:54 am

    First, on behalf of the Massachusetts Badminton Association, congratulations to BU for encouraging the game. Badminton is notoriously inclusive, and I urge beginners to give it a shot. I don’t think there’s anything else in sport that compares to a wicked shot screaming over the net – and then floating whimsically down to the floor.

    Second, there are a few public badminton clubs in the area where you can get world-class equipment. Boston Badminton in Westboro is one of them. They’ll advise you on which racquets and shuttles to buy and they have them in stock.

  • Arun s on 08.13.2015 at 10:15 am

    Hey Darian Fard, I’m thrilled to learn you’re doing everything possible to promote a long misunderstood and under publicized sport. Badminton as you have alluded to is not just a backyard game. A preoccupation a mere distraction or a party/BBQ thing to do or even just a game on a family picnic or camping trip.
    I’ve been playing it for 45 yrs. and have a keen insight into the intricate subtleties as well as the obvious and glaring power/speed aspects. Since it is an Olympic sport it ought to demand live TV coverage here in the U.S.
    That would definitely open people’s eyes, those that are really deprived of its true nature, to the competitive elements of this sport. In the meantime you guys are on the right track and I hope you all stay lit up and energized in your ongoing efforts to promote indoor Badminton.
    By the way I noticed you have 3 of the 6 courts set aside for recreational/non competitive players. I think you need to make the competitive courts a majority, so 4 of 6 just to help some of the more improved rec. level players transition into the higher levels. Just a thought since you know best what to do with the interest level and players who are regulars there.
    I notice here people generally have a bad attitude toward new players and tend to be clickish and closed minded. That is grossly bad for the popularity of this sport and considering the level of play of the local top players, it’s pretty pathetic, sad and misguided. They are half baked, uninspired, uninspiring and without true vision. These are not ambassadors but bad sports and don’t have a hope of improving. They truly haven’t improved a whole lot in the last several years. Understandably!
    Hopefully you won’t have to deal with too many of those closed minded people. I think you know what I mean.
    Good luck!

  • Dexlab Analytics on 11.05.2015 at 7:11 am

    Badminton remains the undiscovered and uncelebrated sport despite being a visual treat of stamina, agility and skill. Its larger counterpart, Tennis, however remains in the limelight. Reminds me of my college days.

  • Amogh Katwe on 06.05.2017 at 9:50 am

    It felt so good to hear about the Badminton club. I have been playing since I was 7. I am excited to join the club soon.

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