Caroline Birch took every footbaggers dream and made it a reality..

Caroline just opened a FOOTBAG HOSTEL in Gdansk Poland. Luckily for us she had time to answer a couple of questions about it and herself.

Hi Caroline. How are you?

I’m absolutely fantastic!

Let’s start from the beginning. Who are you and how did you get started playing footbag?

“Who are you?” is a pretty hard question for me to answer. Basically, I’m an Australian who has fallen in love with the sport and community of footbag. If you’ve been to a World Championships in the past six years, you’ve probably signed one of my banners.

I was a late starter to the sport. A lot of people retire from the sport by the age I was when I first discovered it. I had never played foot sports – I was a runner and netball player*. I bought a panelled hemp footbag at a market stall a week before I left for a year-long travel adventure. I learned to kick over that year. I remember doing an outside stall in London, and thinking I’d just invented something new. How wrong I was… When I returned to Australia I found some guys who were doing all sorts of crazy tricks, and among them was the guy who had made the footbag that I’d taken around the world with me. So I started hanging around them, going to the occasional session, and had an on-and-off-again intro to the sport. I went to one of the Australian National championships in Melbourne, where I got to meet most of the Aussie players. Dylan Fry was there that year too. I was insanely impressed by all the players.

What was the Australian scene back then compared to now?

The Australian scene was much more active back then. In 2008, I moved to Canberra to study. Daniel Boyle and Nathan Cope had just moved there too so we’d play most days and we hosted the National championships in April. It was there that I met Petr Stejskal from the Czech Republic.

I got a bit tipsy and offered to drive him the 1400km to Brisbane, taking him to some beautiful places along the way. When I dropped him off at the airport he invited me to Prague for the World Championships.

Could you tell us about your first time going to Europe for footbag?

I arrived in Europe in time for the European Championships in Montpellier. Everyone was staying in the same house (or in tents in the yard). It was an absolutely delightful introduction to the European community of players. After the event, I went to Barcelona for a week with Petr, Vašek and Milan Benda, and then drove back to Prague with them. I spent about six weeks in the Czech Republic and also visited Austria and met some of the players there. I had a session in Vienna where the girls outnumbered the guys five to one – something that I’d never seen or heard of in Australia!

Attending the World Championships in Prague blew my mind. Too many names and stories to list them – but that’s where my love affair with the sport really started. After Worlds, the Berlin crew hosted a Summer Fun week-long party, and I was hooked once and for all. I spent nine weeks in Europe that year and loved it all. At that stage though, I don’t think I could have predicted the impact the sport and community was going to have on my life.

Let’s get to the important stuff – your new hostel in Gdansk. The idea initially was to do something in Australia right? What was the first plan and why didn’t it come to fruition?

A few years ago, I started dreaming about hosting a footbag camp in Australia. I looked into different options; would it be a traveling tour, showing off a bunch of different places, or at one place in or near a major city? The further I developed the concept, the more I came to realise that the costs were prohibitively expensive. I would have to dedicate a couple of years of my life to plan it and earn or raise the money to make it happen. The dedication was there, but I began to wonder if two or three years of work and sacrifice was worth a 2-4 week event. So I started dreaming about creating something a little more permanent.

Why did you end up choosing the hostel in Gdańsk? Why this hostel and why in Poland?

I recently finished a degree in computer science and mathematics, and I’d been thinking about what study or what work to do next. I thought about all the things that I love, and aspired to create a lifestyle around them, but wasn’t really sure how I could. The idea about Happy Seven Hostel came to me last September in a light bulb moment in the shower while I was washing my hair. If Australia was too expensive to host an event, maybe Poland was the place where I could develop something more permanent for the enjoyment of even more footbag players. Why have one event, when I can have many?

My first trip to Poland was for Worlds in 2012. The plan was to stay for six weeks, but I loved it and ended up staying in Poland for nearly thirteen weeks (and then an additional four weeks in Berlin with Aleksi Airinen). Gosia Dębska told me I had to visit the Polish seaside – that I’d love it.

So I planned a two-day visit. But Gosia was totally right – I loved it in Gdańsk, and I loved staying at Happy Seven – so I ended up staying for 2 weeks. I thought the staff were amazing people. Late one night, they told me the hostel was for sale and asked if I wanted to buy it. I laughed at the thought and said thanks, but no thanks. I was nearing the completion of my studies, and buying a hostel was simply not on my radar.

After my light bulb moment in the shower, I ran to my computer (hair still dripping wet) and contacted Agnieszka, the manager at Happy Seven, and asked her if it was still for sale. It was, and I was on a plane within two weeks to investigate the idea further. I could write a book about what happened next, but suffice to say, I am now the proud owner of Happy Seven Hostel.

If I came to visit what would we do other than kick? What should I see and do in Gdansk?

Gdańsk has an incredibly rich history and there are lots of landmarks and museums to visit if you’re interested. The first shots of World War II were fired here in the epic Battle of Westerplatte. In 1980, the Solidarity movement emerged in the Gdańsk shipyards and led to a chain of events that ultimately saw the fall of communism in the Eastern Bloc. There’s a museum nearby called Roads to Freedom where you can learn about how Poland became an independent country (only 25 years ago).

There’s also plenty of fun stuff to do. There are lots of bars and restaurants, and a big club just around the corner. There’s a bowling alley and pool hall just up the street. There’s an aqua park 20 minutes away with indoor and outdoor swimming pools, waterslides, saunas and Jacuzzis. A beautiful new stadium was built for UEFA 2012. I’d recommend doing one of their tours, and testing your driving skills at the longest go-cart track in Europe.

Gdańsk is part of the “Tricity”, the other cities being Sopot and Gdynia. Sopot is 20 minutes away by tram (the tram ticket will cost you 75 euro cents). In Sopot, there are white sandy beaches and the longest wooden pier in Europe. During the day, you can visit beautiful cafes and restaurants. At night, it transforms into a pretty wild place, full of clubs catering to all sorts of tastes.

If I wanted to stay for a while could you help with a job or something similar?

No promises yet, but I intend to have work available for footbaggers who want to stay and play, even if you don’t speak Polish. One of my wonderful receptionists is going away for three months over summer this year, so I’ll be advertising the position to footbaggers this week (fluent Polish is a must for this particular job).

What footbag related plans do you have with the hostel? Any footbag camps or tournaments in the pipeline?

I’m creating a place here where footbag players are always welcome. I hope it feels like a home away from home for footbaggers, and that there will always be someone here to kick with. I’ve managed to entice Evan Gatesman to come and stay for a few months – he’ll be arriving with the rest of the Sport/Life Euro Tour players later this month. If you want the chance to hang out and play footbag with Evan, here’s your chance. The other players on the tour will be here for a few weeks in April/May (Juho Marjo, Anssi Sundberg, Aleksi Airinen and Jay Boychuk).

I’m hosting my first footbag event (Dżem Jam) from the 28th of April, with the main competition held on the long weekend, 2nd to 4th of May. of May. It’s the last stop of the abovementioned tour so I’m expecting some incredible shred. I’m really looking forward to introducing everyone to my hostel and new home of Gdańsk and hope that everyone loves it here as much as I do.

You can contact me on carolinejbirch@gmail.com

* Netball: A popular ball sport in Commonwealth nations. It’s the highest participation sport for women in Australia. Netball and basketball began in the 1890s, with the most obvious  differences being that in Netball you don’t bounce the ball, there are 7 players on each team, and players have positions which define their roles (only 2 can shoot for goals) and their areas of play.

Written by Asmus

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*