Field Notes: Think You’re Good at Playing Darts? Try Your Hand at These Tournaments
Field Notes explores Honolulu’s vast and varied scenes and subcultures. This month: tournament dart players.
Photos: Brandon Smith
What it is
Darts and bars go together like burgers and fries, so it comes as no surprise to find the Leisure Games Pacific Dart League Cup thronged on a Saturday afternoon at Hawaiian Brian’s, the venerable music/pool/darts grotto at 1680 Kapi‘olani Blvd. The Pacific Cup is one of two tournaments a year hosted by Leisure Games; the other is the Hawai‘i Classic, held Labor Day Weekend. About 200 are attending the three-day, low-key affair—darts is not a rah-rah kind of sport—bringing together teams affiliated with a local, as the British say (or bar, as we say).
Players stand before glowing targets, squinting and throwing. Family members and friends take turns running a dart association fundraiser with a catering package provided by Zippy’s. Beverages are served.
Who’s throwing darts
A mellow mix of players and their partners and friends line up and hyper-focus for an instant before letting fly. There are carpenters, customer service representatives, union members and public workers. Some are retired.
“One day I went down to Leslie’s for a beer and to see friends,” says Dean Okinaga, 54, a retired police detective. “They were throwing darts and I took it from there.”
“I used to play all kinds of sports,” says Zach Duvauchelle. “Box, bowl, basically I tried everything. Darts is different. It’s relaxing and you’re meeting a lot of new faces.”
Tournament organizer Al Nakamura and family.
What not to expect
The biggest surprise for a newbie—whose experience of darts is likely of dangerously sharp objects flung by the inebriated across a crowded room—is how the game has changed. First, the darts are soft-tipped, resembling badminton shuttlecocks; second, the familiar bull’s-eye target is now electronic, with a pale fluorescent glow encircling the outmost rim. The effect, if you’ve been drinking, is a bit like watching a row of jellyfish floating in a dark cave.
Speaking of drinking, another surprise: There wasn’t much in evidence. Asked his usual tipple, tournament organizer Al Nakamura, 61, replied: “One beer. Nothing strong. Heineken.”
The way it works
Players of any level, including beginners, join a team at a bar, typically playing two nights a week. Seasons are usually 10 weeks long. “My team at Champs plays Sunday and Monday and my team at Blue Tropix plays Wednesday and Thursday,” says JoAnn Dowling, 66, who works at Honolulu Freight Service. “Typically, league matches are for 15 to 17 games, lasting two to two-and-a-half hours; more if people are drinking. I don’t. I drink Diet Coke. I have a long drive home.”
Scores are tracked and players climb the ranks. If players improve and want outside competition, they don’t even have to leave their home turf. “The boards have been hooked up to the internet for seven years now. You can play people all over the world,” explains Nakamura, also owner of sponsor Leisure Games, which leases and sells electronic dartboards. “You enter an online lobby, like a chatroom, see who’s there and play.”
Top players are sponsored to face-to-face tournaments in Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Seattle and other cities. Who’s tops in the world? “The English,” says Nakamura. “They’re still the best. I watch them on TV, try to learn from them.”
“Darts cost from $20 to $120 for a set of three, but you can always ask to use a bar set for free,” says Nakamura. It costs $20 to join a 10-week season, and $10 per night to throw.
Zach Duvauchelle, 33, carpenter
Lila Duvauchelle, “old enough,” works at Caterkids
Zach: “What got me into darts was I got into a lot of trouble. My auntie helped me get into this game. I liked it. Today, I’m one of the top players.”
Philman Reyes, 45, carpenter
Shana Kam, 40
Philman: “I started 16 years ago. In 2014, I made the USA Team. I’ve played the best around the world. I play my best darts after a full, hard, 8-hour day at work.”
Dean Okinaga, 54, retired police detective
“It’s a way to stay active and not just sit and watch TV all day long. To get out and talk with people. I got in with a good group of guys.”
There are about 300 league dart players in Hawai‘i; their numbers are growing 5 percent a year. For information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
READ MORE STORIES BY DON WALLACE