Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Outdoors

Game on: Cornhole gets the beach treatment (w/video)

CLEARWATER — Some of the best sports inventions started from humble beginnings.

Basketball began by throwing a ball into a peach basket. And the bottom wasn't even cut out.

Golf started by hitting a feather-stuffed ball with club-shaped tree branches.

And miniature golf was started by hitting even smaller feather-stuffed balls with smaller tree branches through windmills (or something like that).

CornholeOnWater may not enjoy the vast popularity of those sports, but it certainly started from humble beginnings. While anchored up on a popular sand bar on Lake Conway in Orlando, co-founder Alex Richwagen and his brother, Joel, got bored standing in the water with nothing to do.

If it was a regular tailgate party or picnic, they would be playing cornhole, a game where players throw weighted bean bags at a board with a hole in it. But cornhole isn't practical for a sandbar party.

"We were like, 'Okay, we're here, now what do we do?' " Alex Richwagen said. "We wanted to have something to play. Kind of like cornhole. We crushed up cans, we brought out tubes. It started eight years ago and every summer we would figure a little bit more out."

Through trial and error, Richwagen, 36, and his wife, Carly, 34, think they have finally worked out the kinks. It took a long time to find a manufacturer that could make the right kind of ball. They settled on a company in China that makes squash balls that float.

They worked hardest on the tubes (think inflatable donuts). They finally made a tube that is the right height, with handles on the bottom for the anchors and cup holders.

"The tubes were a huge challenge," said Alex Richwagen, who is a data analyst for a local insurance company and a college football referee. "We started out with five different kinds of tubes. We had some that were really big. Then we found these skinny little orange tubes. They were perfect.

"So we're just about ready to go to market with the tubes and somebody says, 'Where's the cup holder?' Ugggh! A cup holder! Back to the drawing board."

With the final details ironed out, CornholeOnWater was ready for the market. It retails for $54.95 for a combo pack, which includes anchors for the ocean and pool. A pool set is $49.95. A beach set is $44.95. Replacement balls are $4.99.

How to play

For the pool, there are two waterproof pouches that can be filled with either sand or rocks to weigh down the tubes. For the beach or lake, there are anchors attached to bungee cords that screw into the sand.

The tubes are set about 10 feet apart. Ideally, both players would be about waist deep in the water. In the ocean, it is best to set up the tubes away from crashing waves, if possible.

Like cornhole, there are either one or two players per team. If there are teammates, they would be on the same side of the tube. Each round, both members of the same team throw two balls each.

To score, three points are awarded by throwing the ball through the middle of the tube. If a ball hits the water but ends up in the middle of the tube, it's worth two points. One point is given for hitting the side of the tube. If an opponent catches the ball off the side of the tube before it hits the water, however, no point is earned.

With four players, the game is played to 31 points. With two, it's up to 21 points. Teams must win by two points.

Never done refining

Richwagen said CornholeOnWater has been on the market for less than a year. He estimates they have sold close to 200 sets to people in several different states, including Michigan, Wisconsin and Washington.

It has taken eight years to get the game to market, and he doesn't believe he is done tinkering just yet.

"I don't think you're ever really done," Richwagen said. "I've had people tell me, 'I'd love to have LSU Tigers on it. Or Florida Gators. My own custom set.' That's all NCAA licensing. But I can see the next version being all about customizing."

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