So I got a new bow. Or did I?
A preamble: This archery blog has been doing pretty well recently. Hello to you, reading this site for the first or third or tenth time. I’m up to over a thousand hits on a really good day, when I get retweeted/reposted a few times (thank you – you know who you are!). When people start translating your articles into French, you know you’re doing something right…
One of the most gratifying things about blogging is that you know where your audience is coming from. Literally. All over the world:
So this last week, as before, the US and the UK are neck and neck in the lead for page hits. But I’ve also had forty-two hits from Columbia, fourteen from Venezuela, and six from New Caledonia, which I am embarrassed to say I had to look up. Altogether 89 countries. Amazing. Thank you. And testament to the global reach of the sport, practised from the Faroes to Japan. (Only one hit from Korea, though…)
Anyway, this internationalism got me to thinking about my bow. Like most modern recurve bows, it’s made up of interchangeable parts, with standardised fittings (such as ILF limbs), sockets, weights, lengths and so on. It’s not really one thing. What I call ‘my bow’ is actually many things that become one when I assemble it and use it. I made choices about those things, but where they come from is mostly out of my hands. I suddenly wondered how far my bow had travelled.
So I started looking. The riser is a Hoyt Matrix, second hand, 2003 vintage. I love the purple fade. I emailed Hoyt to ask them where it was made, nearly ten years ago, but they didn’t get back to me. Internet nosing suggests all Hoyt bows are made at their facility in Salt Lake City, Utah, in the USA. That’s 4876 miles from London as the crow flies, not including whatever it did it the ten years it was owned by someone else.
The limbs are by Uukha. EX1 “Carbon Monolith” (#38). These are made, with great care, in France. On their website, they proudly say: “We have chosen to develop our bows in France, and to produce it in our own workshop. We do not have any subcontracts in Asia or Eastern Europe.” Uukha are based in Roubaix, a famous cycling destination, and a mere 180 miles to London. Almost locals.
The stabilisers are Axiom by Sebastian Flute. I emailed them. “The Sf-Archery products are made in the Win & Win factories in Korea and China. In the case of Axiom Stabiliser set, it’s made in China.” The email was actually signed ‘Sebastian Flute’. Nice chap. I don’t know where Win & Win’s factory is, but given that the main industrial centre of manufacturing in China is centred round Shanghai, I’ll take the distance from there. 5727 miles.
The sight and button are made by Shibuya of Tokyo, and the back of the button packet proudly says ‘Made In Japan’. The various Shibuya recurve sights were ubiquitous at London 2012 (according to their website, they were used by over 50% of participants). I have the older, aluminium model. That’s 5979 miles, twice.
The clicker, my wristguard, and my arrow nocks are by Beiter of Dauchingen, Germany. I mailed them and asked if they manufactured their stuff there. “Yes. We do not manufacture anything out of our company; all our vendors are from the region; we do import only the carbon tubes for the stabilizers from the US.” Thank you, Mr. Lorenz. 557 miles, thrice.
The arrows are made by (surprise!) Easton, also of Salt Lake City, Utah. 4,876. I have a set of all-American ACC’s, although apparently they manufacture some of the indoor arrows overseas.
My tab (KSL Gold), and my fletchings are made by Arizona Archery Enterprises. They got back to me: “Yes, the KSL tabs are manufactured at our facility in Prescott Valley, AZ, USA.” 5300 miles, at least.
My rest and my finger slings are made by Spigarelli. They got back to me. “Good morning. Both of them are produced in Italy.” Spigarelli are based in Rome. Sadly, Rome is over 1,100 miles from London. Just thinking about the place makes me hungry.
Finally, the grip is not the original Hoyt grip. It is a lovely wood grip made by Svenning, who the previous owner thinks were a Swedish company. If so, they must have folded before the internet era, because I haven’t been able to find out anything about them at all.
So ‘my bow’ has already travelled at least 35,000 miles from at least seven different countries to sit in my hands, not including thousands more via distribution centres, warehouses, shops, and post offices. But where do we stop? One thing you quickly find out about recurve archery is the large number of near-mission-critical items required. Where was my bowstand (SF), my quiver (Easton), my bag (also Easton), or my string made? Or the less critical stuff: my chestguard, bracing height gauge, beeswax, tools… About the only bit of equipment that appears to be British-made is my bowstringer, by KG Archery of Nottinghamshire. (There are, of course, several British manufacturers making top-end recurve equipment, such as Border and Petron, along with many world-class traditional bowyers).
But that isn’t even the whole story. I’m not remotely the first to write about this kind of international manufacturing in the globalised age. The American journalist Thomas Friedman examined the supply chain for his Dell laptop a few years ago and found a huge network of interrelated companies, mostly in South-East Asia, a techno-business ecosystem. Even if something is designed and manufactured in one country, the actual materials and components, wherever they are assembled, may have come from all over the place – often another continent. The fibres, the screws, the grommets, the chemicals, the paint, or the packaging may have come thousands of miles before they even hit the factory. (For a more high-tech perspective on manufacturing in the globalised era, you might want to read about why iPhones apparently cannot be made in the USA.)
It’s great having a new, well-behaving bow. The Uukha limbs are smooth and quiet and the Hoyt riser is beautiful. But: all my other equipment remains the same. The arrows and the tab and the rest and the button are just as critical. I’ve changed only a couple of components of a set that has come all this way to create ‘my’ bow. I doubt I’m ever going to throw everything away and start again afresh, even if I carried on upgrading forever – and it’s received archery wisdom to only change one thing at a time, anyway. It’s a variant on Theseus’s Paradox - ’The axe that I’ve had for years, which has only needed two new heads and three new handles.’
Actually, perhaps I should consider all the effort in a different way. I am immensely grateful for a post by Greg Ross over at the Futility Closet, a compendium of all sorts of wonderful things, who tells a story about Douglas Adams in Japan:
“On visiting the Gold Pavilion Temple in Kyoto, Douglas Adams was impressed at how well the 14th-century structure had weathered the passage of time. His Japanese guide told him that it hadn’t weathered well at all; in fact it had burned to the ground twice in the 20th century.
“So this isn’t the original building?” Adams asked.
“But yes, of course it is.”
“But it’s been burned down?”
“Of course. It is an important and historic building.”
“With completely new materials.”
“But of course. It was burned down.”
“So how can it be the same building?”
“It is always the same building.”
“I had to admit to myself that this was in fact a perfectly rational point of view, it merely started from an unexpected premise,” Adams wrote. The essence of a building is its design, the intention of the builder. The materials may decay and be replaced, but these are only instantiations of a persistent idea. “I couldn’t feel entirely comfortable with this view, because it fought against my basic Western assumptions,” Adams wrote, “but I did see the point.”
Exactly. In this sliver of an era where modern archers don’t make (or directly commission) their own equipment, the essence of my bow is my intention to create it and use it. It is a persistent idea. The parts may change, but the idea of ‘my bow’, the thing personal to me, stays the same. Remember that the next time you realise you’ve left your tab on the kitchen table.