|Fast forward 5 years to 1999. I’ve played maybe a couple games of AH here and there since my last Nationals in 1994. I’m having dinner at a new sushi restaurant one evening in Santa Clara, and I start having flashbacks. I ask my date if she wants to hear something funny, and I tell her that in this exact location where we are eating scallop handrolls, there used to be an arcade and I used to play AH competitively. Yup, was once ranked 9th in the World. “OK….I guess that’s so weird that it’s believable,” is what most people reply. Since I’m almost out of college and about to start the dull work grind, AH has again piqued my curiosity. I look up “California Air Hockey” where good old Dave Parmley’s contact info can always be found in cyberspace. Parmley does not get enough kudos for being responsible for so many of our promotional leads, including the TCO. After George Anderson took a step back, Parmley single handedly kept AH alive in California. If it were not for his tireless efforts, AH would’ve completely dried up in our state.
I was a little nervous showing up to my first weekly in over 5 years. I was anxious to see how much better everyone had gotten. Having grown up a bit since my shy teenage years, I greet everyone and converse about how long it’s been. Anderson, Dave Gray and Andy Lazaro are the dominant players in CA now. Whatever timing I had before is gone, but my trusty cut and accurate straight shots allow me to finish exactly how I finished my first ever weekly tournament: 3rd. Anderson and Lazaro are clearly better, but the rest of the group hasn’t progressed much since I last played. Noticeably missing is my mojo – I used to own most of the players when it came down to 6-5, 6-6, but I am not able to pull many of these close games out like I had done in the past. This keeps me humbly in their shadows for the next couple of years.
I began coming to the tournaments about once a month, but the craziest development in my game actually had me taking steps backwards. It might be unbelievable for players in Texas, but probably understandable for players everywhere else in the World. At this point in 1999, I didn’t know there was terminology for each shot, such as Right Wall Under, Right Wall Over, Left Wall Over, etc. I don’t even think I ever attempted a LWU, as most beginners find it natural to hit a LWO. After stumbling upon Paulus’ shockwave video, http://www.geocities.com/milkboned/airhockeyflash.swf , this started my LONG, LONG journey to understanding the strategic aspects of AH, and what the elite Masters are THINKING. I really began trying to figure out the combinations, defensive mindsets, and theories of high level play. The more I learned, the worse my play got. I was thinking too much, and not letting my mind and body just play. The proper methodology is to think of a scenario/hypothesis, practice until perfected, then just let it rip in actual play. One thing that makes AH difficult is that there are no manuals or books to learn from. It’s like going to the gym, you kinda just try to mimic the guys who look like they know what they are doing – but are they really doing it the most efficient way? AH has been around for only 35 years, so are the theories of our forefathers absolute truths? I think there are many truths yet to be discovered.