In the Spotlight – The Future of the Hash House Harriers

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May 10, 2021, 4:28:04 PMMay 10
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In the Spotlight – The Future of the Hash House Harriers
By Ed “Hazukashii” Howell
10 May 2021

The best way to understand the future of this eccentric pastime, is to know and understand some of the background. If you have read the history of harrier clubs, you already know they are the human adaptation of the age-old method of hunting with dogs. If you are not familiar with this, you can get a more detailed description at https://www.gotothehash.net/history/hhhhistory.html. This human act of mimicking canines started out as a children’s game sometime in the late 18th or early 19th century in the United Kingdom. One or two children acted as the hare, setting a trail with paper, and the other kids playing the part as the dogs on the hunt.

Harrier clubs first became an adult activity in 1867 when the Thames Rowing Club took up running to stay fit in the offseason. Harrier club popularity and growth followed the expansion of the British Empire in the late 19th and early 20th century, most notably into South East Asia. Early clubs include the Kinta Harriers, Malacca Harriers, Kuala Lumpur Harriers, and Springgit Harriers. Then, at some point in 1938, Alberto Esteban Ignacio Gispert, (a.k.a. "G") convinced a few friends to join him on a harrier run. Recalling that there had already been a Kuala Lumpur Harrier club https://www.gotothehash.net/history/files/KLHarriers.jpg , G decided to call this new club the Hash House Harriers (HHH). Many of the early members lived in the Selangor Club chambers, where they often ate at a small Chinese café (referred to as the Hash House https://www.gotothehash.net/history/files/Origin-HashHouse.jpg) on the grounds of the Selangor Club.

The original Hash House Harriers club was disrupted for a few years during World War 2, but restarted in 1946. While other harrier clubs continued to spread with the expat community, back in the United Kingdom they transitioned to more of a racing preparation atmosphere. Fortunately, an anomaly occurred in 1962 in Singapore, that would begin the formation of Hash House Harrier clubs into a worldwide phenomenon.

Although Ian Cumming is generally credited with founding the second hash club, Ian recollected things differently. In a letter written 30 years hence, Ian suggested that "Shortly after our arrival in Singapore, in 1961, my wife and I became aware of the eerie dearth of activity following weekends, and although she has denied it vehemently ever since, Jane was the first to suggest that what was lacking was the Hash.” Excited to get back into hashing, Ian set about to organizing a new club. First thing he did was contact John Vincent, who was the current Honorary Secretary (HonSec) of the HHH back in KL (a.k.a. Mother Hash), to enquire if there was some sort of process of coordinating affiliation. According to Ian, the response he received “established the incredibly enlightened tone of International Hashing that has endured.” The response was along the lines of "I donno. Do what the hell you like. Nothing to do with us. Let us know how you get on." With that short exchange, the second club (a.k.a. Hash House Harriers Singapore, or “Father Hash” as it eventually became known as) was born.

HHH Singapore had a slow start, but gained a steady following. Other current and former hashers from KL and Singapore continued to migrate to other locations, and more Hash Clubs would form. By the end of 1963, there were clubs in Brunei, Kuching, and Miri. Sibu and Kota Kinabalu would see new clubs in 1964, and in 1965, Penang, Ipoh, and Sandakan rounded out the first ten hash clubs http://gotothehash.net/history/hhhfirst10.html. Early records indicate that by the end of 1975, there were 68 clubs in 23 countries https://www.gotothehash.net/history/files/HHHListDec75.pdf. Coincidently, at this point in history, the running craze was taking over throughout the world, after Frank Shorter won the marathon in the 1972 Olympics, and Jim Fixx published “A Complete Book of Running.”

Hash House Harrier clubs would continue to flourish throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, when we reached what I believe was the heyday of hashing. At that time, various accounts stated there were over 2000 hash clubs. A detailed review, or even a cursory scanning of the HHH Genealogy http://thehashhouse.org/index.php?r=site%2Fpresentation clearly shows that the greatest expansion of clubs, was during this period, but began to taper off in the late 90s. This, along with the fading of the running craze, can likely be attributed to the advent of the World Wide Web (WWW) (a.k.a. the Internet).

Surprisingly, up until this point, growth of hashing was mostly by word of mouth, and we relied on printed paper copies of directories, or other rudimentary means of finding hash clubs (e.g. listings in phone books, or calling one of the local embassies). I recall using a printed copy of a directory published by Mr. Spock in San Diego, to find a dozen or so clubs on a cross country US tour in 1993. Even as late as 1999, in South Korea, we were still publishing paper copies of the hash trash to drop off at local hotels and expat hangouts to provide the weekly start locations to members. In more recent times, the Internet has made it significantly easier to find hash clubs all over the world, but has also contributed to our demise, in that it is also much easier to find a multitude of other activities to participate in.

I probably should insert one of those “trigger warnings” here, I am a ‘boomer’ and what I have to say from here on out may be controversial. Now, having said all that . . . the original intent of this article was about the future of hashing, and I will start by saying that the hash world is in decline, and has been for about 20 years. I have had several discussions about this over the decade or so, with my older hash friends (no pun intended). As mentioned, the Internet has contributed to the decline of hashing, as you would expect, so too has the aging of the multitude of hashers. Coming up on 40 years of hashing myself, those of us who were enthusiastic runners back in the 70s and 80s, are now pushing 60, and on up into their 80s (insert a mental image of the self-acclaimed oldest hasher in the USA, Teflon Don, Mr. Jackson himself . . . The Chaplain 😊 ). He is a stalwart hasher of more than 40 years, and still on trail.

While some are still able to move at a pace resembling jogging, most of the older hounds are relegated to walking or biking, and prefer shorter trails. We are fortunate to have these older hashers around to tell us their stories. On the other hand, people also leave hashing for many different reasons based on health issues, as they would any sporting activity. New and younger hashers continue to join in on this fun, but growth of hashing is in decline and we probably don’t recruit very well. This also has a direct correlation on the decline in number of hash clubs.

Determining the exact number of active hash clubs is tenuous at best, but from my recent inspection and ongoing update of the HHH Genealogy, I estimate that the number of clubs worldwide has dropped from what was once recorded at over 2000, is now below or right about 1000 active clubs (I will have a more accurate number in about a month when finished with the updates). Additionally, the number of hounds that were once 50-100 or more on trail on a weekly basis, now number 20 or less, and that was even before COVID shut a great deal of hashing down worldwide. There is at least one bright spot though, Taiwan has added several new clubs over the past decade, and the packs are large and vibrant.

As for the decline, the area that most concerns me is the significant increase in the amount of drinking before and during the trail. From what I have witnessed, in some places, drinking has become the focus . . . rather than getting out for the pure joy of running/walking trail. The first beer “on trail” I ever recall seeing, was when my friend Bimbo hared a trail in Waikiki back in 1992. Setting the trail into the back door of one of the many strip clubs in Honolulu, he arranged for a couple pitchers of beer to be on hand for the pack as they passed through. Probably so they would have a reason to stand around observing the environment, on their way to the front door. Certainly a novelty for its time. There certainly has been beer provided at some level for many years, but not at the current level I see. It would not be until about the mid to late 2000s that multiple beer checks started to become regular occurrences on weekly trails in the places I hashed (your experience may differ).

Beer checks and other gimmicks have also become crutches for hares to slow down the pack (e.g. fish hooks, hash holds, clothing swaps, back checks, and various other annoyances). When I express my concern to newer hounds, they believe that is the way it has always been, simply because of that unfortunate moniker of ‘A Drinking Club with a Running Problem.’ That is not the case, from my experience reaching back to 1984. I do not even recall seeing walker’s trails (or turkey / eagle splits) until sometime in the late 1990s. There was only a running trail, and everybody (mostly jogged) ran the trail. Walkers of all ages now seem to dominate in many hash clubs. Another area we could certainly do better in, is the naming process. I cannot count the number of perspective hashers that were excited, only to never come back once named.

Overall, our numbers are dwindling, at least in part, due to the overemphasis on drinking and our own form of hazing. Some runners are turned off, or gravitate away from hashing, choosing other type clubs to run with, and that is disappointing. I would like to see, in general, more emphasis on the trail and kinship with fellow hashers, and leave the alcohol for after trail. One area of the world that still focuses on the trail is South East Asia. Recently visiting hash clubs in several different countries in that region, hashing was still all about the trail, with almost everyone participating, and the consumption of alcohol predominantly after the trail. It may be just my opinion, but that is what hashing started out to be (not in a competitive sense), and needs to get back to if hashing hopes to prosper again.

Keep in mind the objectives written back in 1950:

(a) to promote physical fitness amongst its members
(b) to get rid of weekend hangovers
(c) to acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it with beer
(d) to persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

Fitness, recovery, first developing a thirst through participating in trail, and comradeship. Food for thought, yes? I would be interested to hear your opinion on this matter. Feel free to disagree, or if you agree let’s work together to shift the focus back to a more trail centric atmosphere.

For many more articles like this on the history of hashing, check out . . . http://gotothehash.net/history/inthespotlight.html

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