Penticton armwrestling club preparing for upcoming local competition, believed to be longest running annual tournament

For the love of armwrestling

Casey Richardson

Every Sunday at noon a small group of men ages 16 to 80 gather in a garage in Penticton and train for their upcoming armwrestling tournament.

Practice benches are set out as they stand across from each other and ready their positions, deciding what move and angle they’ll pull out against their opponent, hoping to bring strength to their side of the table.

The Okanagan Armwrestling Club is preparing for the Okanagan Valley Championships in Summerland’s Memorial Park next week, which they believe to be the longest-running annual arm wrestling tournament in the world.

The contest was started by Keith Koeing, former president of the BC Armwrestling Association for 48 years.

He first brought the sport to B.C. in the 1970s, after he figured out that he couldn’t be beaten arm wrestling.

“I went on to Petaluma, California because that's the only [contest] they had in the wide world of sports and went to compete down there and then I got beat for the first time in my life,” he said.

“So I brought it back to Canada.”

Club organizer Richard Henson said in their research to find any older tournaments, the only thing to come close is the World Armwrestling Federation, which is one year later.

“So unless some Scottish Highland Games has arm wrestling that we don't know about, and they've been doing it for 100 years, I'm sure this is the oldest,” he added.

“I want to prove it.”

This is the last local contest until the National Championships in Quebec in July.

While 80-year-old Koeing doesn't compete anymore, he continues to referee tournaments and help train up the younger guys, being a previous Canadian champion himself.

“The fact was it was just a natural sport for me, but it was mostly just strength in those days, today is altogether different. There's a lot of strength and a lot of psychology in the sport. A lot of you got to be training continuously to get really good at the sport,” he added.

Athletes need to continue building up their muscles and keep themselves in good shape to be competitive, but at the end of the day, Koeing said there’s no better training than arm wrestling itself.

“That way you have to learn what your opponent's doing, where his liabilities are, his Achilles’ heel and take advantage of that, like every sport,” he explained.

“But you have to learn speed because it's such a fast sport and the average contest only lasts three seconds.”

The longest contest he ever saw was in the North American championships, where two guys faced off for 26 minutes.

Henson said it’s took him roughly eight years to get to the point where he considered himself ‘good.’

“It's not as easy as it looks. It's not a barroom sport and it takes three to six years to become good. I've seen it happen sooner, and that was some guys, but that's an anomaly,” he added.

Henson started out competing in arm wrestling back in the 80s. When he came to Penticton and saw the need for the club to be brought to life again, he started it alongside fellow competitor Brian Moore.

“We love the sport. It doesn't matter what age you are, last nationals I was at in 2022 a 72-year-old man won over all the young guys,” he said.” The sport itself is quite complex. It's almost like wrist judo, or arm judo, where you have moves and countermoves. and you have to have strength in multiple different areas and have to be fast to get what you need.”

“So the object is to pull the guy's strength away from them and put them in his weakness and pull them into your power. From there, you can make things happen.”

The men hope to grow the club, especially with their youngest cleaning up so well in provincials recently.

At just 16 years old, Henson and Koeing said Tadan Honeyman is beating out professionals well above his age and weight, showing off his strength.

“You've just seen the 16-year-old kick my butt,” Henson said with a laugh, referencing their practice round where Honeyman took him down. “Super exciting, we're going to Nationals together.”

Koeing encourages people to come by and give the sport a try.

“A lot of people don't think they have the ability to compete, but they're very good at it,” he added.

“It doesn't take big arms. It doesn't take anything. I got some of the smallest guys, my best friend is many, many, many times world champion and yet, he's just this five-foot-six-inch guy 150 pounds. I've seen him go into contests and he can beat everybody, even big heavyweights. So some people just have that ability.”

“It's a sport that doesn't take a lot of money. It doesn't take a lot of expense to learn to arm wrestle and to compete. So it makes it easy for people to come out and say just give it a try once.”

Henson added that anybody is welcome.

“We're very welcoming. We don't want them to get hurt. We ask them not to try dangerous moves and we do reffing. So we'll referee a match as we do here, which helps you get ready for competitions.”

For those interested in seeing the sport for the first time, come out to the 41st Annual Summerland Action Festival on Saturday, June 1 to watch the Okanagan Valley Championship. Weigh ins start at noon and the competition starts at 2:15 p.m.

Those wanting to come by the club can call or message Henson at 250-486-7406 for more information. All ages, genders, and abilities are welcome.

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