This city has a long history with devil sticks and the hipster counterculture. As a San Francisco native, I heard plenty of tales from my biker step-dad about crazy ‘60s acid rockers playing with these special juggling batons at shows. (He worked for Bill Graham back in the day, and has stories about Jerry Garcia’s “helicopter trips” at Dead gigs, a sort of horizontal stick wiggle meant to intensify the band’s narcotic experiments). But I never played any devil games – I’ve always thought everything hippies did was stinky and stupid, especially when it comes to tossing crap in the air. But recently, I changed my mind about these wands.
And I’m not the only one. I started noticing others around town nudging and balancing tasseled batons nearly everywhere I went.
I imagine you’ve seen hip sticksters around the city, carrying their wands in messenger bags like health nuts toting their yoga mats. Hang at Pop's long enough and someone will pull out a few batons and drunkenly attempt to get a rhythm going (which, you’ve gotta know, is nearly impossible – it’s a struggle to juggle sober!). As fate would have it, I’ve now gotten swept up into the feverish trend of devil-stick juggling – we call ourselves “Devil's Children.”
I’ve joined the boozer’s juggling group (Dix with Stix) that meets Sunday afternoons at Dolores Park. Members bring their tricked-out tools (organic bamboo cloth-covered rods with nubuck leather tassels are particularly hot) for show-and-tell and competitions. The crew even has an offshoot for fixed-gear-riding Devil’s Children: the Fixie Dix. Some of these guys can hold five-minute track stands while madly twirling their wands. It's pretty nuts.
Juggling devil sticks is no longer a mere pastime for Haight critters after they’ve knocked back all their 40 ouncers.
The craze has gone, as the saying goes, from totally geek to totally chic. I took the plunge and paid $200 for the trio of limited-edition, old-growth redwood batons from The Curiosity Shoppe. And I was the last person to get into Workshop’s devil-stick-making class, “Shout at the Devil Sticks,” which includes screen printing a stick kozy to help you keep a good wand grip when your hands get sweaty.
I wanted to be prepared the next time someone passed me a devil outside a dive bar, so I got the insider tips on the twirls from an old expert – my step-dad, Larry.
From here, you can try more difficult moves. You can also start manipulating your devil sticks to go under your leg, behind your back, and over your neck, while keeping your stomach pulled in tight. It’s a devil’s playground!
A basic set of devil sticks can be found at Positively Haight Street, but for an artisan trio, The Curiosity Shoppe is your best bet. Look at Workshop’s list of classes and sign up early the next time “Shout at the Devil Sticks” is offered.
To work your helicopter wiggle in a group, look for Dix with Stix in Dolores Park at 3:33 p.m. Sundays, near the pet ferret section of the hill. The more advanced Fixie Dix meets closer to the pet hamster area of the park.
To see all of the photos from our devil dayz, check out The Bold Italic's Flickr.