Editor’s note, 8/7/17, 1:15 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that Broadbent was a competitor in the 1997 U.S.B.A. National Championships, not the winner, as the previous version indicated.
For Gary Broadbent, the phrase, “What goes around, comes around” is a way of life.
Broadbent, an Ohio native who recently bought a home on Emerson Avenue in St. Petersburg, just north of Gulfport, is one of the world’s foremost experts on making, throwing and collecting boomerangs.
He discovered the boomerang at age 10 when he was assigned to write a report about Australia for a school assignment.
“I remember going to the public library in Lakewood, Ohio, and checking out a book about Australia,” he said. “And on the front cover of the book was a picture of a boomerang.”
Broadbent became fascinated with the Aboriginal Australian throwing stick – which, he stresses, was traditionally not used as a weapon, contrary to popular belief – and asked for one for Christmas. Santa delivered.
“Christmas morning, I went outside and threw it, but it didn’t come back,” Broadbent recalls.
Undeterred, he set out to learn all he could about the boomerang and its close relative, the kylie, which is usually larger and used for hunting. By the time he was 20, he was a full-fledged member of the U.S. Boomerang Association and began to compete in tournaments, including the 1997 U.S. national championships.
Broadbent’s quest to understand the history and aerodynamics of the ancient tools – and master the use of them – turned into a lifelong obsession. Today, Broadbent’s collection of boomerangs and kylies numbers nearly 15,000 and, thanks to his collecting skills, is worth nearly $6.5 million. He said it’s the world’s largest collection of such objects.
“You name an exotic wood, I have a boomerang made out of it,” he says, adding that the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., would likely be interested in his many rare and historic boomerangs.
Broadbent’s boomerang collection has grown so vast that he needs two houses for it. Broadbent explains that his other home is in Canton, Ohio, but he’s gradually spending more time in Florida thanks to his wife getting a job at All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg. Broadbent notes that he also has boomerang workshops at both homes where he uses a motley collection of power tools and spray paint to create his own line of Broadbent Boomerangs (slogan: “Boomerangs Are Coming Back!”).
“I can produce massive numbers of boomerangs,” he said, adding that he’s made custom promotional boomerangs for banks and even large telecom providers like AT&T. “I can put corporate logos on the boomerangs and they use them as giveaways. But that’s not my main business. I don’t even really look for that [kind of work]. My business is going out and promoting the sport, educating the public, and dispelling the myths about the boomerang. For me, it’s a passion, a love, an obsession.”
Broadbent bought his house on Emerson Avenue specifically because it abuts a vacant lot where he can throw boomerangs. When he’s not making or throwing boomerangs, Broadbent, a natural showman and salesman, is talking up boomerangs to groups ranging from schoolchildren to NASA engineers.
“I’m one of the most popular school-assembly speakers in the state of Ohio,” he says.
Broadbent, a member of the United States Boomerang Team, says he plans to compete in the U.S. national boomerang championships in Columbia, SC, in September. Last year, he traveled to Kiel, Germany, for a competition and his boomerang skills have taken him to all 50 states and several other foreign countries, including Australia, of course, the ancestral home of the boomerang.
Gary’s son Logan is also a member of the U.S. Boomerang Team and he’s even appeared on seasons eight and nine of the hit TV show “American Ninja Warrior” as the boomerang ninja. When he was just 14, Logan became the youngest person to ever qualify for the U.S. Boomerang Team and he’s currently the Number 2-ranked boomerang thrower in the world. Logan is also known as the only boomerang thrower to have successfully executed a backflip catch.
The achievements of boomerang throwers like the Broadbents are nothing short of mind-boggling. Gary said he once threw a boomerang in Ohio that got caught in a thermal updraft and landed some 170 miles away in Pennsylvania. He can throw a boomerang about the length of three football fields and have it return to the exact spot where it was thrown. He said the world record for maximum time aloft for a boomerang that was caught by its thrower is 17 minutes, six seconds.
“The boomerang is the most complex flying instrument on the face of the Earth,” Broadbent says. “There’s no airplane, space shuttle, helicopter … nothing is more complex than the boomerang.”
Gary Broadbent is available for motivational and educational boomerang demonstrations. Visit his website at broadbentboomerangs.com.