Take aim and let fly: Archery on the Central Coast

There’s something inherently romantic about archery. Perhaps it’s the simplicity, the fact that a stick and some string can send an arrow flying clear across a field. Or maybe it’s the bridge archery creates between modern men and women and our ancient ancestors, people whose lives depended on their ability to shoot accurately. For Riley Royce Smith, a local marksman and archery instructor, the most enjoyable aspect is the Zen-like peace he gets from the repetitive act of mastering a craft.
“When I say ‘Zen,’ I mean it,” Smith said. “You have to let everything else go. It’s just you, the arrow, the bow and the target.”
Smith competed with firearms for over 20 years before switching over to the bow and arrow. He said he couldn’t continue to justify pumping the earth full of lead poison. When he began shooting arrows as a form of physical therapy (think Bowflex), he quickly became addicted. Over the past few years, Smith has won and placed in several California 3D archery tournaments.
To hit a target, one must build an incredible reserve of tension. The bow, the arms, the chest and back – everything is stretched tightly so that it’s one unit loaded with potential energy. The key is being able to release the energy in a fluid movement with everything channeled toward the target. There’s a soft thwump as the string releases, then several moments of soaring silence before the arrow sticks its target a few dozen yards in the distance.
“I teach instinctive archery,” Smith said. “Don’t aim, and don’t even look at your equipment. Just look at the target.”
A training session with Smith lasts two hours and takes place in the second story range above the Farm Supply in Arroyo Grande. In that time, students learn proper form and basic technique. There’s no need for a follow up lesson, for there’s nothing more that Smith can teach.
“You don’t go into a pro shop and buy accuracy, and it can’t be taught,” Smith said. “You’ve got to practice.”
It takes about 1,000 arrows a week to get good, and it’s a good, fun workout that results in real skills. Smith provides the gear for that first lesson, and when it’s over, he sits down with the student to discuss what they would need to pursue an active archery hobby. He suggests people start with a low resistance bow, a glove, and a quiver of about a dozen arrows. An entry-level kit costs roughly $300.
“It breaks my heart to see somebody spend a lot of money on the wrong equipment,” Smith said.
As an archer progresses and the hobby becomes a craft, a person can learn to make his or her own arrows and specialty string. There’s also a flourishing community of friendly arrow enthusiasts, especially here on the Central Coast, where outdoor activities like hiking and hunting are popular. Smith said that traditional archers are laidback, but they still gather for competitions across the state and nationwide. Though they take it seriously, most archers compete more ardently with themselves than with anyone else.
In addition to the indoor range in Arroyo Grande, archers can practice at locations in Atascadero, Santa Ynez, and San Luis Obispo. The SLO Sportsmen’s Association (SLOSA) hosts a monthly 3D shoot on its range near Cuesta College. Participants can walk through trails on their back property shooting rubber animal targets for just $5.
Smith said that archery is a great activity for people of all ages. He’s on the older end of the scale, a retired root cause analyst for the nuclear industry, and he’s teaching the art to his three-year old grandson. An individual lesson with Smith costs $50, but he also does group lessons. It’s a favorite activity for middle-school aged boys, college students looking to blow off steam after classes, and professionals who want a workout that’s as unique as it is fun.
The Farm Supply range in Arroyo Grande is closed on Sundays and reserved Wednesday nights for league shooting. Other than that, Smith will work around any schedule to make time for a lesson. Call him at 550-2815 to make an appointment. Farm Supply is located at 1079 El Camino Real.
By Nick Powell