The Long Beach Hash House Harriers during “down downs” last month in a commercial park located in the City of Bellflower. Photos by Jason Ruiz.
The Long Beach Hash House Harriers (LBH3) are part of what’s probably the worst-kept secret in the world. Hashers, the name given to members of this running group, have kennels that literally stretch across the globe, yet you wouldn’t know you were seeing a hash in action unless you were invited to be part of this “drinking club with a running problem.”
They’ve been called many things—their own nicknames probably being among the worst—but this club, like the city it calls home, has deeply ingrained military roots dating back to World War II.
Hashing’s history got its start in December 1938, when British expatriates living in Malaysia decided to form a running club to cleanse their bodies of “weekend excess.” After fizzling out in the post-war years, the club regrouped in Kuala Lumpur, where they were notified by the local authorities that their club, which met up to run once a week, would require a constitution and needed to be registered with the Malaysian government.
The club’s original registration card listed four objectives of the Hash House Harriers: to promote physical fitness among members, to get rid of weekend hangovers, to acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it with beer and to persuade older members that they were not as old as they feel. The Hash House was the name given to the dining hall in Salangor known to the running club founders for its sub-par food.
The club takes an age-old children’s’ game of “hare and hounds,” where selected runners (hares) set out ahead, marking a trail with flour, and the hounds try to track down the trail. The hares are chased down by the hounds, who use chalk to relay the true direction of the hares to those in the back of the pack, and whistles to give audible direction of where the trail is hot and the initials “BN” let you know there’s a beer near.
The Long Beach chapter—headed by “Hairy,” a Grandmaster whose hash name is an X-rated spin on a particularly famous child wizard—was founded in 1985 by Dal “Jock” Trader, who missed the hashes that he ran through the jungles of Taiwan. Hairy describes it as part drinking game, part tracking game, where there are no losers because the beer is always cold and anyone who gets lost will only get extra exercise.
“It’s a scavenger hunt for adults is one way I describe it frequently,” Hairy said. “You don’t know how long you’ll be running, you don’t know where the trail is going. It could three miles it could be nine miles, you never know.”
Another way to think of it is Animal House for adults, as the number of beer checks can also vary from hash to hash.
Hairy’s first hash had 106 beer checks, something that he described as more of a walking drunk fest than an actual chase to snare the hare. The typical run has just a handful of checks but occasionally expands to a more extreme number for special event hashes, but for reference, those beers are split between several dozen runners. This year marked the 10-year anniversary of the 106 beer check hash, meaning this year had 116 beer checks.
“If you are the first person to a beer check you can’t leave until one of those beers is gone,” Hairy said about the 116-check hash this year. “If you want to hold back and let somebody pass you, you don’t have to drink, we don’t force anyone to do it. I don’t know why you’d come here if you don’t want to drink, but that’s fine.”
It’s obvious that the Hashers love themselves a frosty beverage or two, or three, but Hairy and fellow LBH3 Hasher, Kammonawannaleia, are quick to point out that that it’s not complete chaos. However, there are several runners who don’t drink at all who are part of the kennel.
There are rules of the road that must be adhered to keep the group safe, as well as anyone around them. Alternate modes of transportation and designated drivers are strongly encouraged, especially for hashes with an exorbitant amount of beer checks or for those who to choose to “pre-lube” at a bar before the hash.
“We are professional drinkers, most of us aren’t going to go out and get drunk unless we know we have a designated drivers,” Kammona said. “We don’t climb on buildings or harass police officers. There are certain rules of the road that we follow because it keeps us safe and it keeps us from getting in trouble. When you invite people who don’t understand, we can get in trouble.”
The last person to run into trouble with the law had that incident worked into his name (Drunk White Idiot) for obvious reasons. Naming a hasher takes time, it takes creativity and it takes a naming council to vote upon it once somebody has been deemed worthy of being adopted into the kennel. It also serves as a sieve of sorts to ensure that official hashers know the ins and outs and can reliably follow the rules.
Name styles vary by kennel, with some kennels like the Diaper Rash Hash opting for family-friendly monickers and others like the Long Beach unit going the more NC-17 route. They’re witty—Adam from West Los Angeles became “Batman,” a military veteran turned OB-GYN became “Thank You For Your Cervix”—but they carry an important tradition set back in Kuala Lumpur that sought to eliminate rank and identity for the sole purpose of being equal and having fun together.
“Double Entry I thought was a bookkeeper, but what happened was he actually got locked out of his car twice in one night,” said Kammona, who got named in part for previously being married to a Hawaiian. “He had to have AAA come and let him in his car twice in one night, that’s how he got his name. You want someone to name you who’s very smart and very clever.”
The group is truly a melting pot of identities, professions and athletic (and drinking) levels. There are doctors, lawyers, police officers, people who have run dozens of marathons and people who opt to walk the handful of miles during each hash. There are hashers in their 20s and hashers in their 80s and even those who hash with their dogs, some of which have their own hashing names.
While it seems like the group is centered on nonsense—and it is—it also contributes its fair share of altruism. One global example is the annual Red Dress Run held in honor of a past hasher who came to a Long Beach hash in 1987 in a red dress and heels but decided to run it anyway. The next year, a San Diego kennel flew her out for the annual Red Dress Run, a phenomenon that has morphed into a yearly fundraiser for local charities in cities from San Diego to New Orleans to Beijing, some of which are expected to draw thousands of hashers and “muggles” (non-hashers) alike.
There are few actual rules that don’t pertain to basic safety. Two of the biggest are to have a sense of humor and don’t ever wear new shoes to a hash unless you prefer your beverages sipped out of a cross-trainer.
At the end of every hash the group gathers for “down downs,” a ceremony of sorts where patches are awarded for reaching milestones within the group and “new boots” are roasted, usually with beer and Rugby songs sung in unison by the kennel. Patches are given out to be added to hasher’s “Happi Coats,” a kimono-styled jacket that pays homage to both the club’s Southeast Asian roots and the individual’s accomplishments within the kennel.
Hairy presides over the ceremony like a pirate captain, doling out responsibilities for the next week’s hash to his swashbuckling horde. If you find them, they’d love to have you, just come thirsty and ready to laugh. Oh, and don’t wear your newest pair of shoes.
“It’s a very irreverent group,” Hairy said. “I invite everyone but I don’t invite my very religious friends because they’ll find something that’s going to offend them. But if you have a good sense of humor and like beer, you’re going to have a good time.”