sepak takraw

words: michele humes 
photography: boogie

As night descends, boys and men across Thailand gather for a game of three-a-side takraw. The 500-year-old sport crams the motions of soccer, the format of volleyball, and the scrappiness of hacky sack into a court the size of a motel swimming pool. In these tight confines competitors play skywards not across; their leaping scissor-spikes make a fast-paced, jerky ballet. The first team to score 21 points wins the match—but the most flamboyant kick wins the crowd.

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Takraw is named for the rattan ball it was once played with—these days that ball is woven from thin plastic strips. It’s light and hollow, a little bigger than a grapefruit; it may be kicked, kneed, head-butted, or chested, but never thrown. As it isn’t especially bouncy, it’s the players who must be elastic, contorting themselves into sideways splits and aerial spin kicks to keep the ball in play. Most players have been honing these moves since childhood: takraw is a core part of Thai gym classes.

Until 1833, takraw didn’t have a net, or winners and losers. For hundreds of years, it had been played collaboratively, in a circle: a display of skill and nothing more. But even since adopting volleyball-style scoring, takraw remains, at heart, a showman’s game.



Most players, like these Bangkok construction workers who meet every day after work at a makeshift court, aren’t spinning 360 degrees in the air and landing on their feet. They hit the ground in a capoeira-like tumble, before scrambling back up to do it all over again.