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A hula hoop is a toy hoop that is twirled around the waist, limbs, or neck.Although the exact origins of hula hoops are unknown, children and adults around the world have played with hoops, twirling, rolling and throwing them throughout history. Hula hoops for children generally measure approximately 28 inches in diameter, and those for adults around 40 inches. Traditional materials for hoops include willow, rattan (a flexible and strong vine), grapevines and stiff grasses. Today, they are usually made of plastic tubing.


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German Girl in December 1958 with hula hoop.
Children playing with hula hoops.
Throughout history, hoops have been used in various cultures for a number of purposes. In ancient Greecemarker, citizens used a hoop as a form of exercise. In Greecemarker around 3,000 years ago, hoops made out of grape vines were propelled around the ground with sticks . Native Americans used hoops as a target for teaching accuracy for hunting .

Plastic hula hoops were first manufactured and sold in Australia. In 1957, Coles department store sold bamboo hoops, but the supplier couldn't produce enough to meet demand. So they invited Alex Tolmer, the founder of Toltoys, to produce plastic ones. Toltoys sold 400,000 plastic hoops in 1957. In 1958, Melin and Knerr of Wham-O started to market hula hoops in the USA. Wham-O sold 25 million in the first four months and over 100 million in its first year. The craze lasted from January to October, then died down somewhat. In only four months, an estimated 80 to 100 million of them were sold in 1958. Hula Hoops became famous all over the world. In Indonesia, playing with a hoop in public was banned because in that culture it was not socially acceptable to shake one's hips in public. Later in 1965, Wham-O developed hoops with several ball bearings trapped inside of the ring.

Knerr and Melin were unable to patent their vastly profitable "re-invention", as it had been in use for thousands of years; making the device out of a new material did not meet patent requirements of originality. However, they were largely able to preserve a virtual monopoly by trademarking the term "Hula hoop" in the US.

To relaunch the Hula Hoop in the late 1960s, Wham-O staged a national competition in the US in conjunction with the National Parks & Recreation Network. The National Hula Hoop Contest (subsequently re-named the World Hula Hoop Championships) grew in scope from 500 US cities in 1968 to over 2,000 cities in 1980, with two million participants. Competitors were judged on their performance of compulsory maneuvers (Knee Knocker, Stork, Hula Hop, Wrap the Mummy, Alley Oop) as well as freestyle routines set to music, establishing the roots of the contemporary freestyle Hula Hoop movement.

Winners of the national competitions during 1968 - 1981 were as follows:

  • 1968 - Marilou Jones;
  • 1969 - Melody Howe;
  • 1970 - Richard Low;
  • 1971 - Sandra Gaylord;
  • 1972 - David Williams;
  • 1973 - Lori Ray;
  • 1974 - DeAnn DeLuna;
  • 1975 - Mat Plendl;
  • 1976 - Joanne Barnes;
  • 1977 - Carl Cooke;
  • 1978 - Robert Lynn White;
  • 1979 - Mark Sforzini;
  • 1980 - Lori Hayes
  • 1981 - Demi Jo Carrillo

In 1983 Wham-O re-launched the Hula Hoop in western Europe, 25 years after the original worldwide craze, with national competitions staged in Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

The 1984 United Kingdom Championships was sponsored by KP who make Hula Hoop Crisps, and took place in Butlins holiday camps with the final at the Liverpool Garden Festival. It was won by Stephen Parkes of Nottingham.

World Records


An early duration record for the hula hoop was set by 11-year-olds Paulette Robinson, Charles Beard and Patsy Jo Grigby in Jackson, Mississippi lasting 11 hours and 34 minutes (August, 1960). The event was sponsored by radio station WOKJ. 8-year-old Mary Jane Freeze, won a hooping endurance contest on 19 August, 1976, by lasting 10 hours and 47 minutes. The current record is held by Roxann Rose of the USA, who went 90 hours between 2 April and 6 April, 1987.

Most Hula Hoops Twirled at Once

The record for the most hoops twirled simultaneously is 107, set by Alesya Gouleviche of Belarusmarker, on June 15, 2009.

Hoop running

Records for running while twirling a hula hoop around the waist are:
  • 100 m: 13.84 seconds, by Roman Schedler (Austria), 16 July, 1994
  • 1 mile: 7:47, by Paul "Dizzy Hips" Blair (USA), date unknown
  • 10 km, men: 1:06:35, by Paul "Dizzy Hips" Blair (USA), date unknown
  • 10 km, women: 1:43:11, by Betty (Shurin) Hoops (USA), 30 May 2005 & listed in the Guinness World Records.

Other records

The largest hoop successfully twirled was 13.88 meters (45.55 ft) in circumference, by Ashrita Furman of the USA (September, 2005). The record for simultaneous hula-hooping (minimum time: 2 minutes) is for 2,290 participants at Chung Cheng Stadium in Kaohsiung (Taiwan) on 28 October, 2000.

In 2000, Roman Schedler spun a 53-pound tractor tire for 71 seconds at the 5th Saxonia Record Festival in Bregenz, Austria.

In April 2008, Team Hooprama hula hooped the Music City Half-Marathon (13.1 miles) to raise awareness for Hooping for Hope.

Today: Modern Hooping

Fire hooping

The past few years have seen the re-emergence of hula hooping, generally referred to as either "hoopdance" or simply "hooping" to distinguish it from the children's playform. An International Holiday World Hoop Day has become the hula hoop holiday celebrating the circle around the world. Every year, in numerical sequence starting from 2007-07-07 and continuing through 2012-12-12 hoopers dance in every city and country to raise money and donate hoops to others who can't afford them. Modern hula-hoopers can be found among fans of jambands like The String Cheese Incident and participants of Burning Manmarker. Many modern hoopers make their own hoops out of polyethylene tubing. They are much larger and heavier than hoops of the 1950s. These hoops may be covered in a fabric or plastic tape to ease the amount of work in keeping a hoop twirling around the dancer, and can be very colorful. Some use glow-in-the dark, patterned, or sparkling tape, and others are produced with clear tubing and filled with plastic balls, glitter, or even water to produce visual or audio effects when used. LED technology has also been introduced in the past few years allowing hoops to light up at the flick of a switch.

During the recent revitalization of the hula hoop, its uses have been extended to serve as an implement for fitness. A multitude of websites have spawned as a result of this revival. Many of which provide links to hooping clubs located throughout the United States, online retailers from which to buy specialized hula hoops and information on workout routines.

Within the past few years, some hoopers have taken up fire hooping, in which spokes are set into the outside of the hoop and tipped with kevlar wicks which are soaked in fuel and lit on fire.

Since a few years ago, collapsible hula hoops are spreading on the market for easy transport and versatility: each hoop breaks down into four pieces to later be reassembled.

In popular culture

The hula hoop emerged in the world of circus in the 1960s. Russian and Chinese artists took the hula hoop to extremes. These influenced contemporary circus artists like Australian circus comedian and hula hoop historian Judith Lanigan, who performs the Dying Swan — "a tragedy with hula hoops" — using 30 hula hoops. The Cirque du Soleil shows "Alegría", "Quidam" and "Wintuk" feature hula hoop acts involving contortion featuring former rhythmic gymnast Elena Lev. The Cirque show "Zumanity" features hoop performer and aerialist Julia Kolosova.

The sale of the 100-millionth hula hoop by Wham-O is referenced in Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start the Fire" as one of the most significant events of 1959.

A fictionalized version of the invention of the Hula Hoop is the core of the story of the Coen Brothers' 1994 film The Hudsucker Proxy, where it is referred to as (among other things) an "Extruded Plastic Dingus".

Hula hoops are referenced in the Chipmunks song, Christmas Don't Be Late. Wayout Toys, under licence to Emson, introduced the Alvin Hula Hoop Doll, which dances with his hula hoop and sings the song based on wanting his hula hoop.

Mat Plendl, a 45 year old actor, who is considered to be the world's best hula hooper appeared three times on The Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson. He has become a regular performer at the half time shows of National Basketball Association games and is a regular cast member with Teatro ZinZanni.

Quoting Dan Rodick, director of sports promotion at Wham-O, "There is no other product that gives me as much fear and respect for the power of mass culture as the hula hoop."


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