Madison, WI – One of the best things in life is the arousal of passions so ardent that whether we’ll throw our lives to their full pursuit is never in doubt. Meet Andrew Barthel, who, two months ago, had such a passion set ablaze when “I was at a rave in the Wisconsin Dells and I saw the most beautiful woman hooping.”
Hula-hooping that is.
“I fell in love with it,” he says.
A short while later, Barthel, 41, went on sabbatical from his job and began designing, decorating and selling custom hoops. He spends his days hooping outside of an east side Madison burlesque clothing store, breaking periodically to catch his breath, and a cigarette. He’s been featured in Madison’s daily newspaper and his picture, he says, appeared recently in The Onion. Already he’s sold 50 to 60 hoops at $15 (undecorated) or $30 (decorated) a pop.
Topping it off, he took second place in a Lady Gaga look-alike contest a few weeks back, scoring a pair of tickets and a limo ride to Gaga’s show in Milwaukee.
The last two months, he says, have been “pretty great.”
In the 1994 screwball film, The Hudsucker Proxy, Tim Robbins plays Norville Barnes, the fictional inventor of the hula-hoop. In reality, no one knows who or when it was invented. In the film, Barnes’ design for the apparatus is a simple circle, but in the real world, hoops require a bit more engineering. One thing Barthel says distinguishes his hoops from all others is in how he fastens together the ends of the tubing.
Barthel dislikes how the ends of most hoops are heat shrunk around a plastic joint, which eventually warps and separates. Instead, he uses a brass joint held in place with two counter-sunk screws. “I make a quality hoop,” he says. “Mine will never separate.”
He is currently working on a line of LED lit hoops that respond to musical patterns. Soon, he’ll begin teaching a class on hooping decoration at an area community center. Herein lies another distinction his hoops have over others. “I like using Wal-Mart duct tape instead of hooping tape,” he says. “It’s a lot sturdier and comes in all kinds of fun colors, like this Pink Thunder. Hoop tape gets the shit torn out of it.”
As his passion for all-things hooping intensifies, so does his celebrity rise. Other establishments have begun tapping him to hoop at their events, but Barthel insists he’s not hooping for fortune or fame.
“I just like making people smile,” he says.