Wednesday, March 21 , 2018, 2:43 am | Overcast 57º


Karen Telleen-Lawton: Giving Hula-Hooping a Whirl

My friend Fran and I were strolling downtown, and she was telling me about a friend’s latest exercise kick: the good old-fashioned hula hoop.

“It’s a great workout for the waist,” she told me. “She does it listening to music or watching TV. Indoors or out.”

We happened to be walking past World Market at the time. Glancing in, we saw some toys displayed in the door’s line of sight. Sure enough, hula hoops were front and center. We purchased a couple for $6 each. I pictured swinging off my middle-aged middle. I pictured hooping in tandem with my granddaughter, already 5 months old.

I’ll interject here to say that I was a reasonably competent athlete as a child. In elementary school, I was proficient at hopscotch and could swing around the rings without letting go. I had the fastest 50-yard dash time of any eighth-grade girl. I don’t remember any deficiency in hula hooping, but I couldn’t get that annular torture chamber to stay up. The next day my lower back was aching.

I turned to Google and found, oddly, a 12-step program. The first step was “wear athletic clothing” followed by “2. Put the hula hoop on the ground” and “3. Step inside the circle.” Not steps I was particularly unsure about. Skimming down, I found the important instructions: “8. Spin the hoop” and “9. Start to move your waist in a circular motion.” No tricks or hints. I tried it some more, but the instructions did not solve the problem for me.

I emailed Fran about my travails with my unworkable hoop. Had she had better luck? Then I remembered I’d seen people hula hooping down at the waterfront. Some of them were not spring chickens. I Googled hula hooping and found, where I finally realized why I was in a vicious circle.

“Hooping is way more fun than the hula hooping you remember as a child,” the site claims, “because the bigger and heavier the hoop, the slower it rotates around your body.” The ones sold in toy stores (or World Market toy sections) are for kids, not surprisingly. The hoop, standing on the ground, should reach somewhere between one’s waist and chest. My hoop, by contrast, reached only the top of my leg.

According to, hoops have been used in dance and ceremony for thousands of years. But the 1950s-era fad started when Richard Knerr and Arthur “Spud” Melin, who had founded Wham-O in their garage in 1948, trademarked the name hula hoop and began manufacturing it out of a new plastic.

The hobby was revived when a rock group called the String Cheese Incident tossed hoops into the audience back in the 1990s. Others have taken it up since, for exercise and fun. Santa Barbarans can even find hooping groups through meetups, fitness groups and Santa Barbara Hooping. You can exercise at the beach, in small private home groups, probably with incense if you want.

In the midst of finding out all this hooping research, I got an email back from Fran. She was sorry I hadn’t gotten mine to work, she said. Hers was broken, too.

— Karen Telleen-Lawton’s column is a mélange of observations spanning sustainability from the environment to finance, economics and justice issues. She is a fee-only financial advisor ( and a freelance writer ( Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

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