Students may recall hearing the sound of a whip crack — almost like a gunshot — on the Quad, only to look over at an almost 7-foot-tall man cracking his very own whip. But who is this mysterious person practicing this odd sport who has come to be known by UC Davis students as “The Whip Guy?”
Matthew Olmsted, a senior computer science major, is the “Whip Guy.” Aside from the fact that he has chosen such a unique sport to practice, Olmsted is a pretty typical college student. But his passion remains in the art of whip cracking.
Although Olmsted just started practicing whip cracking on campus this past year, he first learned how to crack a whip at a Renaissance Fair about four years ago.
“It all started with a friend of mine I met at a Renaissance Fair. I was watching him teaching a few people how to crack a whip and I thought it didn’t look too hard, so I gave it a shot,” Olmsted said.
Olmsted learned mostly by imitating others, including his friend who first introduced him to it. He explained that whip cracking is not too hard to learn once you get the two basic ideas: form and timing.
“After a few tries, I started really getting it. It was pretty exciting when I fired my first shot,” Olmsted said.
Olmsted further explained that although most people can pick it up quickly, whip cracking does require some skill. The whip must be carefully manipulated to produce the distinctive crack.
“Whip cracking is like a language — the whip does what you tell it to do,” Olmsted said.
Ian Holser, a Davis resident and fellow whip cracker, said he got into whip cracking after trying other various skill arts, such as juggling. But he admits that whip cracking can be quite challenging.
“Whip cracking is a challenge and an art that many would underestimate the difficulty of,” Holser said.
Olmsted said he enjoys practicing the art of whip cracking just as much as he enjoys teaching others how to crack a whip. He started whip cracking on campus, mostly on the Quad, because he decided it would give him and the sport great exposure, as well as entice other students to try it. Students have reacted in many ways.
“I have had such mixed reactions. Some students are really into it and want to learn how it’s done. But others are not as excited about it,” Olmsted said.
Specifically, the UC Davis Police Department has had numerous complaints in regards to his whip cracking.
“Every once in a while we will get a complaint that his whip cracking alarms people. The cracking sound is usually the complaint. It causes some fear, but others could care less,” said interim UC Davis Police Chief Matthew Carmichael.
Olmsted said that shortly after he began whip cracking on the Quad, he received an e-mail from the university asking him to move to Solano Field, located across from the Arboretum. But Olmsted affirmed that he is not breaking any laws or statutes and believes practicing on the Quad is a good way to educate people about the art, as it is such an unknown sport.
He created a Facebook group called “UC Davis Whip Cracking” for anyone who wants to learn how to whip crack or possibly start a club here at Davis. Olmsted thinks with the right exposure, whip cracking could be something students would be interested in learning, since it is so popular in many movies such as Indiana Jones and Zorro.
“In Zorro, there is a part where the original Zorro is using a whip to put out candles which is actually extremely realistic and also really fun. I have done that a couple times myself,” Olmsted said.
Other tricks that Olmsted can do with a whip include cutting a piece of paper from far away, cracking the whip and then wrapping it around someone’s wrist and even using the whip to cut celery sticks. But Olmsted warns that everyone should learn the basics of whip cracking before they go out and try any of these tricks.
Holser said that his favorite part about whip cracking is using fire.
“What I like most about whip cracking is a tie between the challenge of getting a good crack through good form and the fireballs created by a fire whip. My favorite trick is definitely creating fireballs,” Holser said.
For Olmsted, whip cracking is quickly turning from a hobby into a small business. Shortly after he began the sport, he started making his own whips. The whips are made from gutted parachute cord, an extremely tough and strong cord. Olmsted even acknowledged that he has begun to use them as shoe laces.
“They just work better than traditional shoe laces,” he laughed.
Although the standard length for a whip is around six feet, they can range in length anywhere from four feet to as much as 30 feet. Olmsted now sells his whips online for around $150 at his website, entishcreations.etsy.com.
Those who would like to try whip cracking can contact Olmsted via the Facebook page.
CLAIRE MALDARELLI can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.