You look to your right and can see it approaching from the other side of the arena, it’s coming your way and you can almost feel it as it moves towards you. Then it hits – ‘The Mexican Wave’, it’s your turn, you jump up and throw your hands in the air, making whatever noise you want, then it washes away to your left as you sit down. You’ve done your bit and it’s all over until the next time.
You’ve just played your part in the Wave, the Mexican Wave, a crowd grabbing call to action and one of the strangest sports spectator phenomena of recent times. Not since the age of the Romans and the thumbs up or thumbs down signal of the gladiatorial games, has a crowd of spectators been so involved in the action. But just where did it all start, and what is it that sets off that hypnotic perambulating motion?
Well, it seems that the Wave isn’t Mexican at all and despite claims that it all started in Mexico in the 1960s or in Canada during the 1970s it really does look like it started in the United States. There is another claim that it started at the Indy 500 road race in 1973, but this can be discounted as there’s no evidence for it at all. So it really comes down to two contenders for the title of inventor of the Wave; professional cheerleader, “Krazy” George Henderson, and another American cheerleader, Robb Weller.
“Krazy” George claims to have given the Wave its first big outing on 15 October 1981, when the Oakland A's met the New York Yankees in a major league baseball game.
“The Oakland A's had already lost two games away. In the third inning I thought I would try this thing that no-one had seen before. I found three sections and started explaining what I wanted.”
The first couple of wave attempts broke down and ended in more of a ripple; so Krazy George encouraged the more enthusiastic members of the crowd to boo and by the third attempt the Wave had managed to build and break around the whole stadium, and on the fourth it became a continuous Wave.
Krazy George claims that he invented the Wave long before 1981 though: “I was doing it in smaller venues before. I had already done it in high school games and minor league hockey games.”
The Wave is an example of metachronal rhythm and not as easy as you might think to achieve. To get every spectator in a packed stadium to group, briefly stand, then raise their arms, stretch to full height, and return to their seated position in strict order is quite a feat.
The other main claimant, Robb Weller, claims to have led his Wave at the University of Washington's Husky Stadium in Seattle on 31 October 1981, two weeks after Krazy George’s big experiment. Even so he’s still in the running as this wasn’t the first time he’d orchestrated the Wave. Jeff Bechthold, director of athletic communications at the University of Washington, has gone on record as saying: “Robb Weller had returned that day and was reprising what he had done as cheerleader here.”
It’s certain that something wavy happened at the Husky Stadium in 1981, but confusion surrounds just who made it happen. Alongside Weller many claim that the Wave was orchestrated at the prompting of Dave Hunter (the Husky band trumpet player), and contrary to Weller's account, former Washington yell leader Tolly Allen has also claims credit for the first Wave. So, two big Waves at around the same time and two leading exponents claiming that they’d experimented with it much earlier than 1981…it’s a tough one to call.
By the time of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, the Wave had caught on and got a lot of publicity at the Games, and then in June 1986, the Wave was brought to further world-wide attention when it was displayed at the 1986 FIFA World Cup in Mexico – and suddenly, with a cry off ‘ola’, the ‘Mexican’ was added to the ‘Wave’. For many people worldwide, this was the first time that they’d ever seen the phenomenon and they went on to make the assumption that the Wave was Mexican in origin.
In Mexico “la ola” (the Wind Wave) was popularized through a show called “Siempre en Domingo” (always on Sunday) by Raul Velazco, whilst in Singapore it’s known as the Kallang Wave, and has become a symbol of Singaporean national identity.
But just what causes a Wave to happen? Well in simple terms most experts think that it’s either boredom or excitement that triggers them. The Wave is often seen during events when the spectators want to show appreciation or during a lull in the action in an attempt to stave off the boredom.
Mind you, it isn’t seen as often as it once was and many feel the wave might be all washed-up and has had its day. Chris Hunt, author of World Cup Stories and The Compact Book of the World Cup says: “The Mexican Wave is a little bit old hat, I think when a game is flagging and nothing is really happening on the pitch, fans these days feel it's a way to get value for money out of their expensively purchased match tickets.”
Even the Wave inventors seem to be getting bored with the whole thing; Krazy George rarely does it anymore, and it's even rarer at the University of Washington. “They haven't done it for years” claims Jeff Bechthold.
Catching that Big Wave still holds an attraction for some though, and in August, 2008 a world record was set when157,574 pairs of arms and hands “waved” their way into the Guinness Book of Records. Moving smoothly around Tennessee’s Bristol Motor Speedway’s 0.5-mile (0.8-km) track in Bristol, Tennessee, the massive Wave rippled on for more than four complete stadium revolutions before dissipating back into the exhausted crowd.
So, the next time you want to dip your toe in and create a Wave of your own don’t forget you need a minimum of 25 people to start one, your wave will go clockwise in the Northern Hemisphere and is more likely to go counter-clockwise in the Southern, and should you want to calculate the speed of your Wave it equals your reaction time of 0.1 seconds multiplied by your seat width. Go on give us a wave.