Since Title IX was implemented in 1972, sports have become all about equality. But some athletic endeavors have an undercurrent of machismo that can't be denied. We checked out a few testosterone-fueled offerings around the city, and even dragged a guy friend out to take his best shot at boxing.
BOXING: PUTTING HIS DUKES UP
Finding Boston Boxing and Fitness is the first test of our endurance. My friend Mike Hodgson and I have come to try our fists at that most manly of sports -- boxing. For the moment, however, it looks like we're in for a PowerPoint presentation. The gym is tucked into the back of a nondescript office building, past carpeted halls and dark meeting rooms. We almost expect to find yet another middle manager's office when we open the blank white door to the gym, but instead we walk into a vast warehouse echoing with classic-guitar riffs and the pounding of 25 boxers' gloves on bags. We have arrived.
Normally before people spar, they need to warm- up and get some instruction. But Mike heads straight to the ring, where owner Ed LaVache shows him the stance: feet positioned at a 45-degree angle so that his left shoulder is pointed toward his opponent. He wants to expose as little of his body as possible, or he'll wind up with a right hook to the solar plexus -- or, worse, a blow to the head. With elbows and hands in tight, LaVache teaches Mike how to punch, straight out from the shoulder with his left hand and with a twist of the hips for the right. Fists get all the credit, but punch power actually comes from your lower body.
"It's harder than it looks, man," Mike tells me as I watch from my ringside seat. He often peppers his speech with the word "man," but today it seems especially fitting. In the gym's jacked atmosphere, we're both feeling a little macho.
During a three-minute round, I watch Mike transform from a laid-back ad executive into a laser-eyed fighting machine. Well, almost. His punches come fast and furious, pummeling the mitts LaVache is holding in each hand. When the time is up, I can see the disappointment in Mike's eyes. One round, and he's hooked.
Now that he has the basics under his belt, Mike steps out of the ring and joins me to do what we were supposed to do in the beginning: warm up. Think "Rocky" montage: lots of jump rope, sit-ups, and medicine balls. It's not glamorous, but it works.
"Boxing is a great way to get in shape," says LaVache, who bought the gym in January with partner Ken Biddy. Boston Boxing started out as a more traditional gym, focused on prize fighters like Tom Duquette, who was a Golden Gloves winner in the 132-pound weight class in Lowell earlier this year and who on this night is leading a sparring camp with eight novice boxers. But the pair opened up the gym to all ages and sexes, implementing women's and youth classes as well as a six-month beginners' training regimen. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6-8 p.m., the gym holds free orientation sessions.
After our warm-up, Mike and I put our fists up, ready to throw. At first we fight only with ourselves, in the mirror, to perfect our form. Then I head to the ring with trainer Joe LaFarge to throw punches against the focus mitts while Mike beats on the heavy bag. After a few rounds in the ring, I'm feeling pretty dangerous myself. Over my shoulder I notice Mike pummeling the bag, staring it down like a mortal enemy. He doesn't have a boxer's build -- he's too tall and lanky -- but a boxer's attitude is what we're after tonight, and he's found it. When it's time to go, he casts a wistful glance around the gym.
"Man," he says. "That was fun."
Boston Boxing and Fitness, 125 Walnut St., Watertown. 617-972-1711. bostonboxing.com
OTHER MANLY PURSUITS
What could be more manly than scaling a mountain with your bare hands? Before you head out to the Presidentials, though, you might want to cut your rock-climbing teeth at the Boston Rock Gym in Woburn. With more than 40 ropes, a lead roof with attached climbing ropes, and a bouldering cave, the gym will satisfy rock fans of all sorts. A three-hour introductory climbing lesson ($58) guides you through equipment basics (shoes, a harness, carabiner belay device, and chalk bag are all provided) and safe climbing habits, or you can head outside for half- or full-day outdoor climbing in Boston or Rumney, N.H. ($75/$125). Boston Rock Gym, 78G Olympia Ave., Woburn. 781-935-7325. bostonrockgym .com
In the realm of fear, gravity might be the final frontier. If you'd like to laugh in its face, why not jump from a plane? Start with a tandem skydive ($225). Securely harnessed to your personal instructor, you will freefall for 60 seconds at speeds of up to 120 miles per hour, then enjoy five to seven minutes of scenic views from the ocean to the White Mountains as you and your parachute glide to the ground. If you're hooked, you can train to become a licensed United States Parachute Association skydiver. Pepperell Skydiving Center, 165 Nashua Road, Pepperell. 978-433-9222. skyjump.com
Want to play Jeff Gordon for a day? Try strapping yourself into the driver's seat of a super go-kart at F1 Boston and hurtling around a track at speeds of up to 100 mph. And Gordon did actually race here not long ago. You can also head to F1 Outdoors, a 45-acre country-club-like setting where you'll choose between the City Course -- with sharp turns, a corkscrew, and a tunnel -- and the Country Course -- with rolling hills and banked corners. You bring the guts, F1 provides the glory, complete with a driver's suit, helmet, and race-safety briefing. $10 for a license, $25 per race. F1 Boston, 290 Wood Road, Braintree. 781-848-2300. f1boston.com. F1 Outdoors, 798 North Bedford St., East Bridgewater. 781-228-2010. f1outdoors.com
In this amped-up version of capture the flag, men (OK, women and children 10 and older, too) get a macho charge out of catching their prey. The fact that the "prey" is other guys who are after them, too, only ups the testosterone payoff. The gear and getups -- from air guns to gloves and vests-- are growing more specialized by the year. You can take out your frustrations -- and your friends -- at Boston Paintball's 31,000-square-foot indoor field in Somerville or head to Maynard to stalk your prey on four outdoor fields. ($29.95 per person; self-equipped players are $39.95. Group rates for 10 or more.) When you're ready to get serious, join the New England Paintball League. Boston Paintball, 43 Foley St., Somerville. 617-941-0123. bostonpaintball.com
The entrance to the Minute Man Sportsman's Club in Burlington feels like the road to summer camp. Tall trees form a green canopy overhead, crickets chirp in unison, and then "blam!" -- the sound of gunfire pierces the air. On a recent afternoon, the shots are being fired by Joe Howard, a mild-mannered arborist who has pulled up his truck to one of 10 skeet fields strung along the road for a good-natured round of shooting. Like many of the 350 club members ($425 a year, plus $100 initiation fee), he is here to de-stress with a warm gun. His target? Orange clay pigeons. "It helps you focus and center," said Howard, clad in eye shields and ear protectors. Skeet shooting is mental, it's physical, and its "aha" moment packs a wallop: The recoil on a small 20-gauge gun feels like a body slam to the uninitiated. Historically, this warm-up for hunting -- invented by Andover hunter Charles Davies in 1920 -- has been men-only. But skeet is not just for gents. Jonae Barnes, a hard-charging vice president of a biotech firm dressed in a green wrap dress, embraces the ready-aim-fire release that skeet delivers. "Works for me," she says.
Minute Man Sportsman's Club, 56 R Francis Wyman Road, Burlington. 781-272-7169, minutemansports men.com (The Maynard Rod and Gun Club occasionally holds free open-shooting sessions for nonmembers; check maynardrodand gunclub.com for details).
CAITLIN O'NEIL AND KATHLEEN PIERCE