With the revitalisation of darts as a Caymanian sport, it’s only fair that its long-time pillar be reintroduced.
With all of the ups and downs of the darts scene, Hank Ebanks has been the one constant winner.
For the past 21 years Ebanks has done nothing but win. Over that period of time he’s amassed an incredible tally of over 125 awards and trophies.
From local tournaments to singles and doubles competitions, there is no aspect of darts Ebanks hasn’t touched in Cayman.
But you couldn’t tell by looking at the tall middle-aged man that he could be so deadly accurate with a dart in his hand.
The calm, unassuming 55-year-old was born and raised in North Side and to this day still calls Hutland home.
When he’s not concocting a perfect game on a dartboard he spends his time as production supervisor for Caybrew.
In spite of traffic conditions and early morning driving Ebanks says it’s not a bad trek to work.
Making it to and from Red Bay in less than 40 minutes and an honest day’s pay are some of the perks of the job he’s enjoyed for the last 12 years.
To appreciate the legacy of one of Cayman’s greatest dart players it’s crucial to see where the man came from in the sport.
From an early age Ebanks had the gift of above-average hand-eye coordination. In his youth he says he was a sort of school-yard legend for being an accurate and powerful rock thrower.
The decision to use that gift toward darts was not a conscious choice. As Ebanks explained, he simply caught a curveball that life threw his way.
‘As a young man I started messing with darts and I found I could hit the bull’s-eye a lot.
‘As it turns out I would marry a girl from Newfoundland [in Canada]. I went up there for a time and played both pool and darts in the bars. That was around 1982.’
From there Ebanks saw where his skills with a dart in his hand were no joke. Upon returning home he would continue to play in the bars of Cayman.
Ebanks would quickly grow to enjoy the sport and he soon went about cementing himself in darts.
‘Not knowing there was a local league here I formed a team in North Side in 1987 at the old Apollo bar [where the Over The Edge restaurant sits].
‘That squad only lasted half a season. So I went ahead and made a Mango Tree team. That one lasted a couple seasons.’
Ebanks didn’t have to wait long to turn heads and gain acclaim among players. He made it to the local league finals in his rookie year of 1987, losing to seasoned pro and national team manager Martin Bodden.
The league championship would actually be one of the few crowns Ebanks would struggle to get. It took him three years to first taste victory.
However Ebanks had already left his mark. The next year, in just his second season, Ebanks would be chosen to represent Cayman at a regional competition in the Bahamas.
As Ebanks says, that would mark the start of two decades worth of bearing Cayman’s flag at every tournament abroad.
‘Since ’88 I’ve never failed to make the national team. In fact I’ve never failed to qualify below third.
‘I enjoy representing Cayman and being an ambassador for my country. It makes me feel so proud to be on a grand stage carrying my native flag.’
More awards would follow as he would be named the Most Improved Player of the Year in 1988 and claim the Art Shield Knockout tournament the same year.
Ebanks would go on to be the local singles champion for five years in a row and win the Pirates Week tournament 11 times, coming in second only twice.
The darts scene was quite extensive in those days. Ebanks recalls four major leagues hosting tournaments throughout the year: the Bud and Becks Cup, Tim Butler Mickey Mouse Trophy and the Arch Shield.
To no surprise, Ebanks has trophies from all of those leagues.
Along the way Ebanks changed little except his darts. Originally he started out with big, heavy 34g sets. He soon switched to lightweight 16g versions before settling on the 24g darts he uses today.
For Ebanks the changes were all about comfort.
‘To me you get more accuracy with lighter darts. Besides darts have a certain feeling to them. Once you get used to a weight you’re used to playing within its limits.
‘At the end of the day it’s a comfort thing. If you’re not comfortable you won’t play well.’
In recent years Ebanks’ string of successes has continued. He’s won the Vivian Rankine memorial tournament three years in a row and the Marjorie Bodden tournament twice.
In 2002 he became mixed doubles champion and last year he threw the most perfect games (called tons) in the local league.
Ebanks was recently part of the Cayman national darts team that travelled to Trinidad for the 2008 Caribbean Championships.
Though Ebanks did not have an outstanding performance, Cayman did.
Cayman would finish fourth and boast having the Caribbean champion in Edsell Haylock.
Ebanks attributes his slight slip-up in Trinidad to playing conditions.
‘I had some good games mind you. Though early in the day, round the morning time, my game wasn’t up to standard. I found that later in the day I’d play better.
‘See in Cayman we always play at night, which is a different atmosphere altogether. It’s a different thing to start play from 10 in the morning and continue throughout the day.’
Ebanks is pleased that Cayman did well and now has the top player in the region for the next two years in Haylock.
Ebanks’ travelling days are not over yet though. He will next compete in Barbados 6-17 November for the annual Barbados Darts Festival.
Last year he pushed tournament host and English darts legend John Lowe to three sets before eventually falling in the third and final set.
Ebanks says he intends to get back to training shortly before leaving.
‘I usually train an hour to an hour and a half every day before a major tournament. All I’m trying to do is make sure I have good muscles and I build up my stamina.’
Through it all Ebanks remains in love with a sport that has given him many opportunities over the years.
He says one of his joys is the notoriety darts gives him and the level of competition that goes with that.
‘I love the sport. I love the competition. I enjoy getting to play someone as good or better than me because I know I have to play up to standard to win.
‘A lot of guys who face me say they have to step it up. To me that brings everyone’s game up.’
Having faced players of all ability levels over the years, Ebanks feels many hurlers could benefit from a few pointers in their training regimen.
‘Facing other players is the best way to go about training because it adds pressure and the competition makes a difference. When you play on your own the atmosphere is too relaxed.
‘Also get yourself a very nice set of darts. Look for English darts as I have found them to be the best. Practise with them often and be sure to get used to the weight.
‘Play how you feel comfortable. I think no one can tell you how to stand, hold the dart or how to release. Those things every one figures out on their own.
‘Remember that it’s all in the wrist, elbow and eye. That’s the key coordination for all dart players.’
Ebanks offers those tips with an eye to make novice players better and get more young blood into the sport.
Ultimately that is where Ebanks says he has his focus for the future.
‘I want to see more youth involved. The association should start a youth league and start training young players who are around 17 years old or so.
‘That way when it comes time for the Olympics we can have a good team for years.’
For Ebanks it’s only natural to think about the next star in the sport waiting to stumble his/her way onto the scene just like how he did years ago.