Words and photos: Dave Carnie
I first heard about Power Balance late last year when the Australian government forced the company to admit their wristbands are bullshit.
“The maker of the Power Balance bracelet worn by many athletes,” the BBC reported in late December, “has been forced to admit misleading advertising and to refund customers in Australia. Power Balance admitted there was no scientific evidence for its claims the bracelet improved ‘balance, strength and flexibility.’”
While Power Balance now admits there is no scientific evidence to support their claims, they continue to maintain that the bands do improve performance.
“Our products are based on the idea of optimizing the body’s natural energy flow,” said the company’s president, Keith Kato, “similar to concepts behind many holistic and Eastern philosophies.”
“Eastern philosophy,” to me, is shorthand for “exotic magical ninja shit that doesn’t really exist.” Yet Power Balance has tried to provide some pseudo science as to how the bands work: there’s a hologram in it, and the hologram does stuff, and things. But, isn’t a hologram just a fancy 3D photo created by lasers? There’s one on every credit card in my wallet. Shouldn’t my butt be receiving the power to optimize my body’s natural energy flow? (There’s certainly some flow back there.) The Power Balance holograms are, of course, different. They are, they say, “treated with energy waves at specific frequencies.” Energy waves? Because it should be noted that the light from a light bulb is considered an energy wave.
“When the hologram comes in contact with your body’s energy field,” it says on their website, “it allows your body to interact with the natural, beneficial frequency stored within the hologram. This results in improved energy flow throughout your body.”
The effect of this is demonstrated by tugging on people’s arms. You’ve surely seen the tests: a subject stands with arms outstretched and someone pulls on the subject’s arm and then the subject falls down. But with a Power Balance bracelet on the subject’s wrist, the test is repeated and this time the subject does not fall down.
I didn’t need an independent study conducted to test the validity of PB’s snake oil salesman pitches, but I’m glad the University of Wisconsin at Lacrosse did one all the same. They performed the same tests on athletes using both Power Balance bracelets and “powerless” bracelets.
“Based on what we saw, [it] doesn’t seem to work,” said John Porcari, UWL professor of sports science. “No improvement in flexibility, no difference in balance, strength, or vertical jump. Absolutely no difference.”
Power Balance dismisses these tests with a sound bite they use repeatedly, “Power Balance has lived and thrived in the ultimate testing environment: the real world.” ZONG! (A ZONG!, incidentally, is a ZING! gone wrong.) And they cite the achievements of their paid team of athletes as proof that the bracelets work. One of those athletes is Ryan Sheckler.
“It gives me the mental edge to perform better,” Sheckler is quoted as saying on the site. “It works and I wear it.”
I wanted to talk to Ryan about Power Balance, but he did not respond to my requests for an interview. According to an etnies source, Ryan was a little worried about how he would be portrayed in this article and that it might endanger his relationship with his sponsor. As the etnies source related to me, Ryan said something to the effect of, “They pay me and take care of me, and even if it’s a placebo, it still makes me feel better when I have it on.”
Fair enough. I also tried to get in touch with Eric Koston and Sean Malto who also purportedly wear the bracelets. There’s a story floating around that Malto was handed a Power Balance bracelet before the Street League contest he won. Some have suggested the bracelet was related to the victory. But neither Eric nor Sean returned my phone calls.
Brandon Biebel, on the other hand, did return my call.
“Wussup Carnie,” Brandon said in an email. “I’m Out in Europe In Some Fucked up Place Called Estonia Definitely Never Coming Back To this Shithole! Haha I’ll be Back in Cali monday nite Homie.”
Biebel is so rad that almost every word in his emails is capitalized. You’ll note there’s a few that aren’t. How does he do that? Maybe it was his bracelet resonating with the email frequencies? While I awaited his return from Shitholestonia, I contacted Christian Scott, the Senior Brand Director at Power Balance. Christian was very friendly, but would only agree to do an interview via email. As a result, most of his answers were of the press release variety. I asked, for instance, how specifically the bracelets work. “If it affects your body,” I asked, “don’t you have to show your ingredients or what’s happening?
“Science cannot always explain everything that offers a benefit,” Christian said. “For example, acupuncture and homeopathy have very little clinical evidence to support them, yet these therapies have offered benefits to many people.”
“What If I get drunk and put on a Power Balance bracelet, will it improve my motor skills, while maintaining my buzz?” I asked. “And would bums walk straighter if they all wore Power Balance?”
“Hmm,” Christian responded, “it’s not a test I can say we have ever thought about.”
“Does it work for other things?” I asked. “Like will I be able to do my dishes faster? Will it make traffic easier to navigate? Does it make my dreams trippier? Will my bowel movements be swifter and cleaner?”
“You tell me,” Christian responded. “We want to help you find that extra edge and perform at your best, whatever that may be!”
“Is the bracelet like a portable dream catcher for your wrist?”
“How does it perform as a sexual aid? Have you guys thought of making Power Balance cock rings?”
“Funnily enough,” he said, “we have had a number of companies approach us with the same idea. Not for us though. ”
A few days later I received three Power Balance bracelets in the mail so I could conduct my own field research. First thing I wanted to do was put them all on and OD on them. But I had postponed my power bender because Brandon invited me to his park to chat about why he wears them.
I drove out to Burbank and found the nondescript warehouse that contains his park. There was a Neck Face mural on the wall in the foyer, ping-pong table, TVs, couches, it was all very nice. In the park Biebel was enjoying a mild session with Adam Dyet and the Decenzo brothers. I cruised around the park a little myself hoping that the Power Balance bracelet I was wearing would give me the power and the balance to do something cool. But nothing happened. I still skated like a fat, old guy.
“I think they’re cool,” Brandon said simply when we sat down in his lounge to talk. “All the top athletes are rockin’ them and I think they stand out. And when I wear ‘em, everybody asks about ‘em. It’s a good conversation piece.”
“But do you think they actually work and improve your balance and strength?” I asked.
“I don’t understand, like, what the holograms are,” Brandon said, “but if it does help like 0.1%, you know, I’ll take it. With skating, we need all the extra power and balance we can get. In that case sometimes I’ll think, well shit, if I got one, shouldn’t I have two bracelets, two anklets, and a fuckin’ chain around my neck, you know what I mean?”
Brandon wanted to OD on them too! But I pressed him on the bullshit factor and cited the bogus tests.
“That’s just common sense anyway,” Brandon said. “I don’t think that there’s facts on how you can prove it, but there is tests where they push you and then you fall off balance, and then you put one on, and, you know, by that I don’t really think that’s proving it. I met people in Australia that came up to me, and I’m chilling, and they push me, and I’m like, okay. And they’re like, okay, put it on, and I know the push is coming, I’ll probably be more sturdy, and then I don’t move, you know what I’m saying?”
In other words, Brandon isn’t fooled by any of the silly demonstrations. But he does harbor at least a small amount of belief that the bracelets actually do help him despite the lack of evidence. He seems to regard it more as a good luck charm than as a pseudo scientific new age crystal that gives him power. And this is an attitude that I discovered encapsulates most people’s attitude toward the bracelet: they know it’s fake, they’re even slightly embarrassed to be participating in new age mumbo jumbo, but they like the way they look and, hey, maybe they actually do something, who knows?
“I gave one of my bracelets to Torey Pudwill,” Brandon said, “and he’s been on a tear with skating ever since. But he hit me up recently, he was wanting another one or something, but he wanted me to give it to him. Because I gave him the last one, and it worked out, so he wanted me to give him another one.”
“Have you ever,” I laughed nervously. “Have you ever—you don’t have to answer this—“
“Have I ever got pussy on it or something?” Brandon said interrupting me.
“Yeah,” I said giggling. Huh huh, pussy.
“I’ve definitely gotten pussy when wearing a Power Balance bracelet,” he said proudly. “Without a doubt. I’m not taking that thing off. It definitely helps performance in all aspects, you know?”
I found the good luck charm component interesting. Adam Dyet not only wears Power Balance bracelets, but he also wears a green casino chip around his neck. Adam told a story about how he came out of the ocean and then suddenly realized his chip wasn’t around his neck. He freaked out and ran back into the ocean. And found it. He found a little green casino chip in the middle of the ocean. Naturally he attributes a lot of significance to that experience.
What was interesting to me about it was the night before I had watched an episode of Cheers in which Sam Malone lost his good luck charm: a bottle cap that he kept in his breast pocket. He lent the bottle cap to a Red Sox pitcher who was going through a bit of a slump. But when the pitcher got back on his game and he didn’t return the bottle cap, Sam began to grow more and more distraught. For one thing he couldn’t do his patented bar trick anymore: slide a full mug of beer around the corner at the end of the bar. He finally called the dude to get his shit back only to learn that the pitcher had lost his beloved bottle cap in—of all places—the ocean. That’s when we learned the significance of the bottle cap: it was from the last beer Sam ever drank.
Faced with the prospect of living without his good luck bottle cap, Sam cracked a beer and poured it into a mug. “No Sam! Don’t!” Shelley Long pleaded. It’s a pretty heavy moment for Cheers. I even found myself leaning forward in my chair, “Don’t do it, Sam!” Sam looked at the mug of beer, grabbed it firmly, and just when you think he’s about to raise it to his lips and slam it, he throws it down the bar and it makes the impossible turn around the corner just like it used to.
Everyone cheers. Sam looks at this new bottle cap, flips it in his hand, and slides into his shirt breast pocket: his new anti drinking good luck bottle cap.
“Everyone does weird shit like that,” I said to Adam and Biebel. “I’m no exception. I’ve done enough acid to believe that there might be other dimensions and energy and shit that we can’t see.”
By way of example I explained that I had to go home and watch the Habs/Bruins game and I was going to do some weird shit. It wasn’t hard to impress upon Biebel, who’s a huge sports fan, what this rivalry means to me. The Canadians are the biggest bunch of diving faggot pussies, and they suck shit, but somehow they’re able to always beat Boston. It’s absolutely maddening. Thus the Bruins can use all the help they can get.
“So I’m going to wear my Power Balance bracelet,” I said, “AND cook some bacon for the Bruins.”
I’ve told this story before, but I hadn’t done it in awhile: I fry up three slices of bacon before a Bruins game and put them on a plate under the TV. It’s been surprisingly effective.
And so I went home and made some bacon and watched the game while wearing my new Power Balance bracelet. Not only did the Bruins handedly win the game 8-6, but they completely beat the shit out of the fucking Canadians. There were so many fights. And they weren’t your average hockey fights, they were total ass kickings. I was going apeshit.
“KILL HIM!” It was touted in the hockey media as one of the best hockey games of the season. All thanks to my bacon… and the Power Balance bracelet I was wearing?
I wore the Power Balance bracelet for about a week and, as I expected, it did nothing. It didn’t help me skate any better, the dishes didn’t get done any faster, my shits weren’t any less messy, and the seas of LA traffic did not part before me no matter how much I shook my bracelet clad wrist at the cars ahead of me. And, unlike Biebel, my bracelet was not a conversation piece. Well, it was, but it wasn’t so much a conversation as it was my friends making fun of me for wearing the stupid thing.
“Did anyone at school notice your new bracelet today?” my mom asked.
“Yes they did, mother,” I said. “And they made fun of me all day for wearing it.”
It’s a rubber band. A very expensive rubber band, at that. It has no more power than an ordinary rubber band, or a piece of string, or a bottle cap. Mentally, however, maybe it does help some people. Who am I to say? I cook bacon for my TV set.
“Even if it doesn’t work how it’s supposed to work,” Biebel said, “but it works mentally for you, it could be like a good luck charm. Someone gives you something special, you know, you put it in your wallet or wherever, and you just roll with it. And that’s how I think of Power Balance bracelets. And so having that outlook with that on your wrist, maybe it’s kind of a reminder to be, I don’t know, on point.”