A Documentary About Professional Air Hockey. Really.

Sep03

My Most Memorable Air Hockey Moment: Kara (Klyn) Adema

Kara Adema (Klyn)

Kara Adema (Klyn)

Kara Adema (formerly Klyn) was the most dominant air hockey women’s champion in the 1990s. But she wears that crown with kind of a dubious pride, and for many years campaigned against the need for gender specific rankings. For her there was always only one true world ranking: the one that was obtained against all of the testosterone in the room.  Although she has been retired from air hockey for the past decade, she was a permanent fixture during the middle third of its history.

We feel very lucky to have tracked down the legendary Kara Klyn for this article! We asked her to talk about her most memorable air hockey moment, and this is what she said:


All air hockey players remember the table that got them hooked. I was 19 and it was 1989 in a shaggy little arcade in Fremont, California called Galaxy. They had ten shiny-new Tornado foosball tables and one Dynamo brown top. I could never beat any of the guys in foosball. But on the air hockey table—that was a different story.

Kara and the puckish Paul Marshall

Kara and the puckish Paul Marshall

Somehow, a flyer for an air hockey tournament in Mountain View—about 20 miles away—made it to Galaxy. They guy behind the counter there was excited to show it to me. A few weeks later I found myself at the California State Championships with some of the best players in the world. I had no idea air hockey could be that competitive, or that amazing. That first moment seeing professional play I was so intimidated I wanted to fade into the background and just be one of the girls that just looks on. But the look on my face gave me away. I wanted to play like them. And they wanted me to learn. Even though I was thoroughly defeated in that tournament, I won friends there that I would play against, and travel, promote, and experience random adventures in life with for the next several years.

By the time the early 90s came around I was working with Mark Robbins and Tim Weissman and was fully entrenched in promoting the sport in California, and occasionally around the country. I was learning the art of organizing major tournaments and building up prizes. I loved traveling and meeting new players. I had won a couple of women’s championships at that point and while having that title was very cool, my overall ranking was for me, personally, disappointing. Even if it was considered “good” for a female player. But it so happened that my best air hockey moment happened that same year in Littleton at a Colorado state tournament.

 Mark Robbins, Kara, Tim Weissman, Don James, and the late Owen Giraldo. Anybody know who the guy in back is?


Mark Robbins, Kara, Tim Weissman, Don James, and the late Owen Giraldo. Anybody know who the guy in back is?

I was a hippy at heart then and I felt like I just fit right in with all the friendly people and the beautiful country. Being short on cash in those days I stayed with local players. I thought it was cool that the Colorado players that had been around the air hockey table a few times had a Brunswick table in their living room. Mark showed me “The Barn” filled with Brunswick tables. And by helping Mark with a few odd jobs around his place (and there are plenty of opportunities there;), one might luck out and score a Brunswick mallet, a devastating Berger puck, or some other interesting piece of air hockey history he has buried there.

But my best moment happened in a little sunken arcade within a giant indoor entertainment center. Spirits among the players was high that weekend. There was fresh snow (which was a treat for the Californians and Texans), great friends, a new laser tag gallery which we had passes to, and some truly great angles to video tape play from above the arcade pit.

Kara constructs the tiniest snowman in the universe.

Kara constructs the tiniest snowman in the universe.

While all tournaments are fun and intensely competitive, this one had a little extra undertone of fun infused in it. I went in the losers bracket my second or third match. Then something happened. I don’t know if I just stopped worrying about when I would lose and let my instincts take over, or if I found a new confidence from within. But I just kept on winning my matches. I rose above all but seven other players that weekend in the main bracket. I remember watching a video tape of that final match thinking…”Is that me playing?”

It’s been almost 20 years, since then and I think it was the highest finish ever by a woman. I didn’t even realize that at the moment. Does it still stand? I don’t know. I have won seven women’s titles against some very tough women (Andy Yevish and some others may say six titles, but that’s another story itself). But placing eighth in the main bracket was by far, my best air hockey moment.

Mark Robbins and Kara explore untapped air hockey publishing ventures.

Mark Robbins and Kara explore untapped air hockey publishing ventures.

Editor’s note: In a future installment Kara will break down her personal vendetta against the notion of holding women’s tournaments in air hockey. Looking forward to it, Kara!


Kara met her future husband Mike in 1991 and became one of the first functioning air hockey couples. They were married in 1999 and now have a beautiful daughter. Although Kara’s been out of air hockey for a while—in order to concentrate on school, career, and family—she and Mike still play each other on an old Brunswick, next to that Mustang (the other classic) in the garage.

Her portfolio and design work can be seen at: http://www.karaadema.com/

13 Comments

  1. gfxwraps

    Everyone knows Niki Flanagan is the sport’s most “crushingly dominant” player. There isn’t a woman on the globe who could take a game off of her in the last 10 years… at least.

    1. Stella

      yes she is best

  2. Sleepy E

    Hey Andrew, thanks for writing. Do you think Niki now could take Kara back in the day?

    1. Andy Yevish

      Figured I would chime in on this… Niki is a super powerful player… she is by far the best woman in the game today. Kara at her peak had the most complete technical game of any woman I ever saw. She had the widest variety of shots and drifts, and was competitive with some of the best men in the game. She was also very adaptable. However, Niki shows more raw power and competitiveness. I have played against both at least on the practice table, and Kara gave me more trouble… however I was probably better when I played Niki as it was many years later. If I had a gun to my head and had to pick between the two it would be very difficult. I think Kara had a higher peak and also lower lows, but Niki was more consistent. Patrice Nale at her best was very good too. I didn’t see Barbara play at her best, or Connie Rector.

  3. Andrew

    Niki’s style is impetuous… her defense is impregnable… she’s just ferocious!

    Ok… so that was Mike Tyson. But anyway, to answer your question, ABSOLUTELY YES! It’s been argued that Patrice Nale and/or Barbara Marquis would have been worthy opponents in their relative primes. But the game has developed so much since then. Who knows if those women would have been able to adapt to the current styles.

    Niki learned from the best of the best… Jesse Douty and Danny Hynes to name a few. She has developed a unique offense that relies heavily on finesse rather than power. But don’t let that fool you… she can pound a blistering fast bank shot passed the best of ‘em.

    We haven’t held an official “women’s event” in several years. The last one I’m aware of was at a Vegas event in 2000. Niki had only been playing for 2 years at that point. She defeated Claudia – from Venezuela – in the finals of that event. Since then, Niki has been the highest ranked female player that I’m aware of. Her highest tournament finish is an impressive 14th place. Considering the field of Pro and Master level players out there these days, that is a significant accomplishment.

  4. Tim Weissman

    It’s so great to read this article. Kara was so wonderful for the sport.

    What I remember best about you Kara was your graceful and elegant style of play. I loved watching you execute the circle drift with lithe subtley followed by a blazing cross straight! I think that one setup and delivery sticks in my mind the most.

    And what you did off the Table was inspiring. As a leader of the California scene you were always welcoming to new players and simply one of the nicest people anyone will ever meet.

    It’s great seeing you Kara! As pretty as ever – um, I can say that can’t I? No clue with all the PC stuff these days!

  5. Karen

    Kara thanks for being an inspiration to all of us women who love Air Hockey!

  6. Mark Robbins

    Yes, when I first met Kara it was apparent that she truly loved the Table and the Sport. Quickly, she became “one of us”. As a player, Kara had a wonderfully natural and fluid style.

    Kara mentions that memorable 1992 CO State Championship, held at FunPlex in Littleton. That tournament was known for the breakout performance of the California players. Chris Haggberg placed 4th, J. Hilton Reed 5th, and Kara 8th. In fact, Kara had Hilton Reed down 3-0, only to fall to the laft-hander’s comeback effort. (One of Kara’s weaknesses was that she often lacked the killer instinct to finish off a man, a problem she didn’t have against women. Too much compassion for us guys!).

    This was no weak field that Kara placed 8th in. To paraphrase a former National Champion… Kara played so well… she finished even higher than ME! 🙂 Kara finished ahead of not only me, but also John Stucky, Keith Fletcher, George Anderson, Bob Cardwell, Mark Jonjak, etc. Truly an amazing and historic performance.

    Unfortunately, during Kara’s reign of dominance, she mostly didn’t have a competitive female rival, just as Niki today doesn’t have an equal among the women. Barbara Marquis had Patrice Nale… Patrice had (for a while) Connie Rector, which resulted in an epic 48-game challenge match between the two. By the time Kara came on the scene Patrice was starting to fade from AH competition. With the exception of Cathy Brown’s one victory in the ’91 CA Nationals, Kara had no great rival among the women of her time.

  7. Joe Cain

    Kara holds a very interesting place in Air Hockey history, when promotion was at an all-time high and many of the greatest players in Air Hockey history were coming up – not to mention helping get California become a legitimate blip on the AH radar. I for one am glad to finally hear the whole story straight from the source – thanks for the lessons both on and off the table, Kara! 😉

  8. Michael Feinberg

    My wife stumbled across “The Way of th Puck” which brought back so many memories. It just doesn’t seem like that long ago. Some great memories back in California playing some great players.

    Love the RUSH shirt Kara, and glad to hear you still have the mustang…

  9. Michael Feinberg

    OMG…just checked your website. You worked at PeopleSoft when I was working there in the Hosting division, which lead to my move to HP…small world! (that was a really nice campus in Pleasanton). Hope you and your family are doing well.

  10. dice frankenstein

    Oh my god!!…”Galaxy” fremont california…right in the nook candy corner from nations hamburgers!…I don’t know if you read these but imma give it a shot….by any chance…do you have any pictures of “Galaxy”?? I use to go there all the time with my best bud after school and would play arcades and air hockey for hours on end…great memories as a child growing up in fremont!! But then unfortunatly….”Galaxy” closed down…do to the “Great entertainer”…but….galaxy was Rad as hell!!…wishing someone ould have pictures of the galaxy business!! Brings back great memories…if anybody has pictures of galaxy in fremont cali….send them to my email@dicewolfgang77@gmail.com

  11. Andy Yevish

    Good stuff Kara! To answer your question about the guy in the back of the picture, I am not positive but it looks like Chris Dyer from Canada.

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