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Whipcrackers from Traunstein, Bavaria

Whipcracking is the act of producing a cracking sound through the use of a whip. Originating during mustering and horse driving/riding, it has become an art of its own. A rhythmic whipcracking belongs to the traditional culture among various Germanic peoples of Bavaria (Goaßlschnalzen), various Alpine areas (Aperschnalzen), Austria, and Hungary (Ostorozás). Today it is a performing art, a part of rodeo show in United States, a competitive sport in Australia and increasingly popular in the United Kingdom, where it crosses boundaries of sport, hobby and performance.


A whip cracked

The crack a whip makes is produced when a section of the whip moves faster than the speed of sound creating a small sonic boom. The creation of the sonic boom was confirmed by high-speed shadow photography in 1927.[1]

There are at least three "modes of motion" that can produce the necessary speed in a whip to cause it to crack. The three are: a half wave, a full wave and a loop. These names are indicative of the shape of the bends in the whip as it is thrown. In all three, the initial motion is applied to the handle, and the resultant shape moves down the whip's body to the tip. The high speed of the tip is explained by the law of the conservation of momentum. Since momentum is a vector, it has a direction, and does not pass through any bend that reverses the direction of movement in the body of the whip − such as the one that occurs when a half wave shape moves down a whip.

When a whip is thrown, the initial motion of the handle adds some amount of kinetic energy to the body of the whip. If the whip is going to crack, the handle movement must also produce one of the modes of motion that create a reversal of direction in the whip's movement. As the reversal of direction moves down the whip, the momentum and the kinetic energy in the whip, are concentrated in the segment of the whip between the tip and the moving bend. As the bend approaches the tip, the mass of the moving part approaches zero while the energy remains relatively constant. Since the momentum is the product of the mass and speed of the moving object, the smaller the mass, the higher the speed. Hence the end of the whip moves extremely fast, easily reaching the speed of sound.

Many published popular science explanations capitalize on the fact that the general shape of a whip is tapered: thick at the handle and very narrow at the tip, hence the decrease of the mass. While tapering does contribute the decreasing mass, it is not a deciding factor. Even "flat" un-tapered whips will crack. The actual decrease of the mass of the moving part occurs simply because the whip ends: the closer the moving bend is to the tip, the less mass is in the part that's moving in the given direction.

Shows and competitions[edit]


Goaßlschnalzen, Goaßlschnalzn, Goasslschnoizen is translated as "whip-cracking", from the Bavarian word Goaßl (German: Geißel) for coachwhip. In earlier centuries, the carriage drivers used elaborate crack sequences to signal their approach and to identify them. Over time horse-drawn transport dwindled, but the tradition remained, and coaches practiced their skill in their spare time.

Today the Goaßlschnalzer ("whipsnappers") do concert performances, often as bands that include conventional musical instruments. Whipsnapping is also a traditional sport in Bavaria. There are many whip-cracking associations in Bavaria.


Aperschnalzen or Apaschnoizn in Bavarian is an old tradition of competitive whipcracking revived in the first half of the 20th century. The word "aper" means "area free of snow", and it has been thought that this tradition had a pagan meaning of "driving the winter away" by whipcracking.

British Whipcracking Convention[edit]

The British Whipcracking Convention is a place for all who are interested in whip cracking. This ranges from complete novices who have never picked up a whip, through intermediate skills to expert skill sharing. There are workshops for the differing skill levels as well as competitions and targets. The third convention was held in Aldersley Leisure Village, Aldersley Road, Wolverhampton on 14 July 2007.

Australian sport[edit]

In the latter half of the 20th century, attempts to preserve traditional crafts, along with a resurgence of interest in Western performance arts and the release of films such as Raiders of the Lost Ark (in which the hero, Indiana Jones, uses a bullwhip as a tool), led to an increased interest in whipcracking as a hobby and performance art, as well as a competitive sport. Whip cracking competitions have become especially popular in Australia. They focus on the completion of complex, multiple-cracking routines and precise target work. Various whips, apart from bullwhips, are used in such competitions. The most common whip used in Australian competitions is an Australian stockwhip, a whip unique to Australia.

  • Target routines
    • target cutting
    • object wrapping
    • object moving/manipulation
  • Cracking routines
    • Cracking patterns
    • Cracking with two whips

In cracking routines, the judging criteria are the presentation and making audible cracks in prescribed moments.

In 1986 an Australian whip-cracker Gary Brophy managed to crack a giant whip for the Guinness Book of Records. the whip measured a staggering 42m (140ft) in length. Gary and his family now tour the world performing their wild west act in circuses and rodeos.

See also[edit]



External links[edit]