“I just thought it was neat,” Winrich explained. “The Indiana Jones movie actually influenced a lot of people in taking up whips as a career.”
Today, Winrich is a full-time whip artist who performs at Renaissance festivals, like the Texas RenFest, where he has a regular show demonstrating whip tricks like grabbing water bottles or slicing flowers out of his assistants' mouths. But last Saturday, Winrich’s act was anything but regular, because Winrich believes he broke the Guinness World Record for “Most Whip Cracks in One Minute with Two Whips” in the middle of his show.
The record is exactly what it sounds like: The whip cracker holds a whip in each hand, snapping them back and forth in order to create that distinctive crack as many times as he or she can within 60 seconds. Winrich has actually held the record before – he broke it last year at the RenFest, after cracking two whips 568 times. But since then, an Australian took the record back by upping the ante to 614 cracks. In order to beat that number, Winrich had to crack his whips more than ten times per second.
“So that was really daunting when I first read the number, and it wasn’t until I really started training up to this attempt that I felt that was actually attainable,” Winrich said. “When I first read it, I was floored. I didn’t know that anyone was going to do that.”
By Saturday, Winrich no longer felt totally daunted. He’d actually already broken the record in his personal training for the feat, though he was nervous about now needing to do it in front of a live audience. “But I think those nerves help me crack whips a little bit faster,” he said.
Judging from video and audio recordings, Winrich thinks he cracked the whip 646 times. However, before that new record can be confirmed, he has to submit his recordings to the Guinness World Records website. Guinness officials will review them and let Winrich know within the week if he’s officially the new world record holder.
This was far from the only world record that Winrich has set. On his website, Winrich lists 12 different whip cracking achievements, from “Longest Whip Ever Cracked,” at 216 feet, to “Most Candles Extinguished with a Whip in One Minute.” (Up to 102, in case you’re wondering.) He’s also performed on Conan and at Glastonbury Festival.
When he became interested in whip cracking in 1989, Winrich started off making his own whips because there wasn't a store nearby where he could buy one. His father, a Boy Scout troop master, made Winrich his first whip out of rope. When that whip wasn’t good enough, Winrich cut up a pair of his dad’s chaps and braided up the leather, using the Boy Scout handbook as a guide. There were few resources for young whip crackers; it was years before Winrich encountered other people who wanted to whip-crack for fun.
Winrich started selling his whips as a way to make money in college, and by the end, he knew he wanted whips to be his full-time job. “I made whips for a couple years, till a Renaissance fair started near my house in Fall Creek, Wisconsin,” Winrich recalled. “And then some friends suggested I put together a show with the whip cracking and try to do a show there.”
Winrich was the first person to perform a whip-centric show at a Renaissance fair, he said, though he admits that “when you think Renaissance, you don’t automatically think whip cracking.” In the late ’70s, variety performers might sometimes include a bit of whip cracking as part of their act, he said, but no one focused his entire performance around it as Winrich does, likely because no one else was as skilled with whips. However, their acts did pave the way for Winrich’s show, because bookers were familiar with whip cracking and knew audiences enjoyed it.
Yet they may not have been familiar with one part of Winrich’s act, since Winrich said he’s also the first person to regularly do what’s called “a fire whip.” Again, it’s exactly what it sounds like: He handles a whip that’s, well, on fire. And yes, he has accidentally set his hand on fire.
“You just kind of put yourself out,” Winrich said matter-of-factly, adding, “It’s hot, but it’s not like your skin is falling off.” Since he performs the fire whip trick toward the end of the show, Winrich just waits until after his act ends to go take care of his blistering hand.
Winrich is also waiting to celebrate his (potential) record breaking. “I’ve done a lot of records so we haven’t really celebrated,” he said. “We’ll probably save the celebration for after I’ve submitted everything and Guinness has come back and made it official.”
If you happened to miss Winrich’s accomplishment, this is far from the last world record Winrich has his whip set on. He’s currently in talks, he said, to head to China to film an attempt to break “Most Soda Cans Cut in Half in A Minute.”