It might seem strange that so many people get excited when a team of humans toss a ball back and forth, but life is full of mysteries. What can’t be argued is that sports are one of the most celebrated activities in human society. Championships bring entire nations together. People cheer from the sidelines, paint themselves bright colors, throw barbecues at home, and (unfortunately) get into fistfights over whose team is better. If aliens were watching, who knows what they’d think.
We’ve gotten so used to games like football and golf that we’ve forgotten how weird their basic concepts are. However, there are many bizarre and frightening (and sometimes hilarious) sports that you’ve probably never heard of.
This isn’t a magic trick. While the wizardly sport was invented by J.K. Rowling for her Harry Potter novels, those broomsticks have grown wings. Evidently, Rowling did such a good job outlining gameplay mechanics that here in the Muggle world, a less magical Quidditch has become a real sport.
Muggle Quidditch was invented in 2005 by some Potterite students at Vermont’s Middlebury College, according to the Chicago Tribune. Before you write this off as some silly backyard kick-around, it’s worth mentioning that Quidditch now boasts a 16-team Major League, not including the many high school and college teams that have popped up. There are uniform field specifications and regulated equipment, and all players must keep a broom between their legs at all times.
The Quaffle is a volleyball, and the Bludgers are dodgeballs, making them a great deal less painful than the Bludgers Harry got pummeled by. Meanwhile, according to CNN, the classic golden Snitch is actually a person dressed in yellow, who tucks a tennis ball into a yellow sock, hangs it from their pants, and then has to run around to prevent Seekers from stealing said tennis ball. In short, this is a far cry from the magical and beautiful air dance you remember from the books or movies, but hey, we Muggles have limited means.
You know what’s intense? Hockey. It’s a brutal, unforgiving, fast-paced game that breaks more bones in a given week than the Punisher. You’d think team sports couldn’t get much more extreme, but one day, a gang of crazy people decided regular hockey wasn’t scary enough. So, they grabbed their sticks, threw the puck into a swimming pool, and added “running out of oxygen” to the list of potential hazards.
Meet underwater hockey, also known by the lovable name of “Octopush,” according to The Atlantic. Underwater hockey dates back to the 1950s, and there are world championships. The mechanics are broadly similar to regular hockey, where you use sticks to smack the puck into a goal. What differs is that the entire match takes place inside a swimming pool, which is at least safer than doing it at the bottom of a lake. A standard Octopush game lasts about 33 minutes, with two 15-minute halves and a three-minute break. So yeah, you better be prepared to hold your breath for long chunks of time if you want to win.
Perhaps due to the extreme nature of the sport, underwater hockey teams are said to be kind and welcoming to new players. Newbies are given neon orange sticks, so other players know to be nicer to them … to start, at least.
Who doesn’t love a good, tasty block of cheese? But would you be willing to race down a giant hill for an 8-pound wheel of it — especially if hundreds (or thousands) of other people were chasing it alongside you?
This British sport is called “cheese rolling,” and according to the BBC, this legacy of dairy-chasing madness dates back to at least the 19th century. The competition involves thousands of participants pursuing wheels of double Gloucester cheese 200 yards down a pretty steep hill. If you’re wondering whether more than three people do this, well, back in 2009, the event had to be cancelled due to a ridiculous turnout of 15,000 people. For those of you who can only envision injuries and hospital visits, CNN says broken bones and twisted ankles are just part of the tradition. Unfortunately for the purists, the traditional cheese wheel was replaced with a foam wheel in 2013. Though the sport is described as extremely British, there have been notable victories by Japanese, American, and Australian participants as well because the love of cheese knows no boundaries.
Sure, the first time you see people playing soccer while riding bicycles, it looks awfully strange. But on the other hand, baseball probably looked ridiculous the first time people saw it, and now, it’s a national pastime. What makes cycleball great is that it doesn’t require any special equipment that the average sports fan doesn’t already have: to make a game work, all that’s needed is one bicycle per player (pros modify theirs a little, but you can make it work), a net, and a ball that’s sturdy enough to get the crap kicked out of it. The rules are pretty similar to soccer, so it’s not a steep learning curve.
Though cycleball might sound like something a bunch of teenagers made up for a silly YouTube video, Wired explains that it actually has a long history. Europeans have enjoyed cycleball since the late nineteenth century, though it has traditionally been known as “radball.”
Take note that if you want to take your cycleball game to the next level, you should modify your bike. Official radball bikes have their handlebars positioned straight up, and the bikes are locked into fixed gear so players can ride backwards without skipping a beat.
Giant pumpkin kayaking
It’s the Great Pumpkin(s), Charlie Brown! If you thought pumpkins were only useful for Jack O’Lanterns and pumpkin pie, well, you’re in for a big surprise. According to Time, some 800-pound monsters can be carved out and used as “kayaks.” Though the shape is a bit weird, people all over the world have manned their mighty orange vessels in daring races to see who can paddle their pumpkin the fastest. According to National Geographic, people have steered their pumpkin kayaks as far as 26 miles, an exhausting 14-hour journey that’s no laughing matter … even if the boat itself is.
The biggest joy of giant pumpkin kayaking is that it’s truly a DIY affair, where people grow their own pumpkins, hollow them out, and then plop them in the water for local seasonal events. No motors or modifications are allowed: the pumpkin must sink or float on its own orange skin, with just you and a paddle to keep it going.
Pumpkin kayaking regattas take place all over the world, including in Nova Scotia, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. So wherever you live, watch for the leaves to change colors, and then look out! There might a giant pumpkin paddling your way.
We do thumb wars in elementary school, then we graduate to arm wrestling. All of this is pretty silly, but why would anyone presume that the body part championships have to end there? While nose wars haven’t yet become a thing (that we know of), there are some circles where “toe wrestling” is considered a serious sport. And yes, there’s a World Toe Wrestling Championship. It takes place in Derbyshire, England, and according to Reuters, England always wins.
Competitors get their feet rubbed before a match, in order to loosen up and relax their foot muscles. When the game is on, toe-fighters lock big toes and see who can pin the other person’s foot down. Though men and women both compete, battles between the sexes are not allowed.
The annual tradition was kicked off by a pub landlord in 1976, so it’s got a few decades of history behind it. One can only guess how long the trail of broken toes is. Just ask Alan “Nasty” Nash, the 2017 World Champion. According to CBC, Nash claims to have once broken four toes in the semi-finals and still battle on to win the finals. Now there’s a guy who can stand on his own two feet.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, is a fascinating guy with some breathtaking hobbies. When he’s not working on a hyperloop train, planning to send humans to Mars, or developing self-driving cars, Musk gets his kicks by participating in an extreme sport called “wing walking,” as seen on his Instagram.
No, “wing walking” isn’t a metaphor, and it doesn’t involve pterodactyls. It’s exactly what it sounds like: to go wing walking, all you have to do is ride an airplane into the sky, hop out, and walk across the wings. No problem, right? Then you just … wait, where did everybody go?
According to The Guardian, the roots of wing walking stretch all the way back to the 1920s United States, where it grew out of the “barnstorming” tradition. Keep in mind, airplanes had only been around a few decades at that point. Clearly, as soon as mankind touched the sky, we had to keep doing insane things. Today, there are about 50 professional wing walkers in the world (not counting hobbyists like Elon Musk), and these pros are capable of doing everything from rolls to handstands as they soar through the sky.
No, sorry. No matter how thrilling that new Netflix series might be or how fast your heart pounds when you’re playing a first-person shooter, you don’t get to consider sitting down a sport. Spending hours of the day plopped in a chair without any form of stretching or lifting, is terrible for you. But if you’re intent on finding a way to transform sitting into an athletic activity, then this might be the sport for you.
This is the art of “hockern,” also known as extreme sitting. While the English name sounds like dumb college humor, hockern devotees take their sport quite seriously. Rather than using office chairs or beanbags, extreme sitting involves a specialized stool called a “sporthocker,” which according to The Australian, was created by the dynamic German duo of Stephen and Michael Landshutz. According to Wired, the key to being a successful hocker is to do a lot of cool, crazy tricks with the sporthocker, and then finish it off by successfully planting your butt on the stool. So the “extreme sitting” is what you do in the end, not the beginning. Got it?
Anyhow, hockern has reportedly become a trend in its German homeland, with contests held across the country. In 2011, the sports industry trade show ISPO said that the popular stool had become “more than just a product. It is a movement, a trend, a new sport.” We’ll see!
Riding a board down the sidewalk? Sure. Surfing one on the waves? OK! Riding it down a snowy mountain? Sounds cool, and people love it. However, if you want to get the most out of a vacation in Nicaragua, the best way is to strap a board to your feet, and then surf down the side of an active volcano, stirring up volcanic dust at almost 60 mph.
According to the Independent, volcano boarding is an old sport in Nicaragua, where locals used to race down the hot black slopes on anything from a surfboard to a dusty old mattress. These days, volcano boarding is a little more refined, thanks to custom-built boards and protective jumpsuits. Though volcano boarding can get incredibly dangerous (no kidding), fans are mesmerized by every aspect of the whole thing. The adrenaline rush, the distinct smell of the sulfur, and the sight of lava boiling in the volcano’s crater is an experience like no other.
Besides, when it comes to bragging rights, it’s really hard to top, “Hey guys, I boarded down an active volcano!” That’s a party story that no one will ever beat.
Mixed martial arts, better known as MMA fighting, can be brutal. That’s kind of the point. However, no matter how bloody an MMA fight might get, what makes it a real sport is the existence of rules, regulations, judges, and the fact that the gloves of the competitors aren’t mini Tasers. If you want that, check out “shockfighting,” MMA’s mega-ultra-extreme nephew.
Shockfighting doesn’t seem like a very official sport, but it’s wacky enough to talk about. It is to MMA what the forgotten/reworked character of “Buzz Bunny” was supposed to be to Bugs Bunny, though we’ll see if it lasts any longer than Buzz did. Given that shockfighting involves people violently zapping each other, the odds don’t look great. Electricity punches are fine for Marvel villains, but in real life, the results can be horrifying.
For what it’s worth, MixedMartialArts.com doesn’t approve, calling it “trash MMA.” Others have referred to shockfighting as “the craziest, most barbaric sport man has ever created.” That might be going a bit far, considering that ancient Romans used to cheer at actual deathmatches. Still, shockfighting is pretty scary.
Some men complain about getting their wives off their backs — but not in this sport. Originating in Sonkajarvi, Finland, wife carrying is a sport in which male competitors race to carry their wives through an obstacle course.
At the annual North American Wife Carrying Championship, winners receive the traditional prize of the wife’s weight in beer, five times her weight in cash and an entry into the World Championship in Finland.
Native to Southeast Asia, sepak takraw is similar to what we know as volleyball. The catch? Players can pass around the ball using anything but their arms, and the game is played with a ball of dried palm leaves.
Chess boxing is exactly what it sounds like — a hybrid of knocking out and checkmating opponents. The battle consists of 11 rounds in which competitors alternate between playing traditional chess and boxing.