Obscure Sports take fun to a new level


Photo credit: Gracen Hoyle

illustration by Gracen Hoyle

We all know about the major sports like soccer, football, baseball, volleyball, etc. Fortunately, humans have the wonderful capacity to make pretty much anything a competition and throw the word sport in there. Here are four sports you’ve probably never heard of but wish you did.

1. Wife Carrying

Wife carrying originated in Finland, and there are various stories about how the sport came about. Most revolve around “Ronkainen the Robber” and how he and his thieves would steal food and women from villages and carry them off. The first modern Wife Carrying event started in 1992, and now Finland hosts the Wife Carrying World Championships every year. In 1999, a North American Wife Carrying Championship was started in Maine.

As the name suggests, this is a competition in which people race over a course while carrying another human. The couple does not have to be married legally. The course is 278 yards and has two land obstacles and one water obstacle. The North American Championship typically has an elevation change, but the World’s course is flat. Competitors must cross the finish line with the “wife” still hanging on. If the “wife” is dropped, the team will get penalized by having five seconds added to their total time.

There is no regulation on how the “wife” must be carried. The three most common methods are the piggyback, Fireman (over the shoulder), and the most popular way is “Estonian Carry.” This method is where the “wife” hangs upside down while hanging onto carriers’ waist while their legs are around the carrier’s shoulders.

2. Gloucester Cheese Rolling

The annual Cooper’s Hill Cheese Roll occurs in Brockworth, England. The origins of cheese rolling aren’t known, but it is thought to have begun in the early 1800s. The competition consists of athletes chasing an eight-pound roll of Gloucester cheese down a very steep hill. The idea is to catch the cheese, but this is actually impossible because the cheese gets a head-start, and Cooper’s Hill has a gradient of 50% and can be nearly vertical in some places so that the cheese can reach speeds up to 70 miles per hour. Due to this, the winner is whoever reaches the bottom of the hill first, and their prize is the eight-pound roll of cheese.

The term “chasing” is typically used to describe the event. However, it is more accurate to say that the competitors launch themselves down Cooper’s hill and can easily sustain serious injuries. There have been years that the competition was canceled due to health and safety concerns.

3. Extreme Ironing

Extreme ironing has a much younger history than wife-carrying or cheese rolling. It was invented in Leicester, England, in 1997, when Phil Shaw brought his ironing board outside in the garden. From there, the sport has gained a lot of popularity, and in 2002, the first Extreme Ironing Championship was held. Later, in 2003, the documentary Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory brought international attention to the sport.

As one might guess, extreme ironing is about the paradoxical yet thrilling combination of an extreme activity, like bungee jumping, water skiing, or jumping out of a plane, with a crisp, well-pressed shirt.

Extreme ironing takes ironing to its very limits and pushes the imagination. Words truly don’t do it enough justice.

4. Toe Wrestling

Toe Wrestling, stemming from the more familiar and childhood past-time thumb wrestling, arose in 1974 when friends were drinking at a bar in the UK. They complained about how the UK never won championships in anything, which their sharp minds deemed a solvable problem: all they needed to do was create a new sport. Toe wrestling it was.

In terms of rules, it is more like arm wrestling. Each competitor locks their toes together, and the goal is to pin their opponent’s foot against the upright board to either side. They play best of out three rounds and must alternate their feet (right, left, right) each round. The sport is intense, and it is not uncommon to have broken toes or sprained ankles. One man, Alan “Nasty” Nash, has held the World Champion title for 12 years in a row. He dresses in a strong man costume and attempts to scare and injure his opponents.

If you find yourself with extra time soon, don’t hesitate to try one of these obscure sports. You just might find a new passion.