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10 Strangest Sports You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Sporting transcends cultures. While not every society appreciates or condones every physical competition out there, all of them favor at least one or two of the hundreds out there. And they should! After all, they occupy the mind and keep the body healthy all at the same time. Even the outward barbarism of American rules football requires a hefty amount of strategy. But with so many creative minds about the world, some unfamiliar (perhaps "strange" when cultural relativism comes into play) and largely unorthodox sports emerge. Many, many more beyond these exist, of course, but the following is merely a sample of some of the most fascinating.

  1. Shin Kicking: Every year in Gloucestershire, England, crowds gather to drink in the wonders of the World Shin-Kicking Championship. Shin-kicking involves exactly what one expects. Participants shove straw in their pant legs, lock arms and kick at each other until one falls down — though some don’t opt for any padding whatsoever! Workboots, most especially the steel-toed variety, make for the most popular and effective weapons of choice. Competitions usually involve three rounds, with the victor claiming at least two of them. Surprisingly enough, the game has actually grown much safer over time. In the 19th Century, Welsh players would drive nails through their shoes and just start inflicting flesh wounds all over the place.

  2. Wife Carrying: Much like shin-kicking, the sport of wife carrying succinctly sums up the entire premise in its name alone. It began as a joke in Finland before branching out to other regions, such as Latvia. Each team is comprised of one man and one woman (who must be over both 110 pounds and the age of 17, but not necessarily a wife), who must maneuver a 253.5-meter obstacle course with the latter’s legs flung over the former’s shoulders. The specifics of each trek vary from competition to competition and country to country, but the official rules dictate two dry and one wet challenges, with the latter involving a depth of one meter at most. Fortunately, the women are very much advised to wear helmets throughout the ordeal.

  3. Toe-Wrestling: Most people probably declared a thumb war or two in elementary school, but its podiatric equivalent has its own annual world competition. Played mostly in the UK, toe-wrestling as a very real adult, competitive sport stemmed directly from the common childhood pastime. A World Toe-Wrestling Organisation supposedly exists (or once existed), but unfortunately does not appear to have a website of its own. BBC quipped that they launched a sadly unsuccessful bid at Olympic status, so the truly gifted must only compete for glory at the World Toe Wrestling Championship. Locations and the charities sponsored by ticket sales apparently vary from year to year, but the first took place in Staffordshire back in the 1970s.

  4. Cheese Rolling: Gloucestershire boasts a fair amount of unusual, obviously-titled sporting events, but only Cooper Hill sees the most undeniably delicious one of them all! Featured on ESPN, BBC and more, contestants elect to participate in either an uphill or a downhill race, pick up a 7 to 8 pound wheel of Double Gloucestershire and subsequently send it rolling down the embankment. After a time, they hurl themselves after their cheeses, with the winner being the first to reach the bottom. Organizers claim the sport dates all the way back to the ancient Phoenicians, Romans or Britons, and Cooper’s Hill hosted competitions at least a good deal of time before the early 19th Century. Because of the wartime rationing, between 1941 and 1954 the citizenry used wooden wheels, but beyond that cheese rolling remains an unbreakable Gloucestershire tradition in which the populace understandably takes much pride.

  5. EXTREME IRONING: With a name like "EXTREME IRONING," this sport could only be more ’90s if it wore hypercolor t-shirts, ate Dunk-a-Roos and was illustrated by Rob Liefeld. Launched in (of course) 1997, practitioners take crumpled clothing, an iron and an ironing board out on dangerous expeditions. Mountain climbing, kayaking, skiing, snowboarding and other common high-energy activities get a shot of domesticity when EXTREME IRONERS accept this dangerous challenge. Because of this high degree of flexibility, there are few solid rules and limitations. No official competitions exist just yet, either, though the EXTREME IRONING Board keeps photo galleries, forums and other conduits for enthusiasts to bond over their totally radical hobby. Maybe someday a definitive contest will emerge from this community.

  6. Chess Boxing: The ancient, cerebral game of chess gets a literal punch-up (yuk yuk yuk) courtesy of the World Chess Boxing Organization. With three to four championship tournaments a year, competitors have plenty of chances to flaunt their mental and physical muscles. Anyone hoping to participate must display a flair for both challenges, with at least 20 boxing matches under their belt and an ELO rating of 1800 or higher. When competition time rolls around, challengers alternate between five three-minute rounds of boxing and six four-minute long rounds of chess, though checkmates and K.O.s can end the maximum eleven rounds early. Hopeful chess boxers should certainly try to play black whenever possible — in the event of a tie, they are considered the default winners.

  7. Warrior Dash: England’s former American colony is no stranger to bizarre sports, either. Taking a cue from the first Europeans to settle the continent, Warrior Dashers dress up as Vikings (or Vikings as filtered through pop culture) and engage in epic feats of strength different from event to event. The race travels all over the United States and pits the costume-clad competitors against some grueling obstacle courses — but they claim the tests require more mental than physical endurance (though the latter never hurts). All of them, though, do involve copious amounts of glorious mud, live music and beer. Spectatorship is encouraged as well, so anybody blasphemously (or understandably, given certain circumstances) not wanting to get their Viking on may still drink in the glorious revelry.

  8. Bun Tower Climbing: Every year, the citizens of Cheung Chau (a small island off the coast of Hong Kong) gather at the Pak Tai Temple playground for the beloved Bun Carnival and Climbing Carnival. Bun tower climbing competitions comprise one of the major highlights, with individuals or teams skittering up towers overflowing with the delicious steamed delights and the swiftest considered the victor. One variation, known as the Bun Scramble, involves seeing who scuttles down to the ground carrying the most treats on his or her person. Though Chinese-style steamed buns are so tantalizingly tasty, this is one of those situations where even the losers come out winners. Seriously. Go try one right now, especially if it has a barbecued pork or red bean filling.

  9. Buzkashi: Afghanistan’s national sport and beloved pastime certainly qualifies as a major example of cultural relativism and dissonance. It qualifies as "strange" only in that it seems as such from the outside looking in rather than a fun, unorthodox and self-aware sporting subculture. Afghans take this ancient sport, which historians believe dates back to the Turkic-Mongol peoples, as seriously as Americans take their flavor of football. Buzkashi players recognize two very different styles of game play, Tudabarai and Quarajai, but both require horses and the movement of a headless goat or calf corpse. The variations lay largely in field layouts and scoring, with the latter accomplished by completing specific feats with the corpse — and all on horseback, to boot.

  10. Bog Snorkeling: Ah, the United Kingdom! Without it, lists such as these would likely not exist (neither would Monty Python, for that matter, and a world without Monty Python is a cloudy and dreadful world indeed). Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales boasts the epic honor of launching the trend in 1976, and it later spread to other boggy areas. Because of this, the annual World Bog Snorkeling has been held here every year since 1985, each one sponsoring a different charitable organization. Competitors, clad in snorkels and flippers, must endure a 60-yard trench cut through treacherous, putrid peat without using any swimming strokes. That’s right. They go about it using nothing but the power of their mighty, mighty feet.

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