Sports bring out the very best and the very worst of humanity. People become obsessed with a sport that’s important to them, while simultaneously looking down on athletic events that others enjoy. Americans might view rugby or cricket as “weird,” basketball fans might say soccer is “boring,” and Europeans might call American football “barbaric.” It’s true that we should try to avoid disparaging other peoples’ interests just because they’re different from our own. It’s also true, however, that some sports are objectively weird. Here’s a sampling of 11 weird sports from around the world — some of which sound like fun and others like obscure forms of torture.
Weird Sports From Around The World
1. Extreme Ironing
What do you get when you combine wrinkle-free clothing with an extreme sport, like mountain climbing, canoeing or skydiving? A very strange competition. Extreme ironing is thought to have originated in England in the 1980 or 90s (there are competing claims for its invention), but the domestic sport soon went global. The first Extreme Ironing World Championships were held in Germany in 2002. Since then, competitors have ironed clothing on Mount Everest, underwater, and in the middle of a U.K. highway, among other extreme locations.
2. Gaffelhangen (“Pitchfork Hang”)
This sport from the Netherlands is a test of strength and endurance. As its name suggests, gaffelhangen (from the Dutch words gaffel meaning “pitchfork” and hangen meaning “to hang”) simply involves hanging on a pitchfork longer than your opponent. Apparently, it’s played in the southernmost Limburg province of the country. This isn’t all that different than American kids hanging from pull-up bars or door frames, but the pitchforks make it a bit odd.
3. Ostrich Racing
Horse racing is a common sport in many parts of the world. Ostrich racing? Not so much. These large, flightless birds, which are native to Africa, can run up to 43 mph, making them the fastest birds on land. Much like in horse racing, a jockey puts a saddle and reins on an ostrich and rides it around a track. The sport may have originated in South Africa, though some say it goes all the way back to ancient Egypt. Today, ostrich races are held in South Africa and parts of the American South, West and Midwest.
4. Cheese Rolling
What would you do for a wheel of cheese? If the answer is roll down a grassy hill, then this may be one of the weird sports to add to your bucket list. Cheese rolling, which likely dates back to the 15th century, is a competition unique to Gloucester, England. A round of Double Gloucester cheese is rolled down a hill, and competitors roll down after it. The first person to cross the finish line at the bottom wins the cheese.
This contact sport — a mix between tag and wrestling, while holding your breath — is popular across South Asia and was invented in ancient India. The game consists of two teams, who take turns crossing onto their opponents’ side of the court and touching as many of the opposing players as possible before taking a breath or being wrestled to the ground. There are several regional variations of Kabaddi, both within India and in nearby countries, some of which have entirely different names. The name Kabaddi comes from the Tamil words kai pidi, meaning “hold hands.”
6. Hot Dog Eating Contest
If you’re from the United States, you’re probably familiar with hot dog eating contests, and particularly Nathan’s Famous International Hot Dog Eating Contest, which takes place annually on July 4 at New York’s Coney Island. For those who are unfamiliar, competitors eat as many hot dogs and buns as they possibly can in 10 minutes, often dipping them in liquid to make them go down quicker. In 2021, Joey Chestnut won the competition for the 14th time, eating 76 hot dogs and buns and beating his own world record of 75.
7. Underwater Hockey
Hockey is a beloved game that requires an incredible amount of skill. Now, imagine it taking place underwater. Underwater hockey is played in a swimming pool, and each player wears fins, a diving mask and snorkel, and a thick glove to protect their hand. Players move the weighted puck with a short, one-handed stick and try to get it into a metal goal tray that sits on the bottom of each end of the pool. The British Navy invented the sport in the 1950s to keep their divers agile underwater, but now it’s played around the world.
8. Haka Pei
The only Latin American sport on our list, Haka Pei is a dangerous race indigenous to Chile’s Easter Island. Young people, usually under the age of 20 and wearing only a loincloth, race down the side of a volcano in a sled made from two banana tree trunks. Participants often reach speeds of nearly 50 mph as they careen down the steep hill, which can sometimes lead to serious injuries. The winner is the sledder who manages to travel the farthest distance from the launch point. Haka Pei dates back to ancient times, when it served as a test of the youth to see if they were mature and courageous enough for adulthood. Today, the race takes place during the Tapati Rapa Nui festival in early February.
9. Dog Surfing
This one has to go on the list of weird sports, but it also belongs on the list of cute sports. Dog surfing is just what it sounds like: adorable pups on boards riding the waves. The activity itself is believed to go back at least as far as the 1920s in California and Hawaii, but dog surfing as a competition didn’t begin until 2006. The World Dog Surfing Championships are held annually in the San Francisco Bay Area. Participating pooches are grouped according to size and whether they’re solo surfers, tandem dogs (two dogs on a board), or tandem human/dog (a human and a dog on a board).
10. Oil Wrestling
The final two entries on our list take “contact sport” to a whole new level. When it comes to oil wrestling, “weird” isn’t the right word to use. It’s Turkey’s national sport, and there’s an annual oil wrestling festival that’s been held there since 1346 (the sport itself dates back to 1065 BCE). Compared even to other forms of wrestling, though, oil wrestling stands out. Participants wear only a pair of heavy leather pants called a kıspet and are doused in slippery olive oil, before wrestling until one person’s belly button faces the sky, which makes him the loser. One technique used in the sport is for wrestlers to put their hand down their opponent’s kıspet to try to get control of their body.
11. Ferret Legging
Calling a sport “weird” is, of course, subjective, but this has got to be one of the weirdest sports in the world. Ferret legging, which originated in the United Kingdom, involves contestants tying their pants legs at the bottom, dropping two ferrets down their pants from the top, and then tightening their belts so the ferrets can’t get out. Whichever contestant lasts the longest wins. Some other fun rules: no underwear is allowed, participants must be sober, the ferrets cannot have their teeth filed, and men likely to have kids have to get written permission to participate from their significant other. The record for the sport stands at five hours and 30 minutes, set by a 67-year-old retired teacher in 2010. If ferret legging sounds like animal abuse to you, you’re not alone. Both PETA and the U.K.’s National Ferret School have strongly criticized the sport.
Header photo: Sam Houston Race Park