Even if Janet Jackson tries to spice it up a little, you've eventually got to get bored with watching two teams of grown men carrying and tossing an inflated oblong object for a few yards, then huddling and deciding how they will move a few more yards on their next play. It's always the same routine over and over again for nearly three hours... how droll, right?
So what if we break out of the tedium and check out something new? Maybe you'd like to watch a little buzkashi or perhaps even do some zorbing or extreme ironing yourself? Then tell your pilot to fire up the jet and let's explore the world of bizarre sports together.
Sadly we missed one great event held here in the good ol' USA: the annual Outhouse Classic in Trenary, Michigan, which occurs the last Saturday in February. The idea is that teams build an outhouse, make sure it has a toilet seat and toilet paper inside, put it on skis, and push it 500 feet down Trenary's main street. Prizes are awarded in a number of categories including fastest times, most humorous design, and best overall appearance. This year one outhouse was designed to look like a tank - no not a septic tank - the military kind with a gun turret. There must be a joke there somewhere.
We also just missed the Onbashira festival in Suwa, Japan which occurs only once every six years. Defining it as a sport might be questionable, since the purpose is religious in nature. 'Onbashira' means 'sacred pillar' and the festival revolves around cutting down sacred trees and towing them to a local shrine where they are then ceremoniously raised. But at one point along the route, the trees are positioned at the top of a long embankment, a number of men straddle the logs like motorcycles, and down the hill they go. Spectators come from all over the world to see the carnage - yes there have been numerous deaths - that ensues. How invigorating.
And it's not certain whether we will make our first stop in Gloucester, UK or not... The annual Cheese Rolling Competition is tentatively slated for May 31st, but they're having a little trouble with their insurer over health and safety concerns. As of now their website has not indicated whether the event will 'roll' forward or not, but let's hope for the best. At any rate, the shape of a seven pound Glouchester double cheese is round, like a wheel, and rolls easily down Cooper's Hill, which is verdantly green and precipitously steep. On the other hand, the shape of a human is, well, significantly less appropriate for the same task. But each year several hundred men and women with a death wish still try to catch up with a seven pounder, necessarily tumbling head over heels repeatedly when their feet can't keep up with gravity. Every year there are countless injuries to the players. But that is not the reason for the insurance concerns; the problem is rather that the event has become too popular and last year's crowd was more than three times the venue's reasonable capacity. Why do so many people risk life and limb on a sport which is virtually guaranteed to result in some amount of bodily harm? Easy... the prize for winning is a battered, grass-stained seven pound hunk of cheese.
On June 12th we can stop by the quaint hamlet of Llanwrtyd Wells in Wales, UK for the annual Man vs. Horse Marathon, which promises to be exciting. Over a stunning and challenging 22 mile course of forests, hills and moorlands, relay teams of stout men square off against acluster of equally stalwart horses to establish which species is hardier. Each year that a horse wins, the prize money is held back and the pot grows until a human claims it, and from the event's inception in 1980 until 2005, the horses consistently won. Finally the accumulated fund inspired a man named Huw Lobb to train relentlessly for the contest and his efforts paid off. He achieved a time of 2 hours and 5 minutes, besting the fastest horse by close to a furlong.
Next it's on to the scenic steppes of Afghanistan for turfside seats at one of the summer's stylish buzkashi games. You'll probably compare it to polo but without the mallets or the ball. Instead teams of men on horseback grab the headless and disemboweled carcass of a calf or goat and fend off the other players until they can round a flag at one end and throw the dead animal into a circular target. Almost anything goes in efforts to steal the calf, including whipping and kicking with hard boots. And the best part of all is that a tournament can go on for days, so you're sure to get your money's worth of violent excitement and appetizing odors.
Speaking of smells, our next jaunt will be back to Llanwrtyd in August for the unique sport of mountain bike bog snorkeling. Why this sleepy little village hosts two of the world's most unusual sports is baffling, but they could hardly be more different. Instead of majestic landscapes in one of Britain's last remaining wildernesses, spectators and competitors gather at murky and odiferous Waen Rhydd Bog. The competitors don weighted backpacks, masks and snorkels and climb onto mountain bikes that have been weighted down with lead, then pedal into six feet of dark smelly ooze. The contestants can't see a thing in the thick black mud and except for the snorkel, neither can the spectators. They just watch the snorkel wend its way down the 60 yard track, then back to the start. The rider with the fastest time wins.
By this time I'm sure you're craving a more fastidious pastime, so we'll fly down to Melbourne Australia for some extreme ironing. This sport is still somewhat in its infancy and has taken quite a number of forms, including ironing half way up the face of El Capitan, ironing while base-jumping from a high bridge, and this version, ironing under water. The only real requirements are that your iron is a 'real' one made entirely of metal (you have enough to worry about without trying to manage an extension cord), your ironing board is at least 30 centimeters wide and has legs, and your wrinkled garment is larger than a hand towel. After a round of this one you'll feel the urge to fire your maid, I'm sure.
I know you must be running out of energy for all this wild excitement, but hold on for just one more because we've saved one of the best for last. Since we're already 'down under', it's just a short hop to New Zealand, the world capital of zorbing, the sport of riding in an inflated globe. Imagine first one clear plastic sphere about the diameter of a human's height inside another larger clear plastic sphere with a radiating pattern of inflated columns holding the two orbs in place. Then picture an opening that you squeeze through to get inside, leaving you with the feeling that you are in a padded bubble. Some have described it as being like retreating into a translucent womb, but I suppose their mothers were Olympic gymnasts who liked doing summersaults and cartwheels while visibly pregnant... Anyway, you can zorb across an open meadow, down an embankment, or even walking on water, you decide. Regardless which venue you choose, count on feeling it in your abdominal muscles when you emerge.
Well that's our tour for this season. Hope you had a wonderful time and that you still have enough fuel to get home. Next time we'll discover the thrills of joggling in Boston, running with the bulls in Pamplona, water-bombing in Sheffield, and the amazing athleticism of Sepak Takraw in Southeast Asia, among others. Perhaps one of the most bizarre things about bizarre sports is how many of them there are. In a way you might say bizarre sports are commonplace. But boring? NEVER!