Tired of baseball, basketball, and football? Your worries are over—we’ve found some unusual alternatives for you. (This article was first published in Uncle John’s Fast-Acting, Long-Lasting Bathroom Reader.)
HUMAN TOWER BUILDING
Where They Do It: Barcelona, Spain, during the Festa de la Merce each September
How It’s Played: Large groups climb one another to form human towers as tall as nine people high. Then, when they’ve stacked themselves as high as they can, a small child climbs all the way to the top to make it just a little bit taller. According to one account, “horrific collapses are common and many participants have ended up in the hospital.”
MAN VERSUS HORSE MARATHON
Where They Do It: Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales (the same village that invented “bog snorkeling”).
How It’s Played: Just like it sounds: people and horses run a cross-country race, on the theory that given enough distance over twisting, uneven terrain, a man can run as fast as a horse. The 21.7-mile race (real marathons are 26.22 miles), which has been run each June for more than 25 years, grew out of a bar bet. Who won the bet? The guy who bet on the horses…at least until 2004, when a man named Huw Lobb beat 40 horses and 500 other runners to win first prize. (His time: 2 hours, 5 minutes, 19 seconds.)
REAL ALE WOBBLE
Where They Do It: Would you believe Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales?
How It’s Played: It’s a grueling 35-mile mountain bike race in the rugged terrain around Llanwrtyd Wells, with three checkpoint/watering stations along the route. The only difference between this race and a regular bike race is that the checkpoints put out cups of beer for the riders instead of water. (Bikers may consume no more than 1-1/2 quarts of beer during the race, and if you’re under 18 you need a parent’s permission to enter.) “Beer gets down to the parts that you don’t get down to with water,” says race organizer Gordon Green. “It fortifies the cyclists.”
FATHER CHRISTMAS OLYMPICS
Where They Do It: In Gallivare, Sweden, 60 miles north of the Arctic Circle. (Not to be confused with the Santa Olympics held in—you guessed it—Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales.)
How It’s Played: Fifty or more contestants dressed as Father Christmas come from all over Europe to compete in several different Santa-related categories, including sled riding, reindeer riding, chimney climbing, and gift wrapping (with points for speed and beauty). Contestants are also rated on generosity, jolliness, and their ability to Ho-Ho-Ho. Any Santa caught smoking or drinking in front of children is automatically disqualified.
Where They Do It: All over the United States
How It’s Played: Teams of six players wearing fins, masks, snorkels, gloves, and helmets use 12-inch-long hockey sticks to push a puck across the bottom of a swimming pool. Most players can stay under water for about 20 seconds before they have to surface to breathe. The secret to winning is timing your snorkeling with your teammates so that you don’t all swim to the surface at once, leaving the playing field wide open to the opposing team. Twenty-one teams competed in the 2005 U.S. Nationals in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
Where They Do It: At the Bug Bowl festival, held every April at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana
How It’s Played: Thousands of contestants compete to see who can spit a dead, intact cricket the farthest. If the cricket loses its legs, wings, or antennae, the spit doesn’t count. The world champion is Dan Capps, a mechanic at a meatpacking factory, who spit his cricket 32 feet in 1998. “It’s just a matter of blowing hard,” he says. “Crickets aren’t very aerodynamic.”