World's Strangest Sports

U.S. News & World Report

World's Strangest Sports

Tobacco-chewing players, hitting balls with sticks -- hurling and catching them too -- and running a little bit: baseball. Lines of players facing one another, grunting, hitting, sometimes running, throwing and catching: football. Two players wearing singlets (glorified swimsuits), sweating all over each other and pressing for the pin: wrestling.

Some might think mainstream sports are weird. And, yet, when compared to "athletics" like cheese rolling and chessboxing, conventional sports like baseball (aka America's favorite pastime), a game of pigskin and some good ole wrestling don't seem so strange.

[See a photo recap of the World's Strangest Sports]

Key Rule: Bodies can only hit bodies; bikes can only hit bikes; mallets can only hit mallets. 

Traditional polo is played on horseback with riders wearing jockey-esque uniforms and striking mallets against a small white ball. Bike polo -- either traditional or hardcourt -- is much the same, though it's played on a bicycle. Traditionally, the game takes place on a grass field with six players to a team (two of them are substitutes), but the more-popular hardcourt version is played in an urban setting (like a tennis court or street-hockey rink) with anywhere from three to five players to a team and no substitutions. Invented by Irishman Richard J. Mecredy in 1891, bike polo's popularity has spread to everywhere from Malaysia to Argentina. Now, there is even a World Hardcourt Bike Polo Championship.

Key Rule: You're supposed to stink at this sport -- in other words, no competitiveness allowed.

No lush greens, accommodating caddies, picturesque views or genteel mint julep-serving clubs will be found on the urban golf course. No, these golfers use the city streets for their course -- and many programs line up their nine holes with nine bars, so you can imagine the bedlam that ensues by the end of the round. Players usually use tennis or squash balls rather than the hard balls used by professionals like Charl Schwartzel and Tiger Woods. By the way, "holes" in urban golf are more like targets: whacking the side of a trash can with the ball or rolling the ball over a manhole cover could each be considered a "hole." As for urban golf "hazards," they come in two categories: expected and unexpected. An expected hazard would be a city building or a sewer drain, while an unexpected one would be a pooch mistaking your ball for his. This fun-loving sport is about as non-elitist as they come -- and that's kind of the idea: it's a reaction against the affluent game of golf.

Key Rule: Only people 18 years and older.

Yes, eating is a sport -- one that adds to your waistline rather than trimming it. Major League Eating, a worldwide organization that oversees competitive eating, attests to its sportiness and boasts truly impressive world records on its site. For example, Bob Shoudt tore his way through about 35 BBQ brisket sandwiches in 10 minutes. And lest you think eating is just a man's sport: Sonya Thomas consumed 8.31 pounds of Vienna sausage in just 10 minutes. Major League Eating also administers events like the Krystal Square Off and the Pizza Hut Chow-lenge. By the way, what says Independence Day like hot dogs? Every July 4, fans flood to Coney Island to watch the Nathan's Famous Fourth of July Hot Dog Eating Contest during which 20 contestants open their mouths wide, steal their stomachs and prepare to stuff and swallow a grotesque number of hot dogs with only 10 minutes on the clock. Joseph Christian "Jaws" Chestnut holds the world record by gobbling down 68 hot dogs and buns in 2009 (check it out on A word of warning: For safety reasons, Major League Eating advises, "do not try speed eating at home."

Key Rule: Intentional choking, biting, punching or kicking will result in automatic game expulsion.

Girls in skirts -- okay, like cheerleading or something? Girls in skirts wearing skates -- oh, so you mean figure skating. Girls in skirts wearing skates and beating the heck out of each other -- huh? Yeah, this is roller derby, America's contact sport for women. Dating back to the Great Depression era, roller derby is now a worldwide phenomenon, governed in the States by the Women's Flat Track Derby Association. To play, two five-player teams skate along a circuit track; they gain points when their offensive teammate, the jammer, laps a player of the opposing team. But this is a lot easier said than done, since the players try to block each other by shoving their hips, shoulders and butts into one another -- hence the need for helmets, elbow pads, wrist guards, knee pads and mouth guards. To get a visual explanation of the game, check out this video on 

Key Rule: Don't wear your good jeans.

The annual Cheese Rolling Competition is usually held in Gloucestershire every year on the spring bank holiday. But 2010's was cancelled because of safety concerns, and 2011's was called off, in part, because of spectator outrage over the recent introduction of an admission fee (in the past, thousands have watched this cheesy competition for free). The object of the game is quite simple: Competitors line up at the top of the steep-yet-picturesque Cooper's Hill. The master of ceremony rolls a round of Double Gloucester cheese down the hill, and the competitors tumble down after it. The first person to cross the finish line at the bottom of the hill wins the cheese. A word of warning: The cheese gains speed as it travels down -- sometimes up to 70 mph -- which can take out a spectator or two. Here's hoping 2012 will let the good cheeseroll! For some video of 2009's competition, check the BBC's website.

Key Rule: You must wear a lifejacket.

These days, more than 10,000 spectators come to watch the Great Pumpkin Regatta on Lake Pesaquid in Windsor, Nova Scotia. But it started out as a crazy idea in 1999 -- who knew that the concept of racing a half-mile down the lake in a giant, hollowed out pumpkin would take off? It did, and now, there are three regatta categories -- motor, experimental and paddle -- but paddling is by far the most popular race. Paddlers must hollow out and decorate their own pumpkins, which can weigh anywhere from about 500 to 1,600 pounds. And here's a word to the wise: Training is necessary. Maneuvering a giant pumpkin in water takes some serious strength. For more information on Windsor's October pumpkin festival and regatta, you can visit this website.

Key Rule: To qualify, a competitor must have boxed at least 20 regular fights and have an Elo chess rating of more than 1,800.

At the nexus of nerds and jocks, you'll find chessboxers. What a combo: brains and brawn! Oh, yes, chessboxers do exist -- though only in the last decade. Starting out as an idea in French artist Enki Bilal's graphic novel, Froid Équateur, chessboxing became a reality in 2003 when Iepe the Joker and Luis the Lawyer battled it out. The competition is pretty simple: There are up to 11 alternating rounds of chess and boxing. The two players are trying to either knockout their opponent in the boxing ring or attain a checkmate in chess -- the first player to do either wins. For some short chessboxing documentaries, visit the World's Chessboxing Organization's website.

Key Rule: A competitor's "wife," whether it's a guy's actual spouse or not, must be at least 17 years old.

Perhaps one of the world's weirdest sports is wife carrying. And supposedly, it has even stranger (and disturbing) roots: Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen, a Finnish thief and forest dweller in the late 1800s, used to tear into villages with his pack of robbers and steal other mens' wives. How did he do this, you might ask? Well, he carried them on his back as he ran out of town. Yikes! Today, the distressing criminal activity has morphed into sport, with major competitions taking place in Sonkajarvi, Finland and Newry, Maine. To compete, male challengers haul their female cargo through an obstacle course that can contain fences, pools and rocks; the man-wife team who finishes the course in the shortest time wins. And even though the idea is very giggle-worthy, don't laugh: these sportsman take wife carrying very seriously. To get an idea of what this crazy competition looks like, check out this video.

If you make a purchase from our site, we may earn a commission. This does not affect the quality or independence of our editorial content.