25 weird competitions from around the world
Humans’ primal desire to compete can be traced to basic principles of evolution: To survive, all organisms on the planet must constantly outdo each other for resources. But where fellow terrestrials use play to simulate competitive skills like hunting or fighting, human beings have taken their zest for competition many steps further. The world is riddled with odd competitions, from the Air Guitar World Championships held in Finland since 1996 and cow pie bingo to any number of eating competitions, polar dips, and, of course, the World’s Ugliest Dog Contest, held each year at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, Calif.
Events like lumberjack or woodsmen competitions have been mainstays in American culture, while other events come briefly into the public eye only to fade quickly (and, sometimes, thankfully) back into obscurity. Decades ago, women were subjected to figure contests (in which contestants wore papier-mache masks to hide their faces), “perfect back” contests, cleaning championships, and other archaic competitions that trudged forward through humans’ primordial soup into splendid, utter irrelevancy.
Charlie Chaplin once entered a Charlie Chaplin lookalike contest (he came in 20th place), and we’ve since seen the same from Adele. Then there are the now-defunct Summer Redneck Games, women’s armpit hair competition, and even the Extreme Ironing World Championships (which is just what it sounds like). Still (surprisingly) in operation, however, are contests for lawnmower racing, baby crying, rock-paper-scissors, black pudding throwing, Punkin Chunkin, tree climbing, shovel racing, and even the Cold Water Swimming Olympics.
Mining various news reports, organization and town websites, and championships data yielded 25 of the most unusual competitions from around the world. It seems there’s a contest for every imaginable skill, from belly-flopping to swimming in grits.
Keep reading to find out where you can compete to be the best Santa Claus or find your way to self-transcendence in a 3,100-mile race.
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World Beard and Moustache Championships
The Snorrenclub Antwerpen each year hosts the prestigious World Beard and Moustache Championships to celebrate the “sport of international bearding.” The contest is held in a different location each time, with the 2019 installment held May 17–19 in Belgium. Judging is based on 17 distinct categories broken down into three distinct groups: mustaches, partial beards, and full beards.
Stateside, the National Beard and Moustache Championships are presented by Remington Beard Boss and hosted by Beard Team USA Nov. 8 and 9, 2019, at Chicago Southland.
World Championship Death Diving
Norway’s Det Internasjonale Dødseforbundet, or International lDøds Federation, is a competition that involves folks flinging themselves off a high dive, pulling off a stunt (or several), and holding a pose until just before smacking the surface—at which point divers attempt to curl their bodies up before striking the water. Dødsing was created in 1972, with the world competition (Verdensmesterskapet i Døds, or World Championship of Death Diving) established in 2008.
The contest—essentially a belly-flop competition on steroids—represents the zenith of Døds Challenge events, which in 2019 spanned June through August with the world championships held Aug. 17. There are two categories: classic (divers hold a cross shape with their bodies until just before impact) and freestyle (the stunt method mentioned above). Each Dødsing winner from the challenge events qualifies for a Golden Ticket to the finals, where someone gets crowned the greatest death diver in the world.
North American Wife Carrying Championship
Wife-carrying contests can be found all over the world, from Kazakhstan to Finland, where it was founded with a questionable history. Stateside contests largely follow Finland’s official rules for the competition, from the length of the track (278 yards) to the number of obstacles (two dry obstacles, one wet).
At the Sunday River Resort in Newry, Maine, the 20th installment of the North American Wife Carrying Championships is slated for Oct. 12, 2019, when people (not necessarily couples—”wife” isn’t an actual requirement, though male-female partners are) will compete to win the “wife’s weight in beer and five times her weight in cash.” Registration is $25 but is already full. For those who want to spectate, the competition is held against the backdrop of the resort’s Fall Festival Weekend so there are plenty of other activities to take part in, as well.
Several unusual competitions are held in the U.K., including the Tar Barrels of Ottery St. Mary, a race only suited for strong, brave souls willing to throw giant barrels on their backs—that have been dipped in tar and lit on fire—and race said flaming barrels through village streets.
The Tar Barrel competition goes back hundreds of years to (presumably) the Gunpowder Plot of 1605 when a group unsuccessfully attempted to blow up British monarch James I in order to put a stop to the persecution of Roman Catholics. Other towns besides Ottery St. Mary have similar traditions, but those involve simply rolling the barrels along. At some point, someone in Ottery St. Mary judged that method too mundane; the fiery vessels have been carried since.
2019’s Tar Barrel event kicks off Nov. 5 and is only open to local competitors. Bystanders are wise to review extensive safety guidelines listed on the event website, including a stern warning not to try touching any lit barrels as they pass.
Cell phone throwing
Move over, shot puts and javelins, there’s a new throwing game in town. Finland—home of the air guitar and wife-carrying championship—is also home to a new national sport: cell phone throwing. And, as with any sport, there is a reigning champ, determined in Savonlinna, Finland, every year since 2000. 2019’s Mobile Phone Throwing Championships took place Aug. 20, with contestants vying for longest distance and best technique with phones that were provided or donated (and none of which functioned and all of which are responsibly recycled afterwards).
The prize for the winner? A new mobile phone, of course.
The premier Nailympia competition was derived from the Nail Olympics, a contest started in 2001 in Las Vegas. The event is famous for being 100% non-product-run. Judges—all industry experts from around the world—don’t know anything about the nails they’re looking at, and the contestants like it that way. Today, the competition in London has 14 categories (there were four Nailympias held in 2019, in London, Estonia, Orlando, and Canada). Anyone can enter, and each location’s winners earn points toward the Nailympia Global Cup, the champion of which receives a trophy, cash prize, and feature in Scratch magazine.
Great Knaresborough Bed Race
If you’ve ever dreamt of running through a 2.4-mile course with 629 other people broken into teams pushing intricately decorated beds toward a finish line, England’s Great Knaresborough Bed Race is for you. The contest sees 90 teams of six runners (and one passenger, naturally) pushing homemade beds of their own creation through an obstacle course flanked by fellow paraders, marching bands, and cheering squads that eventually all cheer on the winning team in a champions’ parade following the race.
The course takes participants slogging up grassy hillsides, past a waterfront, through a gorge, along cobblestone streets, over a bridge, and back through another park before swimming 20 yards across the River Nidd. Fierce competitors average 14 minutes for the course, with the charity event raising up to $124,000 or more for various organizations and outreach efforts. For those just hearing about it, 2019’s Great Knaresborough Bed Race is passed (it happened in June)—but entry forms for 2020 will be available Jan. 1.
Gurning World Championships
“Gurn” is an English term referring to a facial expression featuring a lower-jaw protrusion. Gurning contests are a tradition in England highlighted by the annual Gurning World Championships held at the Egremont Crab Fair (established 1267). The fair also features other competitions, including climbing a greasy pole, pipe smoking, and wheelbarrow racing. The competition in 2019 (the 751st of its kind) was held Sept. 20 and 21.
Gurning contestants at the fair compete for prizes by putting their face through a horse collar and making their most terrible faces, which inevitably get immortalized forever in a variety of galleries and social media shares.
When Thierry Sabine was rescued from being lost in the Libyan desert on his motorbike during the Abidjan-Nice Rally, one would have expected him to never so much as look at a picture of a desert ever again. But one wouldn’t know Sabine. Instead, he gained a conviction to show the world that rugged, deadly, brilliant landscape and charted a course from Europe to Dakar via Algiers and Agadez. The Paris-Dakar was born.
The Mad Max-style road race (now iterated into different courses at various locations depending on the year) invites riders of every ilk to use bikes, quads, side-by-sides, trucks, cars, and “Original by Motul” (bikes and quads driving unassisted).
The “biggest rally-raid in the world” for the last 40 years has brought together some of the toughest, most fearless drivers around the globe in a one-state-a-day race that goes on- and off-road, as well as through trackless terrain for thousands of miles over the course of 10 to 15 days.
World Bog Snorkeling Championship
The World Bog Snorkeling Championship features swimmers donning flamingo, shark, and bunch-of-grapes costumes (among others) as they compete for the best time swimming (flippers only) along a 197-foot stretch of bog while wearing a snorkel. Other parts of the worldwide event feature a bog triathlon (the bog plus 5-mile run and 12-mile mountain bike ride) and an abbreviated version that’s a 3-mile run and 6-mile bike ride.
The 33rd annual World Bog Snorkeling Championships were held Aug. 25, 2019, in Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales, and featured a special category for best-dressed. If all this isn’t enough, that’s not even the half of it: Apparently, Llanwrtyd Wells—Britain’s smallest town—is chock-full of odd competitions in and around it, including real-ale bike rides, a man vs. horse marathon, and bike chariot races.2018 All rights reserved.