A very special sort of sports fan prides themselves on seeking out strange competitions — they’re thrilled by the odd spectacle, enchanted by the offbeat victor. Lucky for them, many cities around the world have taken advantage of some aspect of their geography, history, local cuisine or culture to start an oddball festival. For instance, in Whitehorse, Yukon, where daytime high temperatures in January typically top out at 8 degrees Fahrenheit, an annual winter-long contest is held at the local hot springs for the best and most outlandish frozen hairdos. Just as you’d never find frozen hair competitions in Florida, that state’s alligator wrestling competitions would never happen in the frozen Yukon. The U.K., perhaps, wins the prize among all other nations for embracing odd sports like bog snorkeling, shin-kicking, and chasing a wheel of cheese down a steep and lumpy hill.
If you find you’re a fan of the weird and wonderful, the world is full of destinations where you can witness some pretty outlandish sports. Choose your favorite from these four fascinating festivals and competitions to add to your travel bucket list.
Frozen Dead Guy Days (Nederland, Colorado)
About 17 miles west and 2,900 feet above Boulder, Colorado, you’ll come across a plastic utility shed with the body of a Norwegian man kept packed in dry ice. It turns out the deceased and his offspring were big believers in cryonics, wherein dead bodies are kept in a deep freeze, awaiting future medical advances that could allow them to be brought back to life. There was a problem for this particular dead body, though: The daughter and grandson who had been caretakers for the frozen man since 1993 came upon hard times and both returned to Norway. The town of Nederland, seeing an opportunity for offbeat fame, took up the cause of keeping the late Mr. Morstoel from thawing. In 2003, they began to celebrate their local stiff with Frozen Dead Guy Days, an annual March event.
Locals have devised numerous thematic competitions during the festival that share a macabre humor. These include hearse races, coffin races (six “pallbearers” carry a coffin with a live person in it, racing other groups through an obstacle course), a polar plunge, a game of rigid-human foosball played on a snowy field, a brain freeze contest (contestants race to finish frozen drinks), frozen fish toss, and frozen turkey bowling. The funereal fun is kept alive all weekend through Day of the Dead costumes, a live musical, and a Blue Ball dance.
World’s Ugliest Dog Contest (Petaluma, California)
What began in the mid-1970s as a minor sideshow-esque contest at the annual Sonoma-Marin Fair in Northern California has become an annual tour de force, drawing more spectators than any other element of the fair. The often lopsided, fuzzy, popeyed winners of the World’s Ugliest Dog title often receive front-page coverage in the national press.
Despite the contest’s name, the mood of the annual June competition is more celebratory and loving than you may expect. Most of the dogs entered in the contest were adopted by their proud owners from animal shelters or rescue groups, and the lucky pooches are often greeted with noisy and indulgent “oohs” and “ahhs.” Wiry head tufts, lolling tongues, hairless tails, cloudy eyes — should you have the luck to attend one of the late June contests (and lovefests), be forewarned: You may come down with an unavoidable need to adopt a funny-looking pet.
World’s Beard and Mustache Championships (Various Locations)
Perhaps you didn’t know that there’s a sport that calls itself “bearding,” or that websites and grooming companies exist that cater to “beard-os” or “beardaholics.” Some people obviously take great pride in growing, teasing, and training their facial hair. Or maybe you did know all these things and have been following the growth in popularity for the hirsute, with professional baseball players, purveyors of craft cocktails, country music stars, and hipsters everywhere contributing to the trend. Either way, where there’s pride and attention paid, it follows that a competition can’t be far behind.
In fact, there are loads of beard and mustache contests — ones held in local bars or ones sponsored by beard oil makers — but the fathership of the facial hair competitions is the World’s Beard and Mustache Championships. The WBMC pops up every two years in a different location around Europe, the U.S., or Australia. This officially sanctioned event offers titles in 16 different categories for configurations that include mustaches, partial beards, and full beards.
In all divisions, there’s a natural competition for those who eschew hot combs, styling wax, and curling irons. But if you prefer a little creative use of product and equipment with your facial hair, you’re in luck. Men sporting quirky Dali mustaches are judged separately from those who wear magnificent Hungarian mustaches. Wearers of musketeers and Fu Manchus and Kaiser beards compete amongst themselves. And for those whose growth defies labels, freestyle competitions bring out the weirdest and most original stylings. The next competition has been pushed back to April 2023 — thus, if you’re so inclined, there’s plenty of time to stop shaving and be hairy enough to join the competition in Auckland.
Bog Snorkeling (Wales)
Imagine the sight of the starting blocks at an Olympic swimming competition: the athletes in their streamlined suits, the pool shimmering and clear, everyone quiet and focused, awaiting the blare of the starting buzzer. Now set that image aside. This, instead, is bog-snorkeling, an absurd contest invented in 1986 in Wales(though now practiced by silly people throughout the world). Instead of pristine starting blocks, there’s a wooden walkway that crosses a 197-foot-long trench dug in a peat bog in Wales. Participants, wearing ungainly flippers and snorkels, lower themselves from that walkway into cold and muddy water and then, one at a time, make their way down the length of the waterway and back, without using any recognizable swimming strokes. Their supporters and competitors string out along the trench, wearing galoshes against the mud and often carrying umbrellas against the Welsh summer weather — cheering, heckling the splashy progress, and drinking local ale.
In addition to a contest for speed, some compete for best costume or bog accessory, while others make matters more difficult by adding triathlon components to the bog swim. Besides being a giddy celebration of summer, the bog snorkeling serves as a charity fundraiser, so the contestants can feel better when they are still finding traces of mud in their ears a week later.