The World’s Weirdest Competitions Are Rooted In Cultural History

Competitions aren’t limited to sports and spelling bees. There are some obscure, strange competitions out there that formed under unusual circumstances. From wife-carrying to extreme ironing, these unusual sports bring people together with a sense of humor and fascination.

Some of these championships have happened for centuries. Others were created jew a few years ago. Regardless, all of these weird tournaments have attracted competitors from around the world. If you can iron your clothes anywhere or charm worms out of the ground, consider competing in these unusual worldwide championships.

Wife Carrying Championships

Contestants compete in the annual North American Wife Carrying Championships
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According to a 19th-century legend, a Finnish thief named Herkko Rosvo-Ronkainen lead several bandits to raid villages and carry men’s wives away. This is a possible origin of Eukonkanto, a Finnish sport that involves carrying your wife and racing. Today, the championships occur in North America, the United Kingdom, Asia, and Australia.

During the race, the wives are carried upside-down with a helmet on for protection. Wives must be at least 18 and weigh at least 108 pounds. If they don’t weigh that much, referees will add a rucksack to them. Another rule stems from the legend: you can’t carry another man’s wife.

Cockroach Racing

Cockroaches decorated Romanian and French flags run at the cockroaches racing course
CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images
CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

Did you know that cockroaches can run up to three miles an hour? You’d need to know that if you wanted to partake in cockroach racing. The first cockroach race on Australia Day in 1982, which gave it the title Australia Day Cockroach Races. Since then, the unusual sport has spread to the United States.

Like horse racing, cockroach racing became popular for its gambling opportunity. In Australia, at least seven races occur every year. Participants are encouraged to bring their own cockroaches to compete. The proceeds from the event usually go towards charity.

The Baby Crying Festival

Babies, held by sumo wrestlers, cry during the Nakizumo or Naki Sumo Baby Crying contest
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images
Tomohiro Ohsumi/Getty Images

When babies cry, most parents rush to their sides to stop the bawling as soon as possible. But for one day in Tokyo, Japan, parents make their babies cry. Don’t worry; nobody abuses the babies. During the Nai Sumo Baby Crying Festival, sumo wrestlers hold babies and get them to start crying.

The strange ritual stretches back hundreds of years. Ancient folklore states that wailing babies dispel demons that would otherwise harm the families. To get the babies to cry, the sumo wrestlers will put on a scary mask or shout, “Cry! Cry! Cry!” into their faces.

Bee Wearing Competition

Bees cover beekeeper Lu Kongjiang as he competes in a 'bee bearding' contest
VCG/VCG via Getty Images
VCG/VCG via Getty Images

Having your body covered in bees is some people’s worst nightmare, but in Shaoyang, China, it’s an annual tradition. The bee-wearing contest requires competitors to wear nothing but shorts, goggles, and nose plugs. They strap a queen bee to their body to attract other bees. The person with the most bees covering them wins.

Competitors need to demonstrate bravery and calm as bees encase their entire body. After the time runs out, participants stand on a scale to show how many bees they gathered. In 2011, winner Wang Dalin had 52 pounds of bees on him.

Extreme Ironing

David Jeanson, a Product Manager for Rowenta, irons a shirt upside-down during the rocky section of the Extreme Ironing World Championships
Johnny Green/PA Images via Getty Images
Johnny Green/PA Images via Getty Images

Extreme ironing is a sport in which people take ironing boards to remote, often dangerous locations to iron their clothing. The Extreme Ironing Bureau calls it “the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

The sport began with Tom Hiam in 1980. Inspired by his brother-in-law, who took his ironing board camping, Hiam took unnecessary ironing to new levels. He did it on mountain lookouts, on telephone kiosks, and inside crowded airports. In 2002, the 1st Extreme Ironing World Championships were hosted in Berlin.

Chess Boxing

Two men play chess during a chess boxing tournament.
sampics/Corbis via Getty Images
sampics/Corbis via Getty Images

As the name implies, chess boxing is a combination of playing chess and boxing. Competitors compete in alternative rounds of playing chess and boxing, so to win, you’d have to master both skills. The sport first began as an art performance by Dutch artist Lepe Rubingh. It has since spread to Germany, Russia, India, and the UK.

The first competition occurred in 2003 Berlin, which is where the World Chess Boxing Organization (WCBO) initially formed. Since then, specialized training centers have sprouted to prepare people for the tournament. What began as an art project developed into a professional sport.

The World Worm-Charming Championship

Chairman Mike Forster charms worms at the 34th World Worm Charming Championship
Lynne Cameron/PA Images via Getty Images
Lynne Cameron/PA Images via Getty Images

You’ve likely heard of snake charming–now get ready for worm charming. Every year, the Willaston Country Primary School in Willaston, England, welcomes people from around the globe to “charm” as many worms as possible. Charming coaxes the worms to rise to the earth’s surface. The current world record goes to Ms. and Mr. Smith, who coaxed 567 worms in 2009.

Charming usually gathers bait for fishermen, but for one weekend in June, it’s a race. Wormers (as they call themselves) coax the worms through sticking a rod into the dirt and smacking it. The World Worm Charming Championship began in 1980 at the school and has occurred ever since.

Cheese Rolling Championships

Participants chase a cheese wheel down a hill during the annual cheese rolling competition
Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images
Ben Birchall/PA Images via Getty Images

Have you ever rolled a wheel of cheese down a hill and had a swarm of people chase it? That happens every year in Gloucestershire, England. During Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake, a nine-pound wheel of Double Gloucester cheese is tossed down a hill, and competitors race after it. The first person to grab the wheel and cross the finish line wins the cheese.

Historians aren’t sure when the sport originated, but there are records of cheese racing dating back to the 1800s. Today, the contest attracts competitors from across the globe. The cheese alone is heavy enough to injure bystanders, so some competitions have replaced it with a foam replica for safety.

The Ugliest Face Championships

Reigning World Gurning Champion Peter Jackman gets in some last minute practice ahead of the defence of his title
Phil Noble/PA Images via Getty Images
Phil Noble/PA Images via Getty Images

Competitors in England have trained themselves to appear “ugly” and unconventional for centuries. During the World Gurning Championship, people compete to see who can appear uglier. Lacking teeth is an advantage, as it allows the jaw to move further up, so master gurners will remove their teeth for this sport.

The origins of the championship are unclear. In 1267, King Henry III granted it in the Royal Charter, although historians don’t have much evidence of the sport happening that far back. Either way, gurning allows people to purposefully look ugly and get money from it.

The Great Bed Race

Competitors cross the River Nidd as they take part in the Great Knaresborough Bed Race.
Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images
Danny Lawson/PA Images via Getty Images

Every year since 1966, English residents have pushed a bed across 2.4 miles for an annual race. The Great Knaresborough Bed Race has become an annual event in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire. A team of six pushes a bed on wheels, while one teammate sits on the bed. Racers force the bed down a grassy bank and through the River Nidd.

The race started as a way to raise funds for charity, but now it’s a full-blown championship with each team raising money for different causes. Besides racing, the team with the most beautiful bed-on-wheels wins an award for the Best Decorated Bed.

The Rock Paper Scissors League

Two men compete at the Rock Paper Scissors League
Denise Truscello/WireImage
Denise Truscello/WireImage

If you mastered the art of rock paper scissors at school, you may want to join a national league. In the United States, the winner of the Rock Paper Scissors League can win $50,000. The league began in 2006, but similar tournaments have popped up all over the world.

In Japan, Janken Taikai is a rock paper scissors tournament where competitors also cosplay as characters from pop culture. The UK conducts a Wacky Nation Rock Paper Scissors Championship. Competitors base their winning strategy on psychology and math. The game gets pretty intense.

The Smashing Pumpkins Championships

Men launch a pumpkin from a catapult during the World Championship Punkin' Chunkin' contest.
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Do you like smashing pumpkins? No, not the band–the sport. In the United States, Punkin Chunkin has competitors to build contraptions that fling pumpkins as far as they can. The event, which has happened around Halloween in Delaware since 1986, raises money for scholarships.

The World Championship Punkin Chunkin (WCPC) features several divisions, including Air Cannon, Catapult, Human Powered, and Theatrical. Kids can compete in their own categories of each division. Due to accidents in recent years, the Punkin Chunkin has been on and off since 2013.

Toe Wrestling Championships

 People compete in a toe wrestling competition at a water park
Visual China Group via Getty Images
Getty Images

If you think arm wrestling is hard, wait until you see the competitors of the Toe Wrestling Championship. Since 1976, toe wrestlers have gathered to compete in Derbyshire, England. The sport began when a group of friends lamented England’s lack of dominance in athletics, so they chose one where the English could reign supreme: toe wrestling.

Although the International Olympic Committee has refused to accept toe wrestling as an Olympic sport, the championships still gain competitors from around the world. To win, competitors need to wrangle their opponent’s foot outside of the designated wrestling area.

That Air Guitar World Championships

Aline Westphal, presenter of the Lower Saxony Air Guitar Championships, presents his skills.
Friso Gentsch/picture alliance via Getty Images
Friso Gentsch/picture alliance via Getty Images

In 1996, playing an imaginary guitar evolved from a past-time to a competition. The first Annual Air Guitar World Championship Contest occurred at a music festival in Oulu, Finland. The idea behind the event is that “wars would end and all the bad things would go away if everyone just played air guitar.”

Since then, air guitar competitions have spread to the United States, Australia, and the UK. Those who win their national competitions head for the world title in Finland. To make the event more entertaining, participants often dress up like rock stars.

The World Stone Skimming Championship

Current world record holder Ron Long competes during the National Stone Skimming Championship
Jonathan Pow/PA Images via Getty Images
Jonathan Pow/PA Images via Getty Images

Every fall, master stone-skimmers travel to Easdale Island, Scotland, to prove how far they can toss a stone across water. The island, with a population of 62 people, makes its money from the tourism of the World Stone Skimming Championships.

Allegedly, the competition began in 1983 when residents argued over who can skim stones the farthest in the island’s only pub. Today, the sport attracts competitors from as far as Japan and New Zealand. As per the rules, competitors can use a stone no longer than three inches in diameter, and each stone must skip at least twice.

The World Sauna Championships

Men sit in a suana during the Sauna World Championships
Roni Rekomaa/AFP/Getty Images
Roni Rekomaa/AFP/Getty Images

In 1999, competitors have tested their endurance by sitting inside a sauna in Heinola, Finland. The World Sauna Championships scored people based on who could sit inside a sauna the longest. The Finnish Sauna Society strongly opposed the event for its health risks. After one death during the 2010 championship, the event has since been discontinued.

The starting temperature would be 110°C (230°F), and water would be poured in the stove every 30 seconds. Competitors had to remain long enough to walk out on their own. You can imagine why competitors suffered from dehydration and burns.

The Olney Pancake Race

Competitors take part in the annual pancake race.
Carl Court/Getty Images
Carl Court/Getty Images

The women of Olney, England, have raced with pancakes for over 550 years. During the race, women have to balance a pancake in a pan while sprinting across 400 meters. The tradition may have started at the start of Lent around 1445. Today, the Olney Pancake Race has grown into a worldwide phenomenon.

Unlike other sports competitions, pancake racing began as a sport for “housewives.” Competitors are limited to women and girls, many of whom dress up as traditional rural housewives. In 1950, the competition spread to Liberal, Kansas, where it became a four-day event.

World Beard And Mustache Championships

The finalists of the Sideburns Freestyle Category hold their prize mugs during the World and Moustache Championships
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

Styling facial hair is an art. In 1990 Germany, competitors gathered to see who could display the most lengthy, impressive facial hair. The sport developed the World Beard and Moustache Association in 2004, who has hosted the World Beard and Moustache Championships since.

There are three brackets: Moustache, Full Beard, and Partial Beard. Each bracket hosts 27 categories that competitors can win. Some example categories include Dali Moustache, Creative Moustache, and Full Beard Freestyle. Like beauty pageants, judges rate the facial hair and decide on whose they like best.

Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships

Finn Ville Piippo set the new world record (82,55 m) at the annual Mobile Phone Throwing World Championship
VILLE MYLLYNEN/AFP via Getty Images
VILLE MYLLYNEN/AFP via Getty Images

In 2000, people in Finland gave throwing sports a modern twist with mobile phone throwing. Participants toss mobile phones and are judged by their distance and technique. Since then, the sport has grown into the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships. Similar championships are held in the UK, US, Belgium, Austria, and the Czech Republic.

Contestants are not allowed to throw their own devices. Instead, they’re given phones to chuck into the distance. According to the event’s website, people bond over venting their frustration and shared humor. The current world record holder is Tom Phillip Reinhardt from Germany, who tossed his phone 136.75 m (448.65 ft).

The World Cow Chip Tossing Championship

People stand next to a wagon full of cow chips at the World Championship in Cow Chip Throwing
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Cow chip tossing is a sport in which competitors see who can throw a piece of dried buffalo dung the farthest. The sport grew into the Official World Championship Cow Chip Throwing Contest in Beaver, Oklahoma. Competitors often lick their fingers in between throws (they have two tries) for good luck and a better grip.

The contest began in 1970 when the Chamber of Commerce brainstormed a new gimmick to attract tourists. It worked; the sport is now an annual competition featuring men, women, and teams. Over 2,000 locals and out-of-towners gather for the event.