12 Amazing Athletic Competitions You Should Be Watching


While all eyes are on Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas, we here at Atlas Obscura have a few Super Bowl alternatives for you to consider—the amazing sports, competitions, and champions that get just a little less attention. Join us as we marvel at the talents of competitive stone-skimmers, mashed-potato wrestlers, lion dancers, log riders, llama racers and, yes, chair-sitters.

by Eric Grundhauser

Contrary to popular perception, the unicycle is not just for circus performers, eccentric panhandlers, and that kid you knew in elementary school. Competitive unicycling takes a number of forms, from one-wheeled basketball to off-road trail bombing. But maybe the largest cohort of sport unicyclists are the urban riders who hop, spin, and flip like Tony Hawk with a seat and a single wheel.

In Malaysia, lion dances are both emotive and acrobatic performances.
In Malaysia, lion dances are both emotive and acrobatic performances. COURTESY KHUAN LOKE DRAGON & LION DANCE ASSOCIATION

by Marina Wang

Beneath the colorful costumes at the biannual Genting World Lion Dance Championship in Malaysia are acrobats who have spent years perfecting their dramatic stunts. The lion dance is traditionally performed to ring in luck and prosperity, and is a common fixture at the Lunar New Year and other celebrations such as birthdays, weddings, or corporate events. But over the past 30 years Chinese Malaysians have raised the stakes, turning the ancient tradition into an extreme sport. “As lion dancers, we always go by this motto that 10 years of practice is equal to one minute on stage,” says one competitor.

From the Atlas Obscura Video Team

Every spring, the town of St. George in South Carolina hosts the World Grits Festival, a three-day event that celebrates all things grits. Gastro Obscura Senior Editor Sam O’Brien participated in the crown jewel of the festival: the Rolling in the Grits contest, in which contestants have 10 seconds to dive into a grits-filled kiddie pool and trap as much of the traditional Southern food on their bodies as they can. A champion will be crowned.

Lucy Wood is a women’s World Stone Skimming Champion.
Lucy Wood is a women’s World Stone Skimming Champion. IAN MORGAN/COURTESY WORLD STONE SKIMMING CHAMPIONSHIPS

by Ella Benson Easton

The Stone Skimming World Championships is held annually in Scotland, on the small island of Easdale. The goal is simple: skim a stone across a body of water as far as possible. Anyone who reaches the back wall of the quarry, more than 200 feet from shore, is rewarded with a klaxon horn, a huge cheer from the crowd, and qualification for the “Toss Off,” the grand finale of the competition. But the skimming also has a serious side; physicists have studied the sport to determine the best landings for spaceships.

by Roxanne Hoorn, Editorial Fellow

Sol Neelman has made a career of being that “weird sports photographer.” He’s captured instant mashed potato wrestling in South Dakota and log riding (known as kiotoshi) in Japan, among many other unexpected competitions. In his travels he’s seen llamas race, monsters battle, and dinosaurs bowl. “I tell people I might be the only photographer who wants people to laugh at their photography,” he says. “I’m passionate about photography and what I do, but I really want people to get a sense and feel of what it’s like to be at these events where there’s so much joy.”

In Estonia, kiiking is the thing.
In Estonia, kiiking is the thing. EESTI KIIKINGI LIIT/CC BY-SA 3.0

by Eric Grundhauser

Estonia has a cultural love affair with swings—there are communal wooden swings across the country—so it’s perhaps no wonder that some Estonian daredevil would invent a way to go over the top. Meet the extreme sport known as kiiking (kiik means “swing” in Estonian), in which competitors make a full 360-degree revolution on a specially designed swing. We “like to say that ‘kiiking’ starts when your legs are higher than your head,” explains one participant. “Before that it is just swinging,”

by Maggie Gigandet

The intricate marble competition known as rolley hole thrives on a stretch of the Tennessee-Kentucky state border, about two hours northeast of Nashville. While its exact origins are unknown, it has survived in the region for generations, sustained by players who pass down their skills. The National Rolley Hole Championship began about 40 years ago at a time when the future of rolley hole was in jeopardy; the annual tournament has helped revitalize the game.

Robert "Robby" Silk, the first competitive chair-sitter, tests his stamina on Antarctica's Cuverville Island.
Robert “Robby” Silk, the first competitive chair-sitter, tests his stamina on Antarctica’s Cuverville Island.
LAURA KINIRY

by Laura Kiniry

Robert “Robby” Silk is, so far, the only competitor in a new sport: sitting. That’s it. He just sits—for hour after hours in some of the world’s harshest environments, from an island off Antarctica to a scenic spot in Joshua Tree National Park, where he sat from sunrise to sunset, 14 hours and 27 minutes. “The idea,” says Silk, “is to really just be, and not do much of anything.”

From the Atlas Obscura Community

Explore the competitive side of the country, from a subterranean ping-pong stadium in Atlanta, to the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame in Milwaukee, to the Olympic Black Power Statue in San Jose. And yes, there’s even something to mark Super Bowl LVIII: the Cheifseum in Manhattan, Kansas, where the world’s largest collection of Kansas City Chiefs memorabilia is on display in one man’s basement. Sorry, 49ers fans, there’s nothing in the Atlas specifically for you—at least not yet.





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