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6 Obscure Sports To Try This Summer

Summer is here, which means it's time to start playing outside as much as possible. Are you tired of all the old summer standby sports, though? Sure, baseball and volleyball are fun, but sometimes you want something just a little, well, weirder. This summer, take a chance on one of these obscure sports.

1. Bossaball
Surprisingly originating in Belgium and not a Nickelodeon back lot, bossaball finally answers the question of why no one ever thought to make hybrid of volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, and the Brazilian fight-dancing capoeira and then played said hybrid on an inflatable court outfitted with integrated trampolines. Basically, the sport is played much like volleyball, except contact can be made with any part of the body, each side can touch the ball eight times before knocking it back over the net, and serves can be made via kick. Also, one player on each side is the "attacker" and bounces on the aforementioned trampoline, which enables him to fly up for huge spikes with his hands or feet. Like in volleyball, teams get one point for making the ball drop on the opponent's side of the court, but this score jumps to three points if the ball lands on the trampoline. Sound confusing? Check it out for yourself (this video's shot indoors, but it's also common to see the court blown up on beaches):

2. Ga-ga
According to Wikipedia, ga-ga is a dodgeball variant that probably originated in Israel. Much like a good mixed martial arts bout, it's contested in an octagonal ring surrounded by walls known as a ga-ga pit, and, again, much like a good MMA bout, it's popular at summer camps. Basically, the game is played in much the same way as the dodgeball with which you're probably familiar, but with a few key differences. Players don't catch the ball; instead they smack it open-handed and let it careen around the octagonal pit. To start the game, players bounce the ball three times, repeating "ga" with each bounce then running towards it to try to make the first kill. Additionally, they're aiming for a lower area on their targets; players are only out if they get hit at or below the knee. Leaving the pit or touching the ball twice without it hitting the wall or another person earns a quick DQ. Here's a look at a game:

3. Underwater Hockey
The NHL's popularity is waning, so maybe they should catch up with the times and replace their icy old rinks with pools. As the name implies, underwater hockey (also known as octopush) is like ice hockey in a pool. A lead puck is dropped to the bottom of the pool, and teams of six players in masks, snorkels, and fins maneuver it towards goals at opposite ends of the "rink" using small sticks. Unlike ice hockey, underwater hockey's a non-contact game, though, so don't' expect any brutal checks into the pool's wall.

Englishmen Alan Blake invented the sport in 1954, and its popularity has since spread worldwide. This video from Singapore gives a pretty good idea of what it's all about:

4. Mountain Unicycling
Unicycling is great and all, but isn't it just a little too easy? You can barely turn your head without seeing someone who scoffs at bicycles in favor of going everywhere on a single wheel. Such would seem to be the logic behind mountain unicycling. The name is in no way misleading; it's a sport in which riders climb and descend hilly trails on their unicycles. These intrepid souls ride specially designed unicycles that have cushier seats, fat mountain bike tires, stronger frames, and longer cranks. Proponents say that it's not as dangerous as it looks; since unicycles don't have multiple gears, they don't fly down hills as quickly as mountain bikes and are easy to bail off of in a pinch. The enthusiasts in this video say they enjoy the sports because it's more difficult and technical than mountain biking on sophisticated modern bikes, although even with their experience, you'll see them take some pretty tough spills:

5. Wife Carrying
There's no more auspicious beginning for a sport than to start out as a joke, and wife carrying has somehow made the leap from laughable oddity to legitimate sport since its inception in Finland. Originally designed as a play on the legend of men courting women by grabbing them and running off with them, wife carrying is a form of racing in which a man totes his wife (or other female partner) through an obstacle course as quickly as possible. For all the silliness of the endeavor, the rules are fairly technical. The couples pass through a 253.5-meter course complete with a water obstacle and two dry obstacles, and any husband dropping his wife is docked 15 seconds. The wife must weigh at least 49 kilograms, otherwise she is given a weighted sack to make up the difference. If you can make it to Sonkajarvi, Finland by July 4, you can still compete in this year's world championships. The sport still has a sense of humor; first prize is the wife's weight in beer. Or check out the video first; this style of knees-over-the-shoulder positioning is known as an "Estonian carry."

6. Pesapallo
Wife-carrying isn't the only odd summer sport the Finnish people enjoy, though; they also have their own variation of baseball known as pesapallo. The game, which was developed by Lauri Pihkala in the early 20th century, is ostensibly similar to baseball, although watching it would be totally disorienting for fans of America's pastime. For starters, the bases don't form the familiar diamond; instead, first base is where third base would be in American baseball. Second base is roughly where it would be in American baseball, and third base is then located on roughly the same line as pesapallo's first base, but deeper in left field, which means that running the bases requires zig-zagging all over the field of play. Furthermore, there's no pitcher's mound. Instead, the pitcher stands to the opposite side of the plate from the hitter and tosses the ball up in the air; the hitter then swings as the ball descends. The pitch is a strike if it goes a meter above the batter's head, then lands on the plate without being hit. Catching a flyball doesn't score an out for the defense, and if a batter doesn't like the ball he hits on his first or second strike, he doesn't have to run and can keep batting.

Despite all these differences, though, it's easy to tell the game is a cousin of baseball, and it looks like a lot of fun:

Ethan Trex grew up idolizing Vince Coleman, and he kind of still does. Ethan co-writes Straight Cash, Homey, the Internet's undisputed top source for pictures of people in Ryan Leaf jerseys.

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Big Questions
Who Was Heisman and Why Does He Have a Trophy?
Brett Deering/Getty Images
Brett Deering/Getty Images

On Saturday night, one of three finalists will be named this year's Heisman Trophy winner. But before anyone brings home the hardware, let’s answer a few questions about John Heisman and his famous award.

Who Exactly Was John Heisman?

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His name is mostly associated with the trophy now, but Heisman (right) was a player, coach, and hugely successful innovator in the early days of football. After playing for Brown and then Penn as a collegian from 1887 to 1891, Heisman became a coach at a series of schools that included Oberlin, Buchtel, Auburn, Clemson, Penn, Washington & Jefferson, Rice, and, most notably, Georgia Tech.

For What Football Innovations Does Heisman Get Credit?

Just some little trivial stuff like snapping the ball. Centers originally placed the ball on the ground and rolled it back to their quarterbacks, who would scoop it up and make plays. When Heisman was coaching at Buchtel (which later became the University of Akron), though, he had a 6’4” QB named Harry Clark. Clark was so tall that picking the ball up off the ground was wildly inefficient, so Heisman invented the center snap as an easy way to get the ball in Clark’s hands. Heisman also innovated the use of pulling guards for running plays and the infamous hidden-ball trick.

Any Other Shenanigans on Heisman’s Resume?

You bet. When Heisman found a way to gain an edge, he jumped on it no matter how ridiculous it seemed. When Heisman was coaching at Clemson in 1902, his team traveled to Atlanta for a game against Georgia Tech. Although Heisman was known for being a rather gruff disciplinarian, the Clemson team immediately started partying upon their arrival.

When Georgia Tech’s players and fans heard that the entire Clemson squad had spent the night before the game carousing, they prepared to coast to an easy win. When the game started, though, Clemson roared out of the gate en route to a 44-5 stomping.

How did Clemson crush Tech when by all rights they should have been ridiculously hungover? The “team” that everyone had seen partying the night before wasn’t really Heisman’s Clemson squad at all. He had sent his junior varsity players to Atlanta the night before to serve as drunken decoys, then quietly slipped his varsity team in on a morning train right before the game.

What Kind of Coach Was He?

Heisman worked as an actor in community stock theater during the summer – he consistently received rotten reviews – and allegedly spoke in a brusque, yet bizarrely ostentatious manner. Georgia Tech’s website relates a story of one of Heisman’s speeches he would break out on the first day of practice while describing a football: "What is this? It is a prolate spheroid, an elongated sphere - in which the outer leather casing is drawn tightly over a somewhat smaller rubber tubing. Better to have died as a small boy than to fumble this football."

How Did His Name Get on the Trophy?

After leaving his head-coaching job at Rice in 1927, Heisman became the athletic director at New York’s Downtown Athletic Club. In 1935 the club began awarding the Downtown Athletic Club Trophy to the nation’s top college football star. (Chicago’s Jay Berwanger won the first trophy.) Heisman died of pneumonia the following fall before the second trophy could be awarded, and the club voted to rename the prize the Heisman Memorial Trophy Award.

Did He Ever Really Throw that Iconic Stiff Arm?

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Possibly, but Heisman didn’t have the ball in his hands all that much. Even though he was a fairly small guy at just 5’8” and 158 pounds, he played as a lineman throughout his college career.

The famous “Heisman pose” is actually based on Ed Smith, a former NYU running back who modeled for the trophy’s sculptor in 1934. Interestingly, Smith went years without knowing that he’d modeled for the famous trophy. His sculptor buddy Frank Eliscu had just needed a football player to model for a project, and Smith volunteered.

Smith figured Eliscu was just doing some little personal sculpture and remained totally oblivious to his spot in football history for the next 48 years until a documentary filmmaker called Smith to interview him about the Heisman in 1982. Smith initially had no idea what the guy was talking about, but he eventually remembered his modeling days. In 1985, the Downtown Athletic Club gave Smith his own copy of the Heisman, and in 1986 he even received recognition on the televised ceremony. He looked at the four finalists – Vinny Testaverde won that year – and quipped, "Whoever wins the award, I feel sorry for you, because you're going to be looking at my ugly face for a long time." [Pictured Above: Auburn's Bo Jackson in 1985.]

What’s a Heisman Trophy Worth on the Open Market?

Quite a bit. A number of Heisman winners have eventually sold their hardware, and the trophies fetch quite a bit of loot. O.J. Simpson got $230,000 for his, and several others have gone for six-figure prices. The most expensive trophy that’s changed hands was Minnesota back Bruce Smith’s 1941 award; it fetched $395,240.

How Did Steve Spurrier Change the Process?

SEC fans are going to be floored by this one, but the Ol’ Ball Coach did something really classy when he won the Heisman in 1966. Instead of taking the trophy for himself, Spurrier gave it to the University of Florida so the school could display it and let the student body enjoy it. Florida’s student government thought Spurrier’s generosity was so classy that they paid for a replica for Spurrier so he’d get to have his own trophy, too. Since then both the school and the player have received copies of the trophy.

So Heisman Must Have Been the World’s Greatest Sportsman, Right?

Well, not really. Heisman was on the victorious side of possibly the most gratuitously run-up score in sports history. In 1916 tiny Cumberland College canceled its football program and disbanded its squad, but it had previously signed a contract to travel to Atlanta to play Heisman’s Georgia Tech team. If Cumberland didn’t show up, they had to pay Georgia Tech a $3,000 penalty, which was quite a bit of cash in 1916.

Rather than forfeiting the money, Cumberland scraped together a team of 16 scrubs and went to take their walloping from Heisman’s boys. For reasons that still aren’t totally clear – some say it was to avenge an earlier baseball loss to Cumberland, while others claim Heisman wanted to make a statement about the absurdity of the old system of using total points scored to determine the national champion – the legendary coach showed Cumberland’s ragtag band no mercy. Tech went up 63-0 in the first quarter, but Heisman kept attacking until the final score was 222-0. There are tons of hilarious stats from the game, but the funniest is Georgia Tech rushing for 1,620 yards while Cumberland only squeaked out negative-96 yards on 27 carries.

This article originally appeared in 2010.

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#TBT
Thin Ice: The Bizarre Boxing Career of Tonya Harding
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Al Bello/Getty Images

In 2004, the Chicago Tribune asked Tonya Harding about the strangest business offer she had received after her skating career came to an abrupt end in the mid-1990s. “I guess to skate topless,” she answered. In 1994, the two-time former Olympian became infamous for her ex-husband’s attempt to break the leg of rival Nancy Kerrigan. Although Harding denied any knowledge of or involvement in the plan—which ended with Kerrigan suffering a bruised leg and Harding being banned from the U.S. Figure Skating organization, ending her competitive pursuits—she became a running punchline in the media for her attempts to exploit that notoriety. There was a sex tape (which her equally disgraced former husband, Jeff Gillooly, taped on their wedding night), offers to wrestle professionally, attempts to launch careers in both music and acting, and other means of paying bills.

Though she did not accept the offer to perform semi-nude, she did embark on a new career that many observers found just as lurid and sensational: For a two-year period, Tonya Harding was a professional boxer.

Tonya Harding rises from the canvas during a boxing match
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Following the attack on Kerrigan and the subsequent police investigation, Harding pled guilty to conspiracy to hinder prosecution, received three years’ probation, and was levied a $160,000 fine. (Gillooly and his conspirators served time.) Ostracized from skating and with limited opportunities, Harding first tried to enter the music scene with her band, the Golden Blades.

When that didn’t work—they were booed off stage in Portland, Oregon, Harding’s hometown—she disappeared from the public eye, offering skating lessons in Oregon before resurfacing on a March 2002 Fox network broadcast titled Celebrity Boxing. Using heavily padded gloves and outsized headgear, performers like Vanilla Ice and Todd Bridges pummeled one another on the undercard. In the main event, Harding used her physicality to batter and bruise Paula Jones, the woman who had accused then-president Bill Clinton of sexual harassment.

This was apparently the boost of confidence Harding needed. “I thought it was fun knocking somebody else on their butt,” she told the Tribune. Boxing, she said, could be an opportunity to embrace her self-appointed title as “America’s Bad Girl.”

Harding looked up a boxing promoter in Portland named Paul Brown and signed a four-year contract that would pay her between $10,000 and $15,000 per bout. The 5-foot, 1-inch Harding quickly grew in stature, moving to 123 pounds from her 105-pound skating weight. Following her win against Jones, Brown booked her a fight against up-and-coming boxer Samantha Browning in a four-round bout in Los Angeles in February 2003. The fight was said to be sloppy, with both women displaying their limited experience. Ultimately, Browning won a split decision.

Harding rebounded that spring, winning three fights in a row. Against Emily Gosa in Lincoln City, Oregon, she was roundly booed upon entering the arena. “The entire fight barely rose above the level of a drunken street brawl,” The Independent reported.

Of course, few spectators were there to see Harding put on a boxing clinic. They wanted to watch a vilified sports figure suffer some kind of public retribution for her role in the attack on Kerrigan. Following her brief winning streak, Harding was pummeled by Melissa Yanas in August 2003, losing barely a minute into the first round of a fight that took place in the parking lot of a Dallas strip club. In June 2004, she was stopped a second time against 22-year-old nursing student Amy Johnson; the Edmonton, Alberta, crowd cheered as Harding was left bloodied. Harding later told the press that Johnson, a native Canuck, had been given 26 seconds to get up after Harding knocked her down when the rules mandated only 10, which she saw as a display of national favoritism.

Harding had good reason to be upset. The Johnson fight was pivotal, as a win could have meant a fight on pay-per-view against Serbian-born boxer Jelena Mrdjenovich for a $600,000 purse. That bout never materialized.

Tonya Harding signs head shots on a table
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There was more than just lack of experience working against Harding in her newfound career. Having been a longtime smoker, she suffered from asthma. The condition plagued her skating career; in boxing, where lapses in cardiovascular conditioning can get you hurt, it became a serious problem. Although Harding competed again—this time emerging victorious in a fight against pro wrestler Brittany Drake in an exhibition bout in Essington, Pennsylvania, in January 2005—it would end up being her last contest. Suffering from pneumonia and struggling with weight gain caused by corticosteroids prescribed for treatment, she halted her training.

In an epilogue fit for Harding’s frequently bizarre escapades, there was remote potential for one last bout. In 2011, dot-com entrepreneur Alki David offered Harding $100,000 to step back into the ring, with another $100,000 going to her proposed opponent. Had it happened, it probably would have gone down as one of the biggest sideshows of the past century. Unfortunately for Harding, Nancy Kerrigan never responded to the offer.

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