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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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How Do Aerial Skiers Perfect Their Jumps?
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images
Cameron Spencer, Getty Images

If you've ever watched an aerial skier in action, you know that some of the maneuvers these athletes pull off are downright jaw-dropping—and you've probably seen more than a few of these skiers land on their rear ends at some point. The jumps are incredible, but they're also so technical that one seemingly insignificant motion can drop a skier on his or her tail.

Given that the skiers can fly up to 60 feet in the air and come down on a 37-degree grade, it seems like just going out and trying a new trick would be a good way to break your neck. That's why you'll need one unexpected piece of equipment if you want to start training for aerials: a towel.

Instead of perfecting their flips and twists over the snow, aerial skiers try out their new maneuvers on ramps that launch them over huge swimming pools. The U.S. national team has facilities in Park City, Utah and Lake Placid, New York that include specially designed pools to help competitors perfect their next big moves. The pools have highly aerated patches of bubbles in their centers that decrease the surface tension to make the water a bit softer for the skiers' landings.

If you're an aspiring aerial skier, expect to get fairly wet. New skiers have to make a minimum of 200 successful jumps into water before they even get their first crack at the snow, and these jumps have to get a thumbs up from coaches in order for the skier to move on.

This sort of meticulous preparation doesn't end once you hit the big-time, either. American Ashley Caldwell, one of the most decorated athletes in the sport, is competing in her third Olympics in Pyeongchang, but failed to advance past the qualifiers on February 15, as she wasn't able to land either one of the two triple-flipping jumps she attempted. Still, it's this very sort of risk-taking that has brought her to the top of her game, and caused friction with more than one of her past coaches.

"Why win with less when you can win with more?" Caldwell said of her competition mentality. “I don’t want to go out there and show the world my easiest trick. I want to show the world my best trick, me putting everything on the line to be the best.”

You can check out some of Team USA's moves in the video below:

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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olympics
9 Scandals that Rocked the Figure Skating World
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images
ERIC FEFERBERG, AFP/Getty Images

Don't let the ornate costumes and beautiful choreography fool you, figure skaters are no strangers to scandal. Here are nine notable ones.

1. TONYA AND NANCY.

Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding
Pascal Rondeau, ALLSPORT/Getty Images

In 1994, a little club-and-run thrust the sport of figure skating into the spotlight. The assault on reigning national champion Nancy Kerrigan (and her subsequent anguished cries) at the 1994 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in Detroit was heard round the world, as were the allegations that her main rival, Tonya Harding, may have been behind it all.

The story goes a little something like this: As America's sweetheart (Kerrigan) is preparing to compete for a spot on the U.S. Olympic team bound for Lillehammer, Norway, she gets clubbed in the knee outside the locker room after practice. Kerrigan is forced to withdraw from competition and Harding gets the gold. Details soon emerge that Harding's ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly, was behind the attack (he hired a hitman). Harding denies any knowledge or involvement, but tanks at the Olympics the following month. She then pleads guilty to hindering prosecution of Gillooly and his co-conspirators, bodyguard Shawn Eckhart and hitman Shane Stant. And then she's banned from figure skating for life.

Questions about Harding's guilt remain two decades later, and the event is still a topic of conversation today. Recently, both an ESPN 30 for 30 documentary and the Oscar-nominated film I, Tonya revisited the saga, proving we can't get enough of a little figure skating scandal.

2. HAND-PICKED FOR GOLD.

Mirai Nagasu and Ashley Wagner at the podium
Jared Wickerham, Getty Images

Usually it's the top three medalists at the U.S. Nationals that compete for America at the Winter Olympics every four years. But in 2014, gold medalist Gracie Gold (no pun intended), silver medalist Polina Edmunds, and ... "pewter" medalist Ashley Wagner were destined for Sochi.

What about the bronze medalist, you ask? Mirai Nagasu, despite out-skating Wagner by a landslide in Boston and despite being the only skater with prior Olympic experience (she placed fourth at Vancouver in 2010) had to watch it all on television. The decision by the country's governing body of figure skating (United States Figure Skating Association, or USFS) deeply divided the skating community as to whether it was the right choice to pass over Nagasu in favor of Wagner, who hadn't skated so great, and it put a global spotlight on the selection process.

In reality, the athletes that we send to the Olympics are not chosen solely on their performance at Nationals—it's one of many criteria taken into consideration, including performance in international competition over the previous year, difficulty of each skater's technical elements, and, to some degree, their marketability to a world audience. This has happened before to other skaters—most notably Michelle Kwan was relegated to being an alternate in 1994 after Nancy Kerrigan was granted a medical bye after the leg-clubbing heard round the world. Nagasu had the right to appeal the decision, and was encouraged to do so by mobs of angry skating fans, but she elected not to.

3. SALT LAKE CITY, 2002.

Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada and Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze of Russia perform in the figure skating exhibition during the Salt Lake City Winter Olympic Games at the Salt Lake Ice Center in Salt Lake City, Utah
Brian Bahr, Getty Images

Objectively, this scandal rocked the skating world the hardest, because the end result was a shattering of the competitive sport's very structure. When Canadian pairs team Jamie Sale and David Pelletier found themselves in second place after a flawless freeskate at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake, something wasn't right. The Russian team of Elena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze placed first, despite a technically flawed performance.

An investigation into the result revealed that judges had conspired to fix the results of the pairs and dance events—a French judge admitted to being pressured to vote for the Russian pair in exchange for a boost for the French dance team (who won that event). In the end, both pairs teams were awarded a gold medal, and the entire system of judging figure skating competition was thrown out and rebuilt.

4. AGENT OF STYLE.

Jackson Haines was an American figure skater in the mid-1800s who had some crazy ideas about the sport. He had this absolutely ludicrous notion of skating to music (music!), waltzing on ice, as well as incorporating balletic movements, athletic jumps, and spins into competition. His brand new style of skating was in complete contrast to the rigid, traditional, and formal (read: awkward) standard of tracing figure-eights into the ice. Needless to say, it was not well received by the skating world in America, so he was forced to take his talents to the Old World.

His new “international style” did eventually catch on around the globe, and Haines is now hailed as the father of modern figure skating. He also invented the sit spin, a technical element now required in almost every level and discipline of the sport.

5. LADIES LAST.

In 1902, competitive figure skating was a gentlemen's pursuit. Ladies simply didn't compete by themselves on the world stage (though they did compete in pairs events). But a British skater named Madge Syers flouted that standard, entering the World Figure Skating Championships in 1902. She ruffled a lot of feathers, but was ultimately allowed to compete and beat the pants off every man save one, earning the silver medal.

Her actions sparked a controversy that spurred the International Skating Union to create a separate competitive world event for women in 1906. Madge went on to win that twice, and became Olympic champion at the 1908 summer games [PDF] in London—the first “winter” Olympics weren't held until 1924 in France, several years after Madge died in 1917.

6. AGENT OF STYLE, PART 2.

A picture of Norwegian figure skater Sonja Henie
Keystone/Getty Images

Norwegian skater Sonja Henie was the darling of the figure skating world in the first half of the 20th century. The flirtatious blonde was a three-time Olympic champion, a movie star, and the role model of countless aspiring skaters. She brought sexy back to skating—or rather, introduced it. She was the first skater to wear scandalously short skirts and white skates. Prior to her bold fashion choices, ladies wore black skates and long, conservative skirts. During WWII, a fabric shortage hiked up the skirts even further than Henie's typical length, and the ladies of figure skating have never looked back.

7. TOO SEXY FOR HER SKATES.

Katarina Witt displaying her gold medal
DANIEL JANIN, AFP/Getty Images

A buxom young beauty from the former Democratic German Republic dominated ladies figure skating in the mid- to late 1980s. A two-time Olympic champion, and one of the most decorated female skaters in history, Katarina Witt was just too sexy for her shirt—she tended to wear scandalously revealing costumes (one of which resulted in a wardrobe malfunction during a show), and was criticized for attempting to flirt with the judges to earn higher scores.

The ISU put the kibosh on the controversial outfits soon afterward, inserting a rule that all competitive female skaters “must not give the effect of excessive nudity inappropriate for an athletic sport.” The outrage forced Witt to add some fabric to her competitive outfits in the late '80s. But 10 years later she took it all off, posing naked for a 1998 issue of Playboy.

8. MORE COSTUME CONTROVERSY.

For the 2010 competitive year, the ISU's annual theme for the original dance segment (since defunct and replaced by the “short dance”) was “country/folk.” That meant competitors had to create a routine that explored some aspect of it, in both music and costume as well as in maneuvers. The top Russian pair chose to emulate Aboriginal tribal dancing in their program, decked in full bodysuits adorned with their interpretation of Aboriginal body paint (and a loincloth).

Their debut performance at the European Championships drew heavy criticism from Aboriginal groups in both Australia and Canada, who were greatly offended by the inaccuracy of the costumes and the routine. The Russian pair, Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, were quick to dial down the costumes and dial up the accuracy in time for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, but the judges were not impressed. They ended up with the bronze, ending decades of Russian dominance in the discipline. (With the glaring exception of 2002, of course.)

9. IN MEMORIAM.

While not a scandal, this event bears mentioning because it has rocked the figure skating world arguably more than anything else. In February of 1961, the American figure skating team boarded a flight to Belgium from New York, en route to the World Championships in Prague. The plane went down mysteriously (cause still questioned today) as it tried to land in Brussels, killing all 72 passengers. America's top skaters and coaches had been aboard, including nine-time U.S. Champion and Olympic bronze medalist-turned-coach Maribel Vinson-Owen and her daughter Laurence Owen, a 16-year-old who had been heavily favored to win the ladies event that year.

The ISU canceled the competition upon the news of the crash and the United States lost its long-held dominance in the sport for almost a decade. The United States Figure Skating Association (USFS) soon after established a memorial fund that helped support the skating careers of competitors in need of financial assistance, including future Olympic champions like Scott Hamilton and Peggy Fleming.

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