From the ancient Greek Olympics to a low-key game of cards, humans by nature have always explored countless ways to test their mettle against a competitor. As modern society reinvents itself, new waves of bizarre and wacky contests continue to appear on the horizon and evolve—some of which you may be surprised to learn actually exist.
Here are 10 quirky contests that give people the chance to give in to their need to compete!
Related: 10 Extreme Sports From History
10 Mobile Phone Throwing
Forget javelin or discus—traditional field events are so outdated when it comes to the Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships. Originating in the Finnish town of Savonlinna in 2000, the inaugural event was organized by the translation company, Fennolingua. The aim was to encourage people to vent their frustrations by hurling mobile phones while also supporting a recycling drive. Luckily no prized mobiles were smashed into the turf as sponsors provided a range of recycled phones.
As the competition continued annually in Finland, launching mobiles through the air expanded into an international sport. Throwers of all ages can now be found at track and field venues throughout Europe and globally competing in national titles.
The Mobile Phone Throwing World Championships are judged on two main categories—Original/Traditional: An over-the-shoulder toss measured for distance, and Freestyle: Judged on aesthetics and artistic impression. Taco Cohen, a 19-year-old circus performer from the Netherlands, won the freestyle gold medal at the 2007 championships. His performance included both juggling and acrobatics and really wowed the judges. And the current world-record holder from Belgium threw his phone a whopping 110 meters (360 feet) at the championship held in Belgium in 2021.
9 Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest
It may sound like a game at a bridal shower or children’s party, but the Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest is a bona fide event held in New York each year. Entrants create a gown and headpiece using only toilet paper, tape, glue, and needle and thread. Images of mummy-inspired dresses may spring to mind; however, the results are actually stunning, designer-level creations. Twelve finalists are selected from photo entries, and their designs are shipped to New York City (no doubt with a large “Handle With Care” sticker). A runway show then features the finalists’ creations with a $10,000 first prize awarded to the winner.
The catwalk sights at the Toilet Paper Wedding Dress Contest include toilet-papier-mâché bodices, crocheted toilet paper, and flowers and beads molded with glue. You’re not likely to look at these crisp, fitted masterpieces and guess that they originated from the humble toilet roll.
8 Hobby Horsing
Hobby horsing has captivated a niche group of girls in Finland and is now gaining momentum in other countries. So what happens at the annual Finnish Hobby Horse Championships? Just imagine equestrian events but using a stick-handled hobby horse instead of a real horse (the type that appeared in Enid Blyton novels or on the children’s show Romper Room). Today’s versions used by hobby horsers are upgraded models with soft material heads.
Enthusiasts are generally pre-teen and early-teen girls who do not view Hobby Horsing as a cutesy pastime but as a genuine sport. The equestrian event sees girls riding their hobby horse through a course, leaping over hurdles, and taking on a canter-type gait. For competitors in the dressage ring, it is about elegant prancing movements to music while keeping the upper body still.
There is a sense of community among hobby horse devotees, incorporating a range of students, coaches, judges, and local competitions. The origins of hobby horse events are somewhat mysterious as Finnish teenagers created the movement privately. However, online message boards discovered by filmmaker Selma Vilhunen in 2012 were the catalyst for her 2017 documentary The Hobby Horse Revolution.
7 High Heel Drag Queen Race
It is admirable that drag queens can navigate stages in their lofty heels, let alone take on a three-block running race. Yet that is what happens every year at the 17th Street High Heel Race in Washington DC, an event that prides itself on celebrating LGBTQI diversity and freedom. The pre-Halloween race sees entrants lining up in high heels and vibrant drag costumes in front of huge crowds. Apart from a handful of hardcore runners who have been training in heels, most seem happy with a jovial clomp down the street.
Today the race has evolved from random fun between friends in the 1980s to being organized by the Mayor’s Office in Washington DC. It has also inspired high heel racing for a cause in other parts of the world. Hopefully, there are always a few first aiders on hand to help with any sudden free falls and sprained ankles.
6 Ugliest Dog Contest
Thankfully, the prized pooches have no idea about the title of this contest and can scamper away with their heads held high. The World’s Ugliest Dog Contest has been held annually at the Sonoma-Marin Fair in Petaluma, California, since the 1970s. It aims to promote rescue, love, and adoption for all dogs—no matter how they look.
The idea was the brainchild of Petaluma local Ross Smith, who initially created the contest as a small-town event for children. He had no idea the competition would reach the heights it later achieved, with global media attention for the unique collection of prize winners.
Two recent victors rose from rescue dogs to take home the coveted title: Zsa Zsa, a gnarly-toothed English Bulldog with a tongue almost reaching the ground; and Scamp the Tramp, a dreadlocked, bug-eyed pooch whose coat cannot be tamed by any pet products. These much-loved dogs went from being homeless to heading on a trip to New York for media appearances.
5 Air Guitar Playing
It would be fair to assume that an actual guitar is required for a guitar-playing contest, but not when it comes to the flamboyant Air Guitar Championships. “Airheads” (as they are affectionately known) strut on stages across the world pretending to play guitars before hundreds of people—only these are guitars of the invisible kind. Audiences delight in the spectacle of rock and heavy metal music, flashy costumes, and boldly performed riffs and stage moves.
The holy grail of air playing is the Air Guitar World Championships held in Oulu, Finland (I see a pattern emerging here!) each August. Here, winners of national competitions bring their performance and attitude to the world stage. Another chance to secure a place is through the “Dark Horses Qualifying Round,” a wildcard event held the night before the final. The championship comprises two rounds: A chosen song performed for 60 seconds and a surprise song performed for 60 seconds. Props can be used, providing they are not instruments, with “air roadies”‘ allowed—but no backup bands. Ironically, the air player who wins the title takes home a custom-made, hand-carved guitar.
While the concept of air guitar playing is not new (Joe Cocker famously air-riffed at Woodstock in 1969), it gained momentum in casual settings throughout the seventies and eighties. The first Air Guitar World Championships were held in 1996 as part of the Oulu Music Video Festival and have been going strong ever since. Conceived by Finnish musician Jukka Takalo, the event promotes world peace and equality, using the slogan “Make Air Not War.”
4 Bed Racing
It turns out that beds are not just for sleeping but also for country racing. Each June, the Yorkshire town of Knaresborough, UK, hosts the Great Knaresborough Bed Race. After a parade featuring decorated beds and runners (with a different theme each year), it is time to remove all bed decorations and get racing. Ninety teams of six runners scale grassy inclines and village streets while guiding a passenger on a bed with wheels. The passenger wears a helmet and calls out directions and encouragement to the runners like a coxswain in a rowing race. The competitors weave and wind around scenic Knaresborough before the whole team swims the bed across the icy River Nidd to the finish line.
Before you imagine a massive bed in any of these scenarios, all racing beds are built and engineered by teams (and their consultants) to fit specific measurements and wheel sizes. Many handymen in the region get involved in the bed designs, while dressmakers work on costumes for the teams. Since 1966, the lively race has been following the same 3.8-kilometer (2.4-mile) course and raising funds for charity. The event was originally run by the Knaresborough Round Table, with the baton passed to the Knaresborough Lions Club in the 1990s.
Rain, hail, or shine, bed racing enthusiasts turn out each year for this challenging but fun-loving event. The race has never been called off despite the unpredictable Yorkshire weather. However, in 1972 and 1998, the river crossing had to be abandoned due to torrential rain flooding the River Nidd.
3 Chess Boxing
Who would have thought the words chess and boxing would ever appear together? Chess Boxing, however, is the ultimate paradox in modern sport. Competitors alternate between rounds of chess and boxing, with each round lasting three minutes. After each chess round, the noise-canceling headphones come off, and the gloves go on as the table is wheeled out of the ring. Winning can be achieved by checkmate, knockout, or points scored, with no time for stalling shenanigans in the rapid chess rounds. Being skilled at both disciplines is obviously mandatory—a boxer unable to mastermind moves with rooks, bishops, and the like or a chess player with no jabbing expertise is just not going to cut it. I wonder if there are two trainers in each Chess Boxer’s corner: a sparring coach chewing gum with a towel around his neck and a shrewd, ex-chess champion scanning the board proceedings.
Chess Boxing initially emerged in the early 2000s as performance art. Dutch performance artist, Iepe Rubingh, adapted the idea from the work of French comic book writer Enki Bilal. In 1992, Bilal published The Nikopol Trilogy, which featured a fantasy Chess Boxing Championship. A decade later, Rubingh pioneered the transformation from art to sport.
The Chess Boxing World Championships were first held in Amsterdam in 2003 and have since been hosted annually in various countries. There are also many national championship competitions throughout the world. In mid-2020 (at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic), London Chessboxing streamed the first-ever pay-per-view Chess Boxing event to a global audience.
2 Santa Claus Championships
The novel Santa Claus World Championships (also known as Clau Wau) are held at the Samnaun Ski Resort in Switzerland each November to mark the beginning of ski season. Since 2001, teams of dressed-up Santas have hit the slopes to compete in a two-day round-robin of festive-inspired events.
One of the most difficult challenges, as agreed upon by Santa enthusiasts, is the chimney climbing event. Entrants scale a towering brick structure with a present in hand to be delivered down the chimney when they reach the roof. The adventurous Santas are also kept busy with sleigh driving, a snowmobile rally, gingerbread decorating, and a mechanical reindeer rodeo.
1 Extreme Ironing
When thinking about adventure, the mundane task of ironing does not spring to mind. Unless, of course, you are an “Extreme Ironer”—someone who packs up their ironing board and sets off to remote locations to…well, iron clothes. The sky is literally the limit for “ironists” (as they are referred to), some of whom have extreme-ironed on the edge of mountains, sky-diving from planes, and turning up on all matter of buildings and landmarks. Not to be outdone by the sky ironists, others have taken to the water to iron while water skiing, canoeing, or scuba diving.
Extreme ironing made its humble beginnings in a back garden in Leicester, UK, in the late 1990s. Creator Phil Shaw decided to start ironing in his yard one day to relieve the monotony, explaining to his confused housemate that he was “extreme ironing.” Before long, Phil (using the nickname “Steam”) and his housemate Paul (using the moniker “Spray”) became pioneers of extreme ironing adventures while convincing friends to join them.
In 1999, Steam embarked on a successful international tour to promote extreme ironing, and in 2002, the first Extreme Ironing World Championships were held in Munich, Germany.
Thrill-seeking ironists have been pushing the boundaries worldwide ever since, both as solo competitors and in team events. The Guinness World Record for “The Most People Extreme Ironing Underwater” was set in March 2011 by the De Waterman Diving Club in the Netherlands, with 173 people ironing underwater for 10 minutes.