Football, cricket, golf, swimming - there are certain sports that are popular worldwide. However, if you dig deeper, there are many more that are not. In this article, we explore sports that hold cultural heritage around the world, as well as those that we think you should know about! Keep reading to find out more information about some of the worlds most obscure and most traditional sports.
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Cultural and traditional sports around the world
- Cross-country skiing, Norway
- Sumo, Japan
- Caber Toss, Scotland
- Muay Thai, Thailand
- Bossaball, Spain
- Australian Rules Football, Australia
- Gostra, Malta
- Surfing, Hawaii
In Norway, cross-country skiing isn’t just a sport, it’s a way of life. With frequent snowfall during the winter (and all year round in the north), people who live in less built-up towns and villages find skiing is their main mode of transport at some points.
We spoke to Aga, a blogger at Worldering Around, who explained why skiing is such an important part of the culture where she lives in Norway: “Norwegians are very active and with the perfect winter conditions in Norway, skiing is a great sport that they can do every year. Even in the summer, Norwegians train for winter with special skis on wheels. During the Easter holidays, when in other countries people look for signs of spring, in Norway everyone is looking for snow to go skiing. The fascination with skiing might also be already in their blood. Sami people from Scandinavia have been using skis for thousands of years. The remote parts of Norway are often inaccessible in winter, so the only way of getting to those places is on skis. Skiing is, however, not only a part of Norwegian culture but the national sport and the favourite winter activity. The Norwegians regularly succeed in the ski championships and even little kids go skiing with the whole families.”
We then asked Aga why everyone should try skiing in Norway: “To better understand Norwegians you need to go skiing with them. In winter, kilometres of well-prepared, cross-country tracks are filled with local people from young kids to the elderly. A common winter trip is to go from cabin to cabin on skis, where, after a day of activity everyone can relax by the fire eating warm waffles with brown cheese. Alpine skiing is also possible in Norway, although less popular than the cross-country skiing. Skiing in Norway is a lot of fun and makes for a perfect day out. It’s a great way to explore beautiful Norwegian nature and reconnect with the wilderness.”
Traditionally practised by men, Sumo is a sport known worldwide that originates in Japan. It involves two competitors trying to wrestle one another to the ground. Due to its popularity around the world, it’s a popular spectator sport for travellers, with people either watching competitions, or training sessions.
We spoke to Desiree, a blogger at Desired Tastes who attended a tournament. She told us about that experience: “I'm a huge sports fan and have always been fascinated with Japanese culture, so attending a sumo tournament was the perfect way to experience both. It just seemed like a must-do while in Japan.
“The match was a lot of fun and super intriguing! I took a train from Osaka to Fukuoka just to see it. The stadium was packed and I managed to get Japanese style box seats where you remove your shoes and sit on cushions. The matches are fairly quick, but exciting, especially the top division ones. It was cool to watch the wrestlers prepare before matches too.”
We also spoke to Bart Vandersanden who has also been to a sumo tournament: “We went to Japan to fully immerse ourselves in the country's culture. Visiting a sumo championship is one of the best ways to celebrate the rich Japanese heritage, as the sport is a raw display of pure power and skill but still very much rooted in tradition and ceremony.”
Bart told us about his experience: “Experiencing a sumo competition in Osaka's Edion Arena was a great way to participate in an authentic Japanese sports event among the locals. We even spotted some of the wrestlers in the hallways, preparing themselves for their moment of glory.”
He continued: “The excitement really builds up throughout the day. The morning starts with young talent aiming to become the hero of their hometown. After this, the stakes gradually increase until the evening, when the established champions enter the ring in their attempt to become the next sumo legend.”
“The sumo bouts themselves are extremely short, like a sudden burst of energy that lasts less than 30 seconds. Between bouts, the ceremonial preparations of the ring slowly build up the tension for both the audience and the wrestlers. When the athletes finally clash, you can feel the release of tension in the arena. It was almost cathartic, and we couldn't help ourselves but to join the crowd in cheering in excitement.”
Caber Toss is a sport that is known around the world but not one that many people know a lot about. Played at The Highland Games, traditionally in Scotland but can be worldwide, anyone can enter a caber toss (with a kilt on of course!) Many people often think the winner would be the one who throws the caber the furthest, but in fact, it’s judged on landing position.
We spoke to Aubrey, a blogger at That Backpacker and asked her why she wanted to watch the Highland Games: “I really enjoy attending cultural events when I travel, so when the opportunity arose to attend the Highland Games, I jumped at the chance! I've been lucky enough to attend the Cowal Highland Gathering in Dunoon, Scotland, which is home to the biggest Highland Games in the world, and also, the New Brunswick Highland Games Festival in Fredericton, Canada, where there is a sizeable Scottish population. For me, the athletic events were the main draw to the event, but there's quite a bit more to experience like Highland dancing, the pipe bands, Scottish food, and lots of fun at the ceilidh.”
Aubrey then told us about her experience watching the caber toss: “Watching the caber toss was amazing! This athletic event is a true feat of strength with participants picking up the caber (a long pole typically from a larch tree), that has to be tossed in such a manner that it turns end over end. If you take into account the fact that the caber can be anywhere between 16 to 22 feet, you can see that this is no easy task! This tends to be one of the most popular events at the games with people gathering to cheer on the participants.”
If you are a lover of martial arts, delving into the world of Muay Thai is a must, and even if you aren’t, this beautiful and respectful sport is a lot more than what meets the eye. Muay Thai aims to help fighters utilise their body and learn the traditional defence techniques passed down in Thailand for thousands of years.
We spoke to Dom who runs Muay Thai Blog and asked him what made him start the sport: “Fitness. I was nearing triple figures (kg), working in a bank, not doing very much with my life and not exercising. Being new to the whole combat sports world, I didn’t really know what I was looking for, so I googled MMA in Newcastle, and it brought up Northern Kings. After some looking, I realised that they were predominantly a Muay Thai gym and boy oh boy. I watched a couple of YouTube videos that night and got instantly over-excited.”
“The beauty and tradition that is associated with it, the respect. ‘The Art of 8 Limbs’ as it is known, utilises 8 weapons, your two hands, your two feet, your two knees and your two elbows. The complexities of the sport make it 1. Impossible to master and 2. Challenge your brain and push your body to the absolute limit. There are so many reasons to start Muay Thai… I have trained now for 5 years and I can’t speak more highly about Muay Thai, not only the physical benefits but the mental benefits too. If you can overcome what you do in the gym and in the ring, normal life seems somewhat easy.”
We then asked Dom why everyone should try and watch Muay Thai in Thailand: “Muay Thai in Thailand is like going to a Premier League final every night. The crowds roaring, the gamblers gambling and the smell of Thai oil flowing through the air con from the changing rooms. It is an experience seeing, hearing and smelling the atmosphere in a Muay Thai stadium. Lumpinee, Rajadamnern, Channel 7 and Omnio Stadiums are among the most popular if you would like to watch it as a spectator.”
Bossaball is a fairly new hybrid sport that combines football, volleyball, gymnastics and Samba music to create an event. The court, created from inflatables and trampolines, ensures players can get big air whilst making plays. As it’s still in its early years it’s yet to “go global” but there are still many places, especially in Spain and the rest of Europe, you can find a court and give it a go.
We spoke to the team behind Bossaball, who explained its origins: “The Bossaball concept was created between 2003 and 2005 by Filip Eyckmans, a Belgian living in Spain. As a youngster, Eyckmans was a tennis player in the national team of Belgium, spending his remaining free time assisting live soccer matches and DJ-ing private parties. In the early nineties, he became manager of several music bands such as dEUS and Vive la Fete. On one of his multiple trips with dEUS in Brazil, he was overwhelmed by the Afro-Brazilian phenomenon capoeira on a suburb square of Recife. He absorbed the fantastic, late afternoon vibe on Brazil’s beaches where soccer, volley, dance and music smoothly fused together. In the late nineties, when beach volleyball was booming and trampolines were all over shopping malls, Eyckmans started to stir up his cocktail of music and sports. He was looking for a fusion of different body techniques. A sport with more rally than just serves and blocks. A concept in which disciplined gymnastics combined their flexibility, agility and coordination with the elegant ball touch of Zidane… Bossaball was born. The ultimate mix of soccer, volley and gymnastics topped with an exotic, groovy sauce.
We then asked why everyone should try Bossaball if they are able to: “Bossaball is the new sport that fuses three disciplines with music into a new spectacular mix. The change in gravity, combined with the safety provided by the inflatable surface, allows a whole new range of techniques, team tactics and strategies. The result is astonishing, overhead kicks, dramatic dives and masterful control. On top, trying out all the ball tricks on our safe inflatables, the inner child awakens and big smiles are never far away.”
Australian Rules Football
If you enjoy watching football, American football or rugby, then you’ll probably enjoy watching Australian Rules Football, better known as ‘Aussie Rules’. This quick-paced, energetic sport is popular all across Australia and is the most watched sport in the country. Played on a large, oval pitch around the same size as a cricket ground, this 36-player game offers an exciting watch.
We spoke to Nicole, a travel blogger at Bitten By The Travel Bug from Adelaide. Nicole spoke to us about the atmosphere at an AFL game: “At the best AFL games, the atmosphere is electric. It's the woo's and ahh's of a crowd hungry for a win. Unlike many other sports, it's a game that is fast-paced, unpadded and requires a lot of agility and speed. It's a game filled with lots of kicks, handballs, and hopefully, a few sky-high marks which will leave the crowd gasping and cheering. It's the building tension between two teams in battle and, the crowd will be loud and proud.”
“Some teams have pre-match rituals like Port Power engage the crowd by playing 'Never Tear Us Apart' one minute before the first bounce. It's a must experience if you are at a Port Adelaide home game at Adelaide Oval and never fails to give me goosebumps.
“Like any sport, there will always be passionate supporters come rain or sun, but the atmosphere really depends on where the teams are on the ladder, if they are playing a rival club, or if it's The Big Dance (the Grand Final).”
We then asked Nicole the best way to experience the sport: “The best way to experience the game is to attend, of course! Get amongst the crowd and feel swept up in the highs and lows of the sport.”
“Be sure to experience the rituals of the game and participate in the half time meat pie and sauce (a tradition for footy goers, though plenty of food options are available at matches). If you don't understand what's going on, ask a fan. Just don't do it during the tense build-up if someone is kicking for goal!”
“If you are a family travelling together one tip is that the AFL is currently running a 'Sunday Funday' promotion where many matches offer free entry to kids. The women’s matches are currently free so if you want to get a taste for the game and support women's sport. Their season typically runs throughout the summer. If you can't get to a game, head to the local pub! No matter which state you are in there is likely to be a pub associated with that team or one of the many bars who show the game live.”
We also spoke to Genevieve, an Australian travel blogger at The Wander Bug who told us more about Aussie rules: “Aussie rules, best known as AFL in Australia, has some of the most passionate fans in the country. There are 18 teams in the country, but 9 of them are in Melbourne, so as you can imagine the rivalry between Melbourne teams is particularly fierce! The teams in Melbourne are based in different neighbourhoods, so you'll have families and groups of friends supporting different teams. This makes for some pretty tense games! Everyone loves to cheer on their team, rug up in their team's colours with beanies and scarves, and enjoy a footy pie while they watch the game.”
Genevieve then told us the best way to experience a game: “The best way to experience Aussie Rules is to go to a game - there are several games every week during the season, which runs from March to September. The games are held in every major city, but there's nowhere quite like the MCG in Melbourne for a great atmosphere.”
Although it’s likely to be the least traditional sport on this list, gostra is a large part of the culture in Valletta and sounds like a lot of fun! On the last Sunday of every year, the men in Valletta play a traditional game of gostra. Dating back to the Middle Ages, they attempt to scale a large greasy pole, snatching a series of flags.
Filled with hilarious falls and incredible successes, although this sport only takes place once a year, we are certain you’ll have a wonderful day watching it. After a long day of laughs and splashes, it’s traditional to grab a bottle of wine and relax by the harbourside.
Although a famous pastime worldwide, Hawaii is thought to be the Mecca of surfing. With turquoise blue waves and glistening sunshine, there really is no better place. Surfing dates back hundreds of years in Polynesia, and Hawaii was quick to pick up the trend. In 1866, Mark Twain wrote whilst visiting: “In one place we came upon a large company of naked natives, of both sexes and all ages, amusing themselves with the national pastime of surf-bathing.”
Since then, however, the sport has come on a long way and now professional competitions take place all over the world. Although, for those who love surfing, Hawaii is the dream location to catch a wave. Whilst here on a cruise we advise everyone has a go and experiences the magic.
If this has inspired you to grab a board and catch some waves, or try and see how you’d fare in a caber toss competition then explore our cruise deals and offers and start travelling today!