Photos: A look at the West’s weirdest sports

People compete in everything from pumpkin racing to outhouse sledding.

  • "It's got to start somewhere," said former Marshfield wrestling coach Wayne Van Burger, "so why not Oregon?” In 2005, wrestlers of all ages showed up at Bullards Beach State Park just north of Bandon for the first sanctioned beach wrestling tournament to be held in the U.S.

    Sol Neelman
  • The first Pig-N-Ford Race took place at the Tillamook County Fair in Tillamook, Oregon, in 1925. The idea for the race came about when a couple residents were transporting pigs and one got loose. They chased it down in their Model-T Fords and had so much fun trying to catch and handle the pesky pig that they thought, "Let's do this at the fair." The race has been a featured annual event ever since.

    Sol Neelman
  • Members of the Cardboard Tube Dueling League fight on the battlefield of Gas Works Park in Seattle, Washington. The winner receives a swanky, custom-made cardboard tube. Losers risk bruised egos and annoying paper cuts.

    Sol Neelman
  • Despite severe congestion and slick road conditions, weaving through San Francisco traffic has never been more fun than at the annual Big Wheel Race in California.

    Sol Neelman
  • One thing not in short supply at the annual Outhouse Races in rural Washington state: Porta-Potties.

    Sol Neelman
  • Riders racing ostriches is a common sport in Africa. It's still not exactly clear how it arrived in Virginia City, Nevada.

    Sol Neelman
  • The 2011 Running of the Bulls was more fun than dangerous, as many of the bulls used were tame rodeo livestock.

    Sol Neelman
  • Unique Halloween costumes and accessories are on display during a themed weekend of cyclocross racing.

    Sol Neelman
  • The Renton United Cowboy Action Shooters (R.U.C.A.S.), an affiliate of the Single Action Shooting Society (SASS). Matches are held on the first Saturday and Sunday of every month in Renton, Washington.

    Sol Neelman
  • Breanna Ziehlke encourages her frog to get on with it at the Calaveras County Fair and Jumping Frog Jubilee in California.

    Sol Neelman
  • Tall-bike jousting is a popular and unpredictable sports event held each year in Seattle, Washington.

    Sol Neelman
  • Professional rodeo cowboys try their luck on the slopes during the annual Cowboy Downhill Ski Stampede in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

    Sol Neelman
  • Stand-up paddleboarders race for the first turn during the 6th Annual Battle of the Paddle in Southern California.

    Sol Neelman
  • The Annual West Coast Giant Pumpkin Race in Oregon is a fun and surreal spectacle for fans and racers alike.

    Sol Neelman
  • Downhill inline skaters approach one of the 25 curves on historic Maryhill Loops Road on the fourth and final day of competition at The Maryhill Festival of Speed 2009 in Goldendale, Washington.

    Sol Neelman

 

Photographer Sol Neelman first got into documenting strange sports in 2005, when he was in a creative lull while working for the Oregonian. His first foray was looking at the renaissance of roller derby, which he found refreshing.

“Like any good high, I searched for my next fix,” Neelman says. “Before I realized it, I was on a mission to find any and all fun, offbeat, quirky sports and competitions I could track down.”

Neelman’s collection ranges in location from rural Washington, where people race outhouses on skis bobsled-style, to San Francisco where people race kids’ tricycles downhill. His photographs capture the silliness and creativity of people left to their own devices, and the contagiousness of good-natured fun with some cheap beer thrown in the mix.

Although some of the sports are newer, others have been around for some time. Pig-N-Fords, for example, started almost a century ago when some Oregon farmers driving in Model T tractors chased down loose pigs. They had such a good time they decided to make it an annual sporting event at the Tillamook County Fair. Today, contestants use some of the same original Fords and drivers are descendants of the original farmers, driving laps around a track with a pig under their arm.   

“While it’s fun and weird, there’s still a huge level of pride involved with racing,” Neelman says. “The year I went, I saw the winner weep with joy, while carrying on his family tradition.”

Neelman published a collection of his images documenting strange sporting events in his book Weird Sports. The sequel, Weird Sports 2, was published in 2015. 

Anna V. Smith is an editorial intern at High Country News.