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March 29, 2010 | by  | in Features | [ssba]

A smattering of strange sports

Fed up with football? Reluctant to rally around rugby? Think netball is for ninnies? Well, does Salient have some sports for you! Feature writer Matthew Cunningham looks at four of the weirdest and wackiest alternative sports that New Zealand has to offer.

When I was a wee lad, I did the typical thing and joined my local rugby team. Bear in mind that, growing up in Australia, this meant ‘league’ and not ‘union’. It was an unmitigated disaster—the handful of times that I actually touched the ball in the entire season usually led to moments of embarrassment (for myself) and hilarity (for others). The day that I dove headfirst into an inconveniently placed pile of mud while attempting to crash-tackle my opponent made me realise something—footy just wasn’t for me. Would that I had known that there were alternatives better suited to my unique tastes! Fortunately for you, I’ve gone and done a little investigating into what New Zealand has to offer in the way of weird and wacky sports. Could you be the next world champion at one of them?

Globe Riding

The quintessential example of Kiwi sporting ingenuity, globe riding (or ZORB globe riding when using globes designed, manufactured and owned by ZORB) involves “rolling people down hills in large inflatable globes”. The key ingredients are a grassy hill, a globe, water, and a willing participant. Combine these ingredients just right and you get a recipe for pure awesome.

“The initial design for the ZORB globe was developed by two Kiwi blokes with a desire to walk on water,” says Andy Havill, Group Marketing Manager for ZORB.

“The first prototype was designed and tested on water, but found to be too tame. Looking back at the Auckland skyline, the number of volcanoes sparked an idea—why not roll down a hill in it?

“It is a completely unique experience unlike anything you have experienced before. It’s a mix of sliding down a water slide, riding on a roller coaster, soaking in a bath and being in a motion-master—all at the same time!”

Globe riding comes in two main variants: the Zydro ride, where one or more participants move freely within the globe as it rolls down the hill, and the Zorbit ride, where a sole participant is strapped to the inside of the globe.

The sport has expanded to the United States, and has featured on the Discovery Channel and The Amazing Race. “It has become popular due to its uniqueness, and the fact we can provide something so different and so unique in a safe manner for everyone to enjoy.”

And where to for the future? “We hope to expand to new countries and continents,” Havill states. “Some people have suggested ZORB globe riding should be an Olympic sport.”

For more information, visit

Sheep Shearing

Nothing says ‘manly’ quite like a farmer wrestling with a disgruntled sheep. To us townies, it conjures up images of Kiwi pioneers carving out a living on the verdant plains of the New Zealand countryside. To many, however, shearing is more than a living—it is a sport.

Shearing sports are among some of the oldest in New Zealand. “Shearers have … competed against each other from the day the first sheep were shorn,” says Doug Laing, Publicity Officer for Shearing Sports New Zealand.

“Blade shearing competitions were around in the 1880s, and the first machine-shearing competition we believe was at the Hawkes Bay Show in 1902.”

The sport is divided into three main categories—sheep shearing, wool handling, and wool pressing. Sheep shearing is the most popular, with contestants battling it out to see who can perform the fastest and cleanest shear. The annual ‘Golden Shears’ in Masterton typically attracts up to 500 contestants and runs over three days.

Shearing is also an international sport, with the first World Championships being held in England in 1977.

“There were 28 countries represented in Norway [last year],” Laing explains, “but New Zealand has been by far the most dominant country.”

And what is so great about the sport? “The commitment and fraternity,” Laing responds without question.

“The shearing ‘circuit’ is much like your local club cricket competition, except the events are all over the country.

“It is nothing for [a] shearer to jump in the car and drive 500km for a Saturday competition and then drive 500km home again.”

“All would tell you it’s the camaraderie.”

For more information, visit

Underwater Hockey

Two teams. Ten per side. A weighted puck and a crapload of sticks to push it with. Also known as ‘Octopush’, underwater hockey takes all the best elements of regular hockey and adds an extra touch of liquid awesome by submerging them in up to two and a half metres of water.

The sport was invented in 1954 by Alan Blake of the Southsea Sub-Aqua Club in the United Kingdom, and has since spread to over two dozen countries worldwide. While a variant of the sport was played in Nelson as early as 1963, it was only in 1976 that it was first introduced to the diving community—in Palmerston North, of all places.

“Some likely lads from Auckland … handed us long sticks, leather welding gloves and showed us how to heave an enormous red rubber coated puck around the bottom of the pool,” explains Brian Stewart, formerly of the Department of Marine Science at Otago.

“The rough concrete bottom made short work of the gloves and the puck didn’t slide too well, but I was hooked.”

Far from being a fringe sport, underwater hockey is rapidly gaining in popularity in New Zealand.

“There is such large participation at secondary schools,” says Rebecca Leach, Universities Development Officer for Underwater Hockey New Zealand.

“We need to work on keeping those who play at school continuing into university with club teams and university games.”

Turns out that you Kiwis are actually pretty damn good at it too. In the 2008 World Championships, the ‘Black Fins’ took out second place, while the women’s juniors team came home with the gold.

And what are some of the best things about underwater hockey?

“I enjoy the challenge of the sport as well as the social side,” says Leach. “It can also take you many places for travel.

“At only 16 I went to my first Worlds with the elite women’s team to England, and have also been to Australia and South Africa for competitions.”

For more information, visit

Chess Boxing

Yes, you read right—chess boxing. Cram roast beef and salami onto the same sandwich (or, for the vegetarians among us… I don’t know, tofu and eggplant?), and you might get a glimpse of the sheer awesomeness that this sport entails.

It’s about as literal a title as you can get. Contestants alternate between rounds of chess and boxing for up to 11 bouts of thinky-punchy goodness.

Chess boxing was the brainchild of a Dutch artist named Iepe Rubingh, with the first tournament being held in Amsterdam in 2003.

“[Iepe] was sharing an office with my partner in Berlin,” says Luka Hinse, New Zealand agent for the World Chess Boxing Organisation, “so I was close to the sport from its beginning.”

Hinse explains that the sport is still fairly low-key in New Zealand.

“So far just a few people are interested. I think it will take a while until people get the concept.

“In New Zealand boxers are boxers and chess players are chess players. Their worlds hardly overlap.”

Many will be familiar with the sport through the music video for Reb Fountain’s ‘Tab’.

“I am actually playing the referee in this video,” says Hinse.

“Reb saw my … presentation about chess boxing, that’s how we met.” Boxer Dylan Russell, the star of the video, aspires to one day become New Zealand’s first professional chess boxer.

So where might the sport be headed in the future? “I would like to see chess boxing being taught at school,” says Hinse.

“It teaches the kids, in their language, that a physical fight doesn’t solve anything. The boxing part functions as a relief valve for aggression in order to be open for knowledge.”

For more information, visit Alternatively, you can visit Hinse’s ‘Pecha Kucka’ page at


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  1. I recently came across your post and read it. After reading it I felt I should admire your hard work so just wann say very well written. Good on you.

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