For his new book The Renegade Sportsman
, Zach Dundas spent years seeking out and chronicling fringe sports, from Bike Polo to the Cresta Run. The result is a fascinating read that explores the many eccentric sports that promise more broken bones than money, yet somehow get to the heart of that mad, single-minded competition that makes sports worthwhile. We caught up with Zach to get his picks for a video gallery of his favorite not-fit-for-TV sports.
Hash House Harriers
What is the key to unlocking DIY sports’ potential? The Hash House Harriers, an international confederation of beer-guzzling runners, propose a magical combination of booze, dirty clothes, and filthy mouths. Founded by a bunch of sun-damaged British imperialists in Malaysia just before World War II, the Hash now exists in more countries than the UN — if you’re determined, you can join HHH runs in most active warzones. And why not? Hashing — the word works as a noun, a verb or, if used properly, an expletive — usually involves decoding an improvised course over rough terrain, with frequent breaks for alcohol consumption and a near-constant refrain of bellowing sexual innuendo. This pastime may damage your liver and your moral compass, but it will turn you into a life-long enemy of fitness-club culture. Instead of thinking of themselves as Thoroughbreds who require fancy equipment, flat-screen CNN and Gatorade to work out, Hashers act more like trashy drag queens with filthy mouths. Everyone wins!
Cycling — what a conundrum. On the one hand, it’s a thrilling and complex sport with a colorful history. On the other, you’ve got Floyd Landis and Lance Armstrong bitching at each other, and drug scandals without cease. Maybe cyclocross is the solution. This muddy, grubby, gloriously unkempt version of the sport is basically the wheeled equivalent of cross-country running, and comes equipped with an engagingly beery subculture. Because cyclocross is most popular in the Low Countries, even US ‘cross fans and participants (often interchangeable) tend to harbor hearty appreciations for farmhouse ales and open-air waffle consumption.
Alley Cat Racing
Or, consider alley-cat racing. Devised by bike messengers, alley cats plunge bikes deep into their natural habitat: the hectic city, where racers contend with natural hazards like enraged drivers and mass transit. The International Federation of Bike Messenger Associations runs an impressive international circuit of competitions — on an all-volunteer, ad-hoc, near-anarchist organizational basis that serves as an inspiring counterpoint to our boringly hidebound and depressingly efficient major league system. Alley cats also tend to annoy the cops.
Note: Best when viewed together.
When Major League Soccer started in 1996, it was sterile by design, with franchises carefully marketed to suburban audiences — as though this tangy foreign sport could finally make it in America if it adopted the Olive Garden model. As it turns out, however, American soccer fans are actual soccer fans, and they want their soccer matches to sound, look and feel like soccer matches. Grassroots fan groups have taken shape in every league city, doing their best to bring the full populist uproar of Europe and Latin America to the still-formative US league.
In this age of health and safety, it’s refreshing to find a thriving bastion of merely-a-flesh-wound Victorian daring. Thus, we should celebrate the Cresta Run, a century-old St. Moritz institution that involves a kilometer-long, face-first plunge down an icy sluice, terrifying crashes and celebratory champagne toasts. Populated by a dotty cast of minor nobility, international jet-setters, wayfaring Olympic athletes and random drifters with very limited senses of self-preservation, the Crest is a fabulous throwback to the original Renegade era, when 19th-century maniacs with no health insurance worries invented sports as we know them.
Twenty years ago, a few skateboarders did a little guerrilla construction in a nasty pocket of urban wilderness underneath a Portland bridge. They took over land otherwise occupied by various practitioners of the drug trade and started building concrete ramps, without asking permission from anyone. Today, the Burnside Skatepark is an international skate-culture mecca, one of the most enduring monuments of DIY sports, and a great place to experiment with gravity.
Especially post-Tigergate, golf is in desperate need of reinvention. Enter urban golf, an international movement that uses city streets and municipal infrastructure in place of over-irrigated country club grass. Played with different rules (or no real rules at all) and different equipment around the world, urban golf strips away the sport’s richy-rich social accoutrement in favor of the visceral pleasure of taking a meaty whack at a projectile, seeing where it goes and what happens what it gets there.
As I explored the DIY sports underground, I could sense a goliath lurking on the horizon, a juggernaut I would have to confront eventually: Roller derby. Although the reinvented, punk-grrl version of the sport has definitely had its moment in the pop-culture sun, this riveting game of speed, tactics and violence deserves a deeper look. The Women’s Flat-Track Derby Association is building a grassroots federation of player-owned leagues — arguably the biggest national sport ever owned and operated by its own participants. The tight outfits, of course, don’t hurt either.