Spain: Basque Rural Sports (Herri Kirolak)


Last weekend I got the chance to observe a few traditional Basque sports.  Like the Highland Games in Scotland, the competitions are designed to test the athletes’ physicality. Many of the sports originate from traditional tasks that fishermen or farmers would need to complete in order to make their living.  Here is a quick explanation of a few of the sports I saw.

Bale lifting, or “lasto altxatzea,” is where this huge tripod and single pulley system is set up.  The whole structure stands about twenty-three feet tall.  A 100 lb weight called a “bale” is tied to one end of the rope with the other end is threaded over the single pulley.  The objective is for the bale and the pulley to touch as many times as possible within two minutes (imagine playing “Ring the Bell” at a carnival to see who can ring the bell the most times in two minutes).  For a lift to count, the bale has to touch both the ground and the pulley.  Like the old-time church bell ringers, athletes jump up and down in the opposite direction of the bale to continue lifting it.  For any physics lovers, many conversions between potential and kinetic energy take place.

Basque sports: haybale lifting
Hang in there, tío

Anvil lifting, or “ingude altxatzea,” requires athletes to touch a forty pound iron anvil to a metal plate located about a foot above their head. Then they have to touch the ground and do it all over again.  The anvil kind of resembles bulky, metal bike handlebars. Just like in bale lifting, they do this as many times as possible within two minutes.

basque sports: anvil throwing
eye of the tiger, baby

Sack carrying, or “zaku eramatea,” tests both an athlete’s strength and speed.  The athletes sprint a three lap circuit while balancing a bag weighing 175 lbs over their shoulders.

basque sports: sack carry
this guy collapsed in exhaustion immediately after crossing the finish line

Wood chopping is possibly the most popular of all the Basque rurual sports. Known as “aizkora proba” in the Basque language, the objective is as simple as it gts.  Athletes stand on a tree trunk while trying to split said trunk completely in two as fast as they can without hacking their feet off.  The elite athletes can split a trunk with a diameter of about two feet in two minutes flat.

basque sports: wood cutting
I don’t know about a woodchuck, but this guy sure can chuck some wood.

Once the results were tallied, the winners were announced. The overall winner received a Basque beret or “txapela” as a trophy.  As it turns out the the word for “champion” in the Basque language is “txapeldun.” So literally “champion” means “one who has a beret.”  I think that’s pretty cool.

presentation of awards

Overall, I really enjoyed seeing some of the local sports.  I don’t think I would ever want to try and “play” them, but I’d definitely like to watch some more of them!

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