Pickleball is a uniquely American sport: it’s fun for all ages, can be played with minimal equipment, and is named after a dog. Invented in the 1960s outside of Seattle, Pickleball is a version of tennis (though it is commonly played on a badminton court with the net lowered) where the rackets are replaced with table tennis paddles and the ball is actually a specialty made wiffle ball.
Pickleball was designed to be a sport that would eliminate the problems that would occur when trying to play with groups of varying ages. Because of the slow speed of the sport it is popular among some elderly communities as a form of fun competitive exercise, but also as an activity they can do with their grandchildren. It was named after a dog, Pickles, who had a habit of running off with errant balls.
Korfball is a Dutch sport that was featured as a demonstration sport in the 1920 and 1928 Olympic Games. It was the sport that featured both men and women players on the court at the same time, which made it quite controversial. Journalists refused to take it seriously, and women wearing sportswear (which showed knees and ankles) was shocking and appalling to culture a the time. Still, Korfball thrived, and is now extremely popular in Taiwan and is played in over 50 countries.
The IKF Korfball World Championship is held around every four years, and has been dominated by the Netherlands and Belgium, with the two countries meeting in every single title game. While it’s unlikely to join the Olympics anytime soon, as it remains a regional sport, it does have a growing international presence.
8. Street Luge
The Winter Olympics has a number of events that became popular as extreme sports or are winterized versions of summer sports. It’s time for the Summer Games to get on this trend and add the Street Luge. Abandoned by attempts to make the X-Games more arena friendly, the street luge is one of the most dangerous sports in the world.
Street luge was invented in San Francisco when some skateboarders realized they could get higher speeds by laying down on their board. Eventually, specialized equipment was created and different styles of street luge became prominent. It was a featured sport at the X-Games until 2001, and has recently consolidated into one governing body to make international competition easier.
7. Jai Alai
Jai alai is billed as the fastest ball sport in the world, though it no longer holds that world record. A combination of handball, lacrosse and racquetball Jai alai is a fast-paced, high speed sport that is popular among gamblers in Florida and New England. The nets players use to catch the ball were not always part of the game—you originally caught the ball with your hand. A child, who could not afford the leather gloves required of the game, developed the basket hands that are now a mainstay in the sport.
The ball in Jai alai has been clocked going at 188 miles per hour, which is faster than the pole speed of the 2011 Daytona 500. The high speeds necessitates the need for helmets, as five people have died playing the sport. It is also played in Cuba, Mexico, the Philippines and South America.
6. Extreme Croquet
How do you make the game of croquet interesting and challenging for experienced players? You throw them into the woods. Extreme croquet does just that, and uses the natural terrain such as trees, streams and brush to add a new challenge to the old game.
Regular croquet was an event in the 1900 Olympics, and a variant of it was featured in 1904, but the sport hasn’t seen the Olympics in over 100 years. Perhaps the new challenges of an extreme environment is just want to sport needs to be thrust from the front lawns of New England to the stage of the Olympics.
Want to go dogsled racing, but don’t have a sled? No issue, you can just grab your skis and go Skijoring. Popular in locations with harsh winter climates, skijoring is a good way for some dogs to get exercise in the winter, while also testing the balance and skill of their owners.
There are other variations of skijoring, including an Equestrian variety that was a demonstration sport in the 1928 Olympic Games. However, canine skijoring has grown considerably in popularity over the last 50 years. Unlike the equestrian variety, there can be no external motivation (such as a harness) for the dog to run. He must run because he wants to run, and be able to respond to his owner’s commands. There have been some efforts to get skijoring featured in the Winter Olympic Games.
4. Underwater Hockey (Octopush)
Underwater hockey is one of those sports that is a lot of fun to play, but not very much fun for spectators. Because, as the name suggests, much of the action happens underwater, so in order to see the game you have to be underwater. Underwater hockey players have extremely good breath control and lung capacity, as the sport requires them to stay underwater for long periods of time.
Physical contact is not a part of underwater hockey, and because being underwater pretty much limits or eliminates individual advantages, it relays much more on team play. While not great for spectators, it has been well received when filmed with underwater cameras, and is quickly becoming the most popular underwater team sport.
Bandy is in the process of attempting to become an Olympic sport, and will be a demonstration sport in the 2014 Winter games (as it was in the 1952 games). It is recognized by the IOC but has never been an official Olympic sport. Bandy is often called ‘Russian Hockey’, and for good reason, the sport has many similarities to hockey (as well as soccer).
To put it in the simplest way possible: Imagine playing hockey on a frozen soccer field with smaller goals and a round, orange ball, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Bandy is like. Similar to hockey in many ways, it relies even more on strategy than hockey due to the increased size of the field. Bandy is popular in countries like England, Canada, but is most popular in Russia which has dominated the sport since it was invented.
2. Kayak Polo
Kayak Polo is, like it’s cousin water polo, a marine version of the equestrian classic. Recognized by the International Canoe Federation and the IOC, but not yet an Olympic Sport, Kayak Polo is exactly what it sounds like, namely Water Polo in canoes or kayaks.
But what separates kayak polo from other forms of the sport is the return of contact. You can ‘tackle’ other teams with your canoe, which means that, when playing kayak polo, you WILL get wet. Unlike crew, kayak polo involves more direct interaction between teams, and can be extremely exciting and intense when played among highly skilled players. The sport is internationally dominated by European players, who have won every men’s and women’s title since 2000.
1. Sepak Takraw
Whenever I watch a sepak takraw, I like to imagine how the sport was invented. I like to picture a soccer fan watching a volleyball match and saying “That’s too easy! Now if they could do that without using their hands, that’d be something.” Because that is, in essence the sport: Volleyball with the ‘no hands or arms’ rules from soccer.
While the sport is extremely popular in Southeast Asia, it is not yet an Olympic sport. There have been several pushes in recent years to include the sport, but China’s domination of the medal tally have slowed some of the progress. Still, it is an incredible sport to watch, and it is starting to gain some attention in the United States and other countries outside Southeast Asia, and has become a true international sport.