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Dispatches, August 1998

Games (Really Weird) People Play

By Katie Arnold

It’s surely no secret that Europeans, enthusiastic practitioners of such dubious activities as snooker and ferret-legging, possess a flair for peculiar sports. But it is in August, when the crêperies close their doors and the cobblers go on holiday, that the oddest of athletes finally emerge. Herewith, three events whose eccentricity,
caprice, and … well, general idiocy are sufficient to assure that you’ve chosen the right continent to call home.

Belgium: La Meuse River
International Bathtub Regatta

Historians seeking an answer to the burning question of why Belgium never became a mighty naval power can perhaps find a clue in the village of Dinant, which every August 15 plays host to 350 Walloons wallowing down the river on a flotilla of bathtubs. To purists, a floating baignoire may possess all the nautical appeal of a porcelain hippopotamus, but to Belgians, these tubs
emit a mysterious and deeply bewitching allure. “They are judged on the fastest and the most beautiful,” rhapsodizes tourist officer Sonia Decroix. “And there are many beautiful bathtubs.”

The Netherlands: National
Canal-Jumping Contest

The seasonal sporting craze in Holland is Fierljeppen — a bizarre ritual, held on August 22, in which the intrepid Dutch fling themselves into the middle of their nation’s ubiquitous canals on long aluminum poles, shimmy to the top of the poles with the aid of bicycle inner tubes strapped to their feet, and then vault off-hopefully (but not always) landing on the opposite
bank. Victors receive no cash and no lucrative endorsements. “But to be a Dutch champion,” notes event organizer Wim Vandermeer, “is always an honor.”

Wales: World Bog
Snorkeling Championships

In an activity so unpleasant it could only have been conceived in Britain, each year on the last day of the month some 30 or 40 snorkelers plunge into a smelly ditch near the village of Llanwrtyd Wells and embark on a furious downstream dog-paddle. Their aquatic odyssey presents many daunting challenges: the bog’s sludgelike consistency, the disgusting brown prop-wash that the
swimmers generate, and the determined water scorpions that like to burrow into one’s bathing suit. “It’s mucky and horrible-looking, too!” adds Moyna Lydon of the Neuadd Arms Hotel, which has been hosting the race for 13 years. “It’s a typical Welsh bog, mind you.”

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