Like the rest of Europe, Scotland is primarily obsessed with soccer, golf, and, exclusively to the Commonwealth, cricket. But the home of the Highlands has some truly unusual activities that no other country in the world participates in.
Most people around the world know this sport as underwater hockey, a far more intuitive name. The basic idea is quite straightforward. Much like in hockey, a puck gets pushed around a surface, but that’s the end of the resemblance. In octopush, the puck is maneuvered across the bottom of a swimming pool instead of on the ice, and hockey sticks are not used. Alternatively, a pusher is used to propel the puck around. Underwater hockey was first played in 1954 at an English sub-aqua club in order to maintain memberships in the winter when it wasn’t possible to partake in open-sea diving. “It’s fair to say most people haven’t heard of our sport,” said Katy Firth, chairwoman of Glasgow Underwater Hockey Club, which has around 40 members. “I was introduced to it at school in Orkney, where we called it octopush. It’s much bigger in New Zealand where people seem to more appreciate zany sports.”
Coal carrying is a genuinely Scottish game. Invented as recently as 1994 in Kelty, it is the most popular event during their annual gala day. The Scottish Coal Race, as it is so grandly called, involves participants lugging between twenty-five and fifty kilos of coal on their backs. They must travel down the street for about three-quarters of a mile to make their families proud. These old mining communities are especially interested in these quirky sports and see everyone as a potential winner. “You’re at work. You’re a schoolteacher. But somewhere in your back pocket is the fact that you’re a Scottish coal-carrying champion,” Hazel Porter, an eight-time champion.
Although roller derby is a North American invention from the 1970s, it experienced quite the revival in Scotland around the 2000s. The sport is simple. Get yourself set up on an indoor track, lace up your quad skates, and make your way around the course while other skaters are trying to knock you over. Five players at a time skate on the oval-shaped track while the designated ‘jammer’ scores points. To do so, they must pass the blockers of the opposing team. This women-only sport sounds a bit kooky, but it can get quite rough as the players can get ahead of themselves during the tackles.
Royal tennis was quite in vogue in Renaissance Europe, but Fife, Scotland, is apparently a hair behind the times as the sport is extremely popular there today. Real tennis, or royal tennis, is the first of the racket sports, to the point that it predates tennis as we know it by a few hundred years. Around forty courts remain around the world, which, according to The Scotsman, “is found at Falkland Palace and was built for James V in 1539.” As it turns out, “the Falkland Royal Tennis Club was founded in 1975 to organize regular matches on the historic court. The rules are essentially the same lawn tennis except for the fact that it is played on a hard surface surrounded by four walls.
Wild swimming isn’t exactly a sport but more of an activity in which many people partake. It is not for the faint of heart, as the basic idea is to enter the freezing waters of Scotland’s lakes, lochs, and rivers. Organized swims are set during the summer, but the purist will go any time of year provided that it is deemed safe enough.