From female stunt bikers in India to competitive stone skimming competitions in London, surfers braving the frigid Great Lakes to a rugby-playing astronaut, these athletes are anything but average. This year, Atlas Obscura covered celebrity sport obsessions, extreme athletes, downright weird sports, and obscure competitions from around the world.

Here are some of our favorite sporty stories of 2023. You probably won’t want to try these at home.

Passing on the Olympics to Go to Space

by Jessica Watkins

In 2017, Jessica Watkins had to make a choice between her two loves. She could continue on a path toward playing rugby in the Olympics, or pursue her other dream of being an astronaut. At the time, she chose space, but in the end, she really got to do it all. Before joining NASA, Watkins played competitive rugby, including on the American women’s national team, and even trained for the Olympics. Her two passions aren’t all that different, she says. Whether on the field or the sidelines, in a spaceship or back on Earth, it’s all about community and celebrating each other’s wins.

NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins became obsessed with rugby after discovering the sport in college.
NASA astronaut Jessica Watkins became obsessed with rugby after discovering the sport in college. PORTRAIT: NASA/ PUBLIC DOMAIN; PHOTO ILLUSTRATION: VICTORIA ELLIS/ATLAS OBSCURA

These Intrepid Surfers Chill Out Riding the Great Lakes’ Wintry Waves

by Eden Arielle Gordon

On the icy shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, New York, a hardy few prepare to embrace the freezing waters. These surfers, some of whom hail from warmer climes, have found the best way to make it through harsh Midwest winters is to dive right in. But this sport is not for the faint of heart, they warn as they pour warm water down their thick wetsuits to conserve precious body heat. Rip currents and, yes, hypothermia, keep these swimmers on edge. Despite the risk, this crew finds peace and clarity in the cold winter waters.

In India, These Trailblazing Female Stunt Bikers Rule the Road

by Shubha Menon

Stunt biking soared in popularity in India after the launch of MTV’s Stunt Mania in 2009, but women have had to fight to make space in the male-dominated field. Women stunt riders struggle to find trainers and safety gear designed for them, and face gender-based harassment, despite their many accomplishments. Now, all- female stunt teams and motorcycle groups are carving their own path in the sport across the country.

Akhitha and her stunt team, Legendary Stunts Inc., perform for a cheering crowd.
Akhitha and her stunt team, Legendary Stunts Inc., perform for a cheering crowd. COURTESY AKHITHA M D

Stone Skimming Is a World Champion Sport—And a Model for Spaceships

by Ella Benson Easton

On the small Scottish island of Easdale, competitors warm up their arms for the annual Stone Skimming World Championships. Many think of stone skipping as child’s play, but these athletes take the sport to a whole new level. The best of the best are well versed in the geology and physics of stone skimming, carefully calculating each move. The study of rock hopping has even informed rocket science, and you never know when the next inspiration may strike—or skip.

Monster Wrestling And Other Weird, Wonderful Sports from Around the World

by Roxanne Hoorn, Editorial Fellow

From traditional Japanese log riding and mashed potato wrestling to racing llamas for charity, photographer Sol Neelman is dedicated to capturing the wonderful world of unconventional sports. This “weird sports photographer,” celebrates the joy, community, and sometimes absurdity of out-of-the-norm athletic games. His work isn’t about who wins or loses, but who has the most fun and puts on a good show.

Japanese log riding—known as <em>kiotoshi</em>—is held every six years in Suwa, Japan, and draws over half a million spectators.
Japanese log riding—known as kiotoshi—is held every six years in Suwa, Japan, and draws over half a million spectators. SOL NEELMAN

How Cheering for a Soccer Club Brought a Singer’s Family Closer

by Noah Kahan

Folk singer-songwriter Noah Kahan is obsessed with London’s Chelsea Football Club. In this Atlas Obscura Secret Obsession, Kahan spills the beans on why this team captured his heart. When he was in middle school, Kahan found respite in game nights with his mom, swearing at the TV in fake British accents over a tray of oven-baked nachos as the teams duked it out on screen. The two even started an online magazine summarizing the matches. Now, over a decade later, the duo still get together to watch the team play, but really, Kahan is in it for the smile on his mom’s face.

Could This Be the Most Midwestern Competition of All?

by Jennifer Billock

On a sunny September day in Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin, drivers and their all-important canine tagalongs settle into their horse-drawn carriages. At this annual event, Villa Louis Carriage Classic teams prepare for three days of cordial and casual sport. Teams are judged on everything from costumes to their dog’s behavior, as well as how they navigate an unusual course that might include stopping for a drink or setting up a picnic. The event celebrates the role horses played in shaping the country and promotes the preservation of traditional horsemanship.