Basque’s take great pride in their traditional rural sports, called Herri Kirolak, these hearty sports have been practiced in the region for centuries.
Rural sports originated from the skills and strength necessary to survive in the mountainous Basque region. From farm work to fishing and mining the hearty Basque became skilled in heavy lifting, clearing fields, chopping wood and physical labor. It was difficult work and required great skill, strength and resistance. Lifting heavy stones, chopping wood and displays of brute strength are characteristic of these rural sports that push human endurance to the limit. While these skills may seem obsolete in today’s modern world – their tradition and athleticism live on in local sports. During local festivals displays of these sports can be witnessed and enjoyed, locals compete and bet on their favorite participants. Here are some popular examples:
Stone Lifting (Arrijasotzaile in Basque) – An art in itself, lifting heavy stones takes balance, technique and training – not to mention brute strength to carry over 100 kilos of stone. There are different types of contests from picking up the heaviest stone (held by record holder Mieltxo Saralegi from Navarra at 329 kilos), to picking up a heavy 100 kilo boulder as may times as possible (held by record holder Iñaki Perurena also from Navarra, who was able to lift the stone 1000 times over a period of 5 hours, 4 minutes and 46 seconds).
Hole Boring (Barrenador) – Originating from the mining heritage in the 19th and 20th century, participants have to pound a hole into a granite stone with an iron bar. Back in the day this hole was used to insert dynamite for mining.
Stone Dragging (Arrastre de Piedra) – Using oxen to move immense stones weighing an average 1500 to 4700 kilos over a period of time.
Wood cutting (Aizkolari) – A race to the finish between two axe wielding professionals, large tree trunks are lined up in a row and the participants race to chop each one in half. A spectacle to see these contests of skill
Rowing (Traineras) – Regattas are a popular sport all across the Basque Country, particularly along the coast, once fishing boats would compete to bring in the day’s catch, the first to port could claim the best prices for fish which lead to rowing competitions which have endured as popular sports today.
Handball – (Basque pelota or fronton) A physical sport played with a ball using one’s hand, a racket, a wooden bat or a basket, against a wall. Almost every Basque town has its own pelota court or fronton for locals to play. The green court is surrounded by two walls, sometimes one wall is attached to the local church.
Plan your next visit around some of the local fiestas to catch a glimpse of these incredible displays of strength and tradition.