Unusual athletics shine in Portland

By Halcyon Orvendal

Portlands’s sport scene has, for many decades, been carried by the fame of three big name teams: the Trailblazers, the Timbers and the Thorns—men’s basketball, men’s soccer and women’s soccer, respectively. While these teams are certainly deserving of appreciation, we shouldn’t gloss over other lesser known athletic opportunities in the city—not just to spectate but to participate in.

One sport many folks may not be familiar with is the Nordic lawn game Kubb. It is considered a combination of bowling and horseshoes, and often nicknamed “Viking Chess.” Played by two teams with anywhere from one to six players, the object of the game is to knock over a series of wooden blocks by throwing a baton, hitting the “king” block last. 

Thought to have originated over 1,000 years ago, Kubb only began to gain popularity in the US in the past couple of decades. Now there is even a U.S. national Kubb tournament.  

Games of Kubb run by a nonprofit community organization called Nordic Northwest are held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 8800 SW Oleson Rd. and are completely free and open to people of all ages and ability levels. 

Another free opportunity is the Muni Kids Urban Golf which happens every Thursday at 6 p.m. Anyone who is interested meets at the Neighborhood Golf Shop at 425 SE 3rd Ave. to be provided golf clubs. Then, they follow a street golf course created through the streets of the Central Eastside neighborhood. But that’s not the only unconventional aspect of this golf adaptation—players use foam balls.

If you enjoy biking, then the Portland Cyclocross Crusade might be for you. USA Cycling describes the sport as “a unique, non-Olympic discipline of cycling that can best be described as a cross between road cycling, mountain biking and steeplechase.” Riders navigate both paved and off-road terrain and must traverse obstacles such as stairs or steep slopes by running while carrying their bikes.  

The cyclocross season is just wrapping up in Portland with an end-of-season celebration at Chris King Precision Components from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Nov. 18 and does require tickets. Next year, usually beginning in October, check out the River City Bicycles website to learn about where and when races will be held. There is also a month-long scavenger hunt called the Grail Hunt where riders look for and collect “grail icons” along their races to win a $600 travel voucher.

Cyclocross is not the only chance for bikers to get involved in Portland’s biking community. “Zoobombing” is an offshoot of classic biking where bikers gather at the People’s Bike Library of Portland to take the evening MAX train line up into West Hills past the Portland Zoo and then ride at top speed down the winding streets in the dark. 

After seeing a dwindling number of participants, 2022 saw the largest influx of zoobombers in many years, according to BikePortland. Not one for the faint of heart, zoobombing is an adrenaline-packed way to find your niche.

Another option to keep on your radar is the Adult Soapbox Derby, held every August in Mt. Tabor Park. Teams work together to design and build cars, then climb in them to race down a paved path full of curves and zigzags. Prizes are awarded for speed, engineering, fan favorites and other achievements. If participating feels daunting, mark it on your calendar to stake out a picnic spot and watch the chaotic fun unfold. 

For something more low-key, swing by Calibration Cornhole at Ponderosa Lounge & Grill in North Portland. Cornhole is a lawn game where players throw bean bags into a hole on a slanted piece of wood from a distance. This restaurant hosts games every Monday and Wednesday at 6 p.m.

There are plenty more opportunities to get involved in the silly side of sports. All you have to do is a little research and you can find out how Portland’s famed weirdness shines through athletics. Of course, rooting for our major teams is exciting and unmatched, but for a simple everyday adventure, branching out can lead to a world of discoveries.

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