Today, Basque pelota, in the version known as cesta punta or jai alai, is played as far as the Philippines. Each sport is fascinating in its own way: Jaw-dropping sporting activities originating in baserri (farmhouse) chores and spectacular regattas where rowers show their courage and strength.

Unlike other herri kirolak, Basque pelota originated as a game. Versions include pala (bat), cesta punta (literally, edged basket) and, of course, hand-pelota. The ball is hand-made out of a boxwood core that is wrapped in layers of latex, wool and, finally, leather. Basque pelota is played in courts called frontons. If you are coming to Bizkaia, do not miss the chance of attending a pelota game: vibrant atmosphere, frantic gambling, strong pelotaris (players).

Rowing is also deeply rooted in Basque sporting traditions, and closely linked to Bilbao’s river estuary. There are three versions, depending on the boats used: batel, trainerilla or trainera. Bizkaia’s leading rowing teams are Kaiku from Sestao and Urdaibai from Bermeo. Trainera regattas make a fabulous show. In them, rowers display their strength and synchronicity.

Traditional sports embody the character of the Basque people. They are harsh. They require strength and speed. The spectators cheer their favourite candidates on, encouraging them to live up to the challenge.

From baserris to the Olympics

The Basque people have managed to turn hard field chores into spectacular sports. One of them, sokatira, made its way into the Olympics in the early twentieth century.

Wood chopping – aizkolaritza – and stone lifting – harrijasotzea – are two of the most popular traditional Basque sports. The latter consists in lifting stones of various shapes and sizes off the ground and onto your shoulder. As to wood chopping, it comes in several versions, the most popular consisting in chopping the largest number of trunks in the shortest possible time. There is an annual nationwide event, Urrezko Aizkora (Gold Axe) where men show who the best aizkolari (wood chopper) is. Aitzol Atutxa, from Dima, has won the competition since 2007, bearing the champion’s beret, or txapela.

Like most herri kirolak, hole drilling dates back to working practices from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century – from the iron ore mines in Bizkaia’s Meatzaldea (Mining Area).

Today’s hole drilling, quite popular on the left bank of the estuary, consists in making holes in a rock using a long steel drill. The participant with the highest number of holes wins the competition. Neglected for a few decades after the Spanish Civil War, this sport made a comeback in the Basque Festival (Euskal Jaiak) held in Ortuella in 1998. Now, it is back in fashion.

The idi probak are the most popular form of Basque dragging games. They involve oxen, usually a pair, dragging a 1.5 to 4.5kg rock from one side of a square to another. Finally, sokatira is the Basque version of tug of war: Two teams pulling on opposite ends of a rope, the goal being to bring the rope a certain distance in one direction against the force of the opposing team’s pull. Its popularity earned it a place at the Olympic Games from 1900 to 1920.

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