Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Day Trip II: Jousting

joustingYou never know what you will find on the road. When I talked about day trips a while back, I asked my readers for suggestions for other day trips. I got some really great suggestions, but I ended up going another way. We decided to head to the town of Solomons Island at the southern tip of Calvert County.

We hit the road and picked up Maryland Route 4 in Bowie. This used to be a narrow country road, but it’s now a wide divided exurban sprawl strip mall highway slowly creeping out of Washington, DC. We stopped at combination public library and visitors center where I picked up some tourist maps and noticed a sign that there was a jousting tournament a few miles down the road.

Since jousting is the official sport of Maryland, we were game. We arrived at Christ Church in the town of Port Republic just in time for the start of opening ceremonies of the 140th Annual Jousting Tournament. Some people paraded on their horses in full Ren Faire regalia, but the real competitors were in street clothes.

Shortly after the opening ceremonies, the tourney began. If your idea of jousting comes from birthday parties at Medevial Times, you are in for a disappointment. Competitive jousting is done for accuracy, not blood. Each rider has to go through three gates in less than nine seconds. At each gate, a small ring is suspended. The rider must spear the ring with his lance. If a rider gets all three rings, he or she (this is a rare co-ed sport) advances to the next round, where an even smaller ring is used. These guys (and gals) ride really fast and it is tough to even see the rings standing still.

I keep trying to come up with some sort of snarky or sarcastic dig at jousters, but I just can't bring myself to it. It's a real sport with a national association and regular events and standings. It's at least as much a sport as NASCAR, if not more so. Sure, the sport is obscure, but it seems to require skill and athletic ability for both the rider and the horse.

I have a full Flickr set posted of my pictures in case you want to examine them closer. I also have some video footage, but I'm not happy with my editting yet, so I will have to post that later. And if you ever happen to stumble upon a jousting tournament, take some time to stop and be amazed and entertained. I guarantee you will be both.

Blatant Comment Whoring™: What is the most obscure sporting event you have been to?


Elizabeth said...

Wow, I had no idea that was the official sport of Maryland. I guess I didn't know states had official sports. Your right, that would take incredible skill and strength to handle the horse and lance.
I guess the most obscure sport I've been to was the Iditarod, both start and finish!

yellojkt said...

Not only is jousting the official sport, lacrosse is the official TEAM sport.

My former boss went to the Iditarod last winter and loved it. He had great footage of both the ceremonial start and the real start the next day.

Anonymous said...

I saw the frisbee national championships at the Rose Bowl like 30 years ago. That was back before everyone knew about frisbee golf and ultimate frisbee. I guess that's the closest I get.

As for the co-ed thing: actually, almost all equestrian events outside of rodeo and polo are co-ed. That's because the horses equalize virtually all of the things that give men an advantage over women in physical competitions. Greater upper body strenght doesn't mean squat when you're taking a horse over a jump, putting it through a complicated dressage move, or aiming at a tiny ring with a pointy stick.

Jeff and Charli Lee said...

Don't know how obscure it is, but I once attended a waterski competition in FL. It was unusual in that it was held in a small man-made lake (more of a pond) that was specifically designed just for this kind of event. It had bleachers all around it and concession stands etc. It was very cool but definitely not something you'd find here in MN - especially since Lake City (on the Mississippi River) is the "Birthplace of Waterskiing!" Or so they claim.

Anonymous said...

Countless pro wrestling matches. The fact that I'm a unapologetic wrestling fan seems to surprise nearly everybody who meets me.

Dated a women's lacrosse and field hockey player in college, so I've seen a few of those.

Wife was on the crew team in college, so we've seen a few crew races.

And finally, being the band geek that I am, we make an annual visit to a drum and bugle corps competition. I highly recommend a DCI show to just about anyone with an interest in music.

Anonymous said...

Man, I saw jousting the way it was meant to be seen: at Medieval Times at the Arundel Mills mall. Don't let anyone tell you different. So much awesome:

*The fact that you are arbitrarily given a colored hat upon entrance, thus assingning you a knight to root for, and then you do in fact end up rooting for him, thus illustrating the deeply artbitrary nature of sports fandom.
*The fact that there's a real live and fairly impressive falconer who does his bit as part of the show, who probably had to choose between this job and becoming a retainer for the Saudi royal family in order to make a living off his falconing skills.
*The fact that at the very end of the show, the carefully constructed Ren Fair universe is shattered as the winning knight grabs an American flag and gallops around the stadium with it as the crowd spontaneously starts chanting "U-S-A! U-S-A!" in a moment that presumably started after Sept. 11 and now no one has the heart to stop it.

Oh, and on the state sport thing, the story as I understand it is like this: There's an older and fairly powerful MD state legislator who is obsessed with jousting and that's why this is the case. Every legislative session, some fresh-faced young assembly member finds out that jousting is the state sport, assumes that this is one of those crazy holdovers from colonial days, and tries to change it to something else (lacrosse, almost inevitably) only to feel the political wrath of the joustmiester. The move to make lacrosse the official "team sport" was a compromise to placate this wacko while still recognizing our state's obsession with lacross.