Most traditional Basque sports come from the farm — competitions that sprang out of real-life activities, including weightlifting, hay raising and wood chopping.
Competitions that involve lifting round granite balls originated from the practice of picking up rocks.
Some rocks are easier to lift than others, and that’s true in the variety of different Basque contests involving tests of strength using different sizes and shapes of “stones.”
With handles and soft edges, the cylinder is the weight most often used in competitions. The granite ball and a cube are more difficult because there are no handles.
The competitions aren’t just about brute strength.
“You get people who are your big weight lifters who sit in the gym all day, and they try to do these events and they can’t do them,” Tracy Basterrechea, who learned the Basque sports from his father and grandfather, told the Statesman at Jaialdi 2010. “It’s a different type of strength ... and it’s endurance.”
“They’re things you don’t see everyday,” said Basterrechea, whose day job is Meridian deputy chief of police. He grew up going to Basque festivals around the United States.
His grandfather gained some fame in the Basque Country for his skill at lifting stone blocks. And he remembers watching his dad compete in lifting the cylinder.
“As I grew up, I carried txingas,” Basterrechea said.
THE SPORTS• Cylinder. The cylinders have handles; some have one, others have two. The starting weight for a cylinder is 225 pounds but can exceed 700 pounds. The winner of these competitions is the person who can lift the most weight onto his shoulder or lift the cylinder the most times in a set period of time.
• Granite ball and cube. Typically, the ball weighs 225 pounds. The weight lifter raises the ball to his neck. Once at the neck, the lifter will demonstrate additional strength by rolling the ball around his neck. The cube is quite awkward to lift. The square block is easier to grip than the ball, but the size of the cube makes it difficult to lift to the shoulder. It is common to see a lifter’s cheek and/or ear scraped and bleeding after lifting the cube.
• Txingas. The txingas, pronounced CHING-gahs, are solid metal weights (typically steel) that look like small briefcases. Each txinga weighs 104 pounds. The carrier grabs a txinga in each hand and walks as far as possible without dropping one or both of the weights. Carrying 104 pounds in each hand is very difficult because the fingers hold most of the weight.
• Anvil lift. The participant raises an anvil over his head to a wooden plank and then lowers the anvil back to the ground. A successful lift must first hit the ground and then the wooden plank above. The participant with the most successful lifts in a time period wins.
• Hay-pitching. Participants place a bale of hay on the end of a pitchfork and throw it over a bar. It is similar to pole vaulting, with the hay bale sometimes being tossed more than 15 feet into the air.
• Hay-wagon carry. In this event, the participant lifts up the back end of a traditional wooden hay wagon and carries the wagon in a circle (the tongue of the wagon is secured as a center point), as many times as he can without dropping the wagon. As if the wagon isn’t heavy enough, the participants add hay to the wagon to make it heavier.
• Hay raising. Participants lift bales of hay high into the air, usually more than 25 feet, with the aid of ropes and pulleys and then release the rope so the bale falls to the ground. Participants then jump up with the rope to gain altitude while the bale hits the ground. Once the bale hits the ground, the participant pulls down on the rope to raise it over the mark once again. This continues for a set time to see who has the most lifts. It is not uncommon to see participants holding onto the rope 15 feet in the air while being raised by the hay bale.