*I’m taking a slight break from recounting my trip backpacking through Europe to write about Jaialdi, a Basque festival that occurs in Boise, Idaho every 5 years, which I attended last week.
Growing up in Boise, I’ve always wanted to go to Jaialdi. However, even as an Idaho native, I’ve always missed it for one reason or another. So this year, since I was in town, I promised myself I would take advantage of every opportunity. And that’s exactly what I did.
First up was Sports Night on Thursday evening. I didn’t really know what to expect when I bought my ticket. I’d heard that it would be competitions that evolved from rural life to showcase strength, so I knew there’d be heavy lifting and competitions using hay and wagons, but didn’t know much beyond that.
I showed up to the Century Link arena excited and ready to be amazed. My friends and I were surprised by the crowd. There were tons of people piled up outside waiting to get in. As there were no real ‘lines’ we simply joined the masses and patiently made our way inside.
After making it through the door and finding our seats, we were ready for the show to begin. Due to the crowds of people still struggling to get in, the show started a bit late. I did appreciate the host’s sense of humor, when announcing that this was ‘in true Basque fashion.’
Once they were ready to begin they lowered the lights to introduce the competitors. They introduced them one by one and they would walk out through a mist which reminded me very much of a football game. With each introduction they gave quite a few details for each competitor. The only downside was that they had a light beaming from behind the mist that made a silhouette of the person they were introducing so it was impossible to see until they got out onto the floor.
There were a few ‘firsts’ this year including the first female weight lifter. In addition, both the black and white rural teams each had a female participant which was also a first. As a woman, I appreciated the inclusion and mention of the big achievement, although I was disappointed later when I didn’t see mention of this in any of the news coverage that I read.
Once all competitors were out on the floor the National Anthems were sung. Yes, both of them: one in English and one in Euskara. I found it fascinating that there were just as many people singing along in Euskara as there were in English. In addition, the commentary for the entire evening was provided in both languages as well.
There were about 20 different events and competitions throughout the evening. With all the noise it was difficult to hear, though. I had to laugh at the fact that I couldn’t hear half of what was being said, and the half I could hear I didn’t understand as I don’t speak Euskara. This made it a little difficult to follow who was on which team and who was competing against who. However, I just decided to sit back and enjoy the show as I didn’t really care who won.
There were three major types of events: weightlifting, wood chopping and rural sports. The events would fluctuate between the three, I’m sure to provide some sort of a pause for the competitors between events. I won’t review all 20, but I will hit on some of the highlights.
The first event was the hay raising contest. Participants used a pulley system to lift bales of hay. They raised the hay to the top of the pulley and then let it fall to the ground. As the bale fell, they kept hold of the rope to be lifted into the air. Once the bale hit the floor, they use the altitude to their advantage and pulled down to raise the bale to the mark once again. This continues for two minutes and the competitor who was able to lift the bale of hay the most times won.
Another event was lifting a 440 pound cart using their forearms and walking in a circle. This contest was measured by the distance that one could complete before putting the cart down. The winner went 5 full rotations plus an additional 25 feet.
As a woman, I have to mention the first ever female weight lifter to participate in Jaialdi. Her name is Idoia Etxeberria and at 16 years old she completed 4 lifts of a 264 pound stone in 5 minutes. She is currently the woman’s champion of Euskadi. It was amazing to watch her lift a 220 pound cylinder 10 times in only 1 minute, 43 seconds.
One event that really got the crowd going was the hay-pitching. I have to admit, this is the first time that I’ve ever witnessed a sporting event involving a pitchfork, which added to my delight. The idea and rules are similar to pole vaulting – a 30 pound bale of hay is placed on the pitchfork and the participants use the pitchfork to launch the bale of hay over a bar without knocking it off. They are allowed 3 attempts. The first 6 heights, both teams effortlessly flung the hay bale over the bar. However, things got interesting once the bar was raised to 16 ½ feet. One team required all 3 tries before they were finally able to get the bale over. This team lost in the next round when the bar was raised to 16 ft 10 inches. The winner then made an attempt to launch the bale with the bar at the highest setting, but was unable to make it. However, I appreciated his attempt to best himself.
The most exciting event of the evening surprisingly wasn’t the 25 minute relay that involved 50 ball lifts and 10 chopped logs and resulted in yelling, clapping and feet stomping that could almost rival the World Cup. The most awe-inspiring competition was the male txinga event. Txingas are solid metal weights which look like large kettle balls. Each one weighs 104 pounds and must be carried one in each hand until they are dropped. Since the fingers are carrying most of the weight, this is an extremely difficult challenge. The competitors walk 100 feet in one direction and then turn and retrace their steps, until they can’t carry the weights any longer. The first male managed to carry the txingas for 1200 feet. The second male made 1200 feet and turned to continue and the audience went wild. He only needed to go a little further to win, yet at 1300 he turned again. Every 100 feet the crowd expected him to quit, but at 1400 he paused and then he turned. 1500-everyone in their seats with baited breath, sure that he was done, he was going to quite, that he couldn’t possibly continue, but he kept going. At 1600 he turns, and the crowd knew-he was going for 2,000. The cheers got bigger, the yelling louder, the clapping harder and the feet stomping reverberated through the stands. At 1700, he turned, 1800 he was still going, until 1900 where he wanted to turn, he did and then he paused and finally, dropped the txingas, because he just couldn’t go any further.
Here of some photos of the relay:
And the male txinga competition: this is the first competitor. I was so captivated by the second competitor that I forgot to snap any photos.
Walking into this event, I definitely had the perception that these competitions would be more on the family reunion level. That’s probably because when I hear that sports are based on farm activities, I don’t necessary expect to see real athletes. However, I was wrong-every single competitor was very much a real athlete. The last event especially demonstrated the heart of these athletes and competition in general. It’s not just about winning or saying that you beat someone else, but rather pushing yourself as far as you can go, defying the boundaries, and constantly driving yourself to the brink until you just can’t push yourself anymore.
I sat in my seat amazed as Sports Night ended. It was definitely not what I expected, but I loved every minute of it. It was a great start to my weekend of Jaialdi events, and I couldn’t wait to see what else was in store over the next couple days.