Strange sports and boots

There are some sports that sound so bizarre that I think how can they be real? There is a handbag throwing world championship that’s held in Germany. I kid you not. This championship is already in its 4th year. Participants from around the world compete in teams of 4 by throwing a handbag with weights inside. There are different handbag throwing events, such as over-arm throwing, long-distance throwing, freestyle and discus.

On the subject of strange throwing sports, there is also a boot throwing competition. I have always thought that boot throwing competitions are just for fun, but now I know that it is pretty serious. In New Zealand, there are local gumboot throwing competitions, which then allow a contestant to qualify for the nationals. Winning at the nationals then allows the contestant to compete at the World Championships.

This year, the International Boot Throwing Association World Championships will be held on 12 and 13 September in the town of Ascoli Piceno in Italy. The rules of the competition state that the official throwing equipment is a rubber boot, either a left or a right side boot. Women throw a size 38 boot while men throw a size 43 boot. Only five brands of boots are considered to be acceptable throwing equipment for the competition. These are boots by Siili, Duudson, Skellerup, Sulman and Kontio.

redband gumboots

Skellerup gumboots, official throwing equipment for the Boot Throwing Association World Championships.

GOCO boots

Not official throwing equipment for the World Championships, but a pair of Malaysian made rubber boots by GOCO.

New Zealand and gumboots

One thing I have learned about living in New Zealand is that small towns in New Zealand like to have big, huge sculptures of what the town is famous for. For example, in the North Island of New Zealand, Te Puke (it’s pronounced Tay Poo-kay, not Te ‘vomit’, as I first thought) has a giant sculpture of a kiwifruit as the town is famous for growing kiwifruit. Ohakune (pronounced oh-ha-koo-nay) has a humongous carrot because the area grows a lot of carrots. Paeroa has a giant bottle of a soft drink called Lemon & Paeroa (L&P) because the soft drink was originally produced in the town of Paeroa.

There are sculptures in small towns in the South Island of New Zealand as well. For instance, Cromwell has a giant fruit sculpture made up of an apple, pear, nectarine and apricot. Sometimes the sculptures even start to look the same. For example, the tiny town of Rakaia has a large fibreglass salmon that looks a lot like the gigantic brown trout sculpture in the town of Gore about 400km away. It is as if they used the same giant fish sculpture, but just coloured them differently.

In the middle of the North Island of New Zealand, there is a town called Taihape. It is known as the ‘Gumboot Capital’ of the World’ and of course the town has a sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron. Taihape is a little town that supplies the rural community, and gumboots are the staple footwear for farmers.

The giant sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron, in the small New Zealand town of Taihape (photo by Tim Johnson).

The giant sculpture of a gumboot, made of corrugated iron, in the small New Zealand town of Taihape (photo by Tim Johnson).

Taihape has an annual Gumboot Day, first celebrated on 9 April 1985. Gumboot Day celebrates the rural lifestyle, and on Gumboot Day, there are activities like decorating either a paper or real gumboot, and a gumboot throwing competition.

Gumboots are known by many names. In New Zealand, they are called gumboots, sometimes shortened to gummies. They are also called Wellington boots or wellies. In other places, they are called galoshes, rubber boots or rain boots.

Black gumboots with a red band are almost synonymous with New Zealand rural footwear. Gumboots are great to wear on a farm because they keep your feet dry. The best gumboots are waterproof. Gumboots also work well when walking through farm hazards, like mud and animal poop.

redband gumboots

Black gumboots with a red band by Skellerup, the staple footwear for New Zealand farmers.

A popular brand of gumboots is Skellerup. Skellerup was started by George Skellerup who opened his first shop in Christchurch, New Zealand on 12 September 1910. Back then, the shop sold tyres and rubber products to the dairy industry. Today Skellerup is still based in Christchurch and sells to the world. They are best known for their gumboots. In a completely unscientific poll (conducted by me), a group of New Zealanders were asked ‘What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the brand ‘Skellerup’; 100% of the Kiwis said ‘gumboots’.

The power of a pair of shoes

Recently, I was walking in the Botanic Gardens when a young boy, maybe aged about 4 or 5, ran excitedly past me. His father, a complete stranger, told me that the boy was wearing new boots, which makes him think he can run fast and fly. I looked at the boy’s boots as he continued to run off. They were a pair of regular red gumboots, and I said ‘They look very nice.’

red gumboot

A good pair of shoes should make you feel happy, and strong as if you have super powers.

This is exactly what a good new pair of shoes should do for you. They should make you feel good and happy, and feel like you have super powers.

Wellington boots / gumboots

Since the London 2012 Olympic Games is underway, I feel like I should write something about the Olympics. Did you notice the team from Czech Republic at the opening ceremony? The Czechs must either have a great sense of humour or are very well prepared for the famous London rain. At the Olympics opening ceremony, the Czechs wore blue Wellington boots and waved matching blue foldable umbrellas.

The team from the Czech Republic at the London Olympics opening ceremony, wearing blue wellington boots and holding matching foldable umbrellas. (Photo: Getty Images)

This type of boot is known by many names. I have called them Wellington boots since the Olympic Games are being held in London, and Wellington boots were named after a British soldier and aristocrat. Arthur Wellesley (1769 – 1852), the first Duke of Wellington wore this kind of boot and subsequently this style of boot were called Wellington boots. They are also called wellies, gumboots, rain boots, rubber boots or galoshes. They are mostly made of rubber, but can also be made of PVC. Wellington boots are great for keeping your feet dry and are also quite comfortable. Traditionally, Wellington boots came to just under the knee, but now shorter ones (ankle-length and calf-length) are also available. In the past, they were plain in dull colours, like black. But now Wellington boots can be found in many bright colours and with different designs.

Modern gumboots in many different colours and designs.

These boots are practical work boots. In Australia and New Zealand, they are called gumboots. Some time ago, I spent a year living on a farm in rural New Zealand and gumboots are the only footwear worn on farms. Plain black gumboots with a red band around the top are especially a kiwi icon. Gumboots are great because it’s no problem to step in cow pats or sheep droppings while wearing gumboots. They are also excellent in wet, muddy conditions.

It is not unusual in rural New Zealand to see a pair of gumboots outside the post office or bank or some other kind of business. Farmers fresh off the farm wearing dirty and muddy gumboots remove them before entering so that they don’t dirty the floor or carpet of the business. Below is a sign from the front door of a branch of the National Bank in New Zealand. Further along the same road, a branch of the Bank of New Zealand has a similar sign on their front door that said ‘Please remove all muddy shoes and boots.’

A sign at a branch of the National Bank in New Zealand. Further on the same road, a branch of the Bank of New Zealand had a similar sign. (Photo: Chang Shih Yen)

There are also funny sports associated with gumboots in New Zealand, like gumboot tossing competitions to see who can throw a gumboot the furthest. There is even a rural town in the central North Island of New Zealand called Taihape that markets itself as the ‘gumboot capital of the world.’ Taihape has held a Gumboot Day every year since 1985, which was where the gumboot tossing competition started. I have vague memories of throwing a gumboot. It’s not as easy as it looks. Wellington boots or gumboots are not the best fashion statement, but they are very practical footwear and keep your feet dry.