Britain is bursting with seemingly wild and crazy annual rituals; gurning, cheese rolling, worm charming. Not to mention Morris Dancing. Please don’t. The mere thought of strangely clad men in clogs, clip clopping across clay tobacco pipes, while simultaneously banging their bell-adorned sticks to a tune that no one’s ever heard of, gives me a headache.
Recently though I came across a relatively new ritual that promptly brought out my inner Emily Pankhurst. The historic market town of Dorking, nestled among the hills in the Surrey countryside, recently played host to the tenth annual Wife-Carrying Championship. It’s been called the most un-PC sporting event in Britain. I can see why.
It features wives clinging onto their husband’s backs for dear life, while they are lugged across muddy fields, up steep hills and over hay bale hurdles, along a 1,250ft. route to the finish line. But wait! There’s more! Adding to the rigorous course is also a "soak zone". For no extra fee, spectators get to gleefully chuck buckets of ice cold water over the already shivering and bedraggled competitors.
This year’s championship, which was held March 5th, had 40 wives competing. They might have had more were it not for the minimum weight rule. While simple in its premise, the rule not only limits the weight of the wives being carried to just 110lbs. – an instant disqualifier for most of us – it’s enforced by a weighing in ceremony. In public. I ask you, when was the last time you stepped on a weight scale outside the privacy of your physician’s office? No thank you. Should a competitor fall below the weight limit, they must carry a backpack full of beans or sugar.
For those with Kate Moss-like proportions who pass the weight-shaming test, the race is on. Giddy up, hubby! Carrying ones wife over the course piggy back style is apparently not the best technique to use. Neither is the "fireman’s lift", where the body is hung upside down over one shoulder. Instead, the preferred technique by serious competitors is the "Estonian hold", in which the wife hangs upside down over her husband’s shoulders, legs crossed in front of her husband’s face. It was using this technique that propelled young Jack McKendrick and his wife Kristy Jones into first place in this year’s competition, thereby securing them a place at the Wife-Carrying World Championship to be held in Finland in July.
Finland, where the first Wife-Carrying competition began in 1991, seems a fitting locale given that the race is said to have been inspired by Viking raiders whose plundering and pillaging included womenfolk.
The North American Wife-Carrying Championship is now in its 18th year. This year’s event will be held Saturday, October 7th and for those contemplating sweeping their wives off their feet, more information is available at www.wife-carrying.org. Or you could just buy her a bunch of flowers.