In 2000, Sol Neelman joined the Oregonian as a photojournalist. Five years later, when a colleague asked him what he liked to photograph the most, his response was off-the-cuff: “Sports and weird shit.” Once articulated, that proclamation took on the glow of truth.
“I’m proud of the photos I took at the newspaper,” he reflects now, “but a lot of it was boring.”
Neelman soon began traveling the world in search of the craziest and most exotic athletes and sports he could find: outhouse races in Washington state, hog wrassling in Wisconsin, underwater hockey in England, coffin races in Colorado, ancient polo in China, and color runs in Portland (pictured above). Photos of his discoveries filled his first book, Weird Sports, released in 2011 by a Heidelberg-based fine arts publisher.
This spring, Neelman raised $27,427 on Kickstarter to fund a sequel, Weird Sports 2. The new volume, to be released next spring, will feature 71 new photos: flaming tetherball in Seattle, ostrich racing in Nevada, chess boxing in Germany, and egg Russian roulette in Wales.
Why this attraction to off-kilter games? The adult Neelman is a hale 6-foot-3, but as a child he admits he was an awkward, failed athlete. “I was an only child raised by a single mom,” he says. “Playing sports was the way to hang out with neighborhood kids, even though I wasn’t any good.”
Light saber fencing! Ostrich racing! Bubble soccer! Major League Dreidel! See more weird sports by clicking through to the slide show below.