Travels

Atypical Sports in Belfast

So you think basketball is only an American sport? Well, you would be wrong. We play it in Belfast and other parts of our country both indoors in a gym and out in a playground court. It depends on the weather and time of year. All we do is switch between the best indoor/outdoor basketballs as they make one for both locations. I see you are surprised. You assume that we only enjoy Gaelic football or hurling. You would be right and basketball, while played, is atypical. We prefer ice hockey and Zorbing. Nevertheless, you will often spot individuals and teams in the midst of “shooting hoops.” It is perhaps another Americanization of Ireland.

We know about hockey as it is popular worldwide, especially in Canada. You probably think hurling is something you do when you have eaten too much. In actually, it is an ancient Irish outdoor team game popular with spectators. It dates back over 3,000 years old—wow. We must be pretty good at it in Belfast by now. If you want to indulge, find an Irish community in your neighborhood and bring a “hurley,” or wood stick, and a “sliotar,” or small ball. The goalposts are usually in place topped by a crossbar and covered with a net. Like hockey, there is a goalkeeper, but goals yield three points.

Unlike soccer, the ball is caught in the hand and carried up to four steps. It can alternatively be struck by the hurley while in the air on the ground. Making it even more unique, the ball can be kicked or slapped. Players must maintain a foot on the ground and they can make a shoulder-to-shoulder attack, only if the target is holding or playing the ball. In spite of this kind of aggression, no protective padding is necessary except for a helmet and faceguard.

You are now enlightened, but there is still zorbing to describe. It is a recreational sport that entails rolling downhill inside a kind of orb. You hear right. This game is really different. Of course, you want to stick to gentle slopes to avoid injury, and in many cases a level surface is preferred for maximum control. Just picture this on the green hills around Belfast. For the adventurous, zorbing can be done on water with sealed, buoyant balls. Watch for it in theme parks in Ireland and around the United Kingdom. You might notice a variation in harnessed and non-harnessed orbs, the latter carrying up to three riders. They are used on different slopes in desirable locations.

If you visit Ireland as a tourist, you might want to try one of these sports out. If you are leery, then stick with basketball. I bet that most males have played it at least a few times in school. It is definitely one of the main options along with softball, swimming, and tennis. You will be surprised at the deft and skillful local players. They have been enjoying basketball for years.