Air guitar god? Bog snorkeling champ? Celebrating the world's wackiest hobbies

Story highlights

  • Good at air guitar? The pros earn cash through ad campaigns and festival gigs
  • Participants of the World Bogsnorkeling Championships brave scorpions and leeches.
  • The All-American Soap Box Derby has launched racing and engineering careers
  • The Kinetic Sculpture Race utilizes the Baltimore city streets and harbor

Some hobbies take talent, others don't, but the real skill is turning your weird past-time into an international event. Whether one's passion is to sculpt masterpieces out of sand or charge at Dapper Dans with an umbrella, somewhere, there's a festival dedicated to honing those skills.

Few hobbies invite ridicule like air guitar. Yet the Air Guitar World Championships in Oulu, Finland, regularly attracts over 10,000 "airheads" (this year's event, which took place last week, was no exception). Though the judges seem to take the sport seriously, judging contestants on their technical skills, stage presence and "airiness," the festival started as a bit of a lark.

"We started out in 1996 to promote the Music Video Festival. It was a half joke," says Hanna Jakku, the event's co-founder. Since those early days, however, the championship has matured. Contrary to popular opinion, says Jakku, air guitar takes talent.

"When it comes to competitive playing, the standard is quite high. It's a contest of showmanship. It's very well timed and choreographed and there's drama to each performance. Think of it as a combination of stand-up comedy and rock opera," she says.

True aficionados can even earn a little extra cash. Last year's winner, Justin "Nordic Thunder" Howard, scored a contract with soft drink brand Dr. Pepper and, like many of his contemporaries, routinely works the festival circuit.

The strange hobby capital of the world, however, is Llanwrtyd Wells, Wales. The tiny town hosts the Man versus Horse Challenge, the Welsh Open Stoneskimming Championships and the ever-popular World Bogsnorkelling Championships, the latter of which was held on August 25.

Read more: World's weirdest food fests

"It came about through drunken discussion in a local pub with a man who was trying to bring in more business to the village," explains Bernice Benton, from Llanwrtyd Tourism, of the bogsnorkelling contest, which last year attracted 177 entrants. The event requires snorkeled and finned-participants to swim two laps in a 180-foot peat bog.

"It's muddy, so it's dark and you can't see, and a lot of people aren't used to breathing through a snorkel. Generally, it's pretty cold, and you also have to deal with the leeches and water scorpions," says Benton.

Contestants don't do it for the money (all proceeds go to charity), as much as the glory. According to Benton, some train quite hard for the event, and go as far as to snorkel blindfolded for practice.

Even those competitions that are today taken in earnest have some pretty arbitrary origins. In 1933, Ohio-based photographer Myron Scott came across a group of boys racing in homemade vehicles, and decided to stage an impromptu race. The event has since morphed into one of most popular events on the DIY calendar, the All-American Soap Box Derby, in which kids and teenagers race homemade cars.

Despite its name, the event attracts an international crowd, and many of the pre-adult contestants have grown up to become famous racers and engineers.

"Soap Box Derby racing teaches you not only the racing, but how to build a car, and what goes into making it fast," says Bobby Dinkins, the marketing director for the event.

Contestants range in age from 7 to 17, and all have to qualify either by winning their local race, or racking up enough points in a rally race. As scholarships make up the winning booty, there's a lot at stake for potential winners. As a result, Dinkins notes, many practice pretty hard.

Read more: Summer solstice: It's all about sex

"These kids are racing all year long to qualify," he says.

In Baltimore, Maryland, children and adults alike take part in a more whimsical dash: the Kinetic Sculpture Race. The race is composed of human-powered works of art designed to travel over land, mud and water (Fred Flintstone's car would qualify). Sculptures resemble anything and everything, from flying pigs to fluffy pink dogs.

Prizes are awarded for conking out first, for maintaining middle ground, and for keeping all feet off the floor.

"We give out almost as many awards as there are vehicles," explains Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, founder of the American Visionary Art Museum, which hosts the event.

The race incorporates 15 miles of downtown Baltimore and the harbor and, if not Baltimore's biggest sporting event, it is certainly its wackiest. Volunteers dressed as chickens help guide vehicles along the right path, while bearded doctors in nursing uniforms are on standby should any injuries occur.

"So much of art is self-involved," explains Hoffberger. "This is a masterpiece of how to bring joy to an entire city."

      CNN Celebrates

    • A jockey spurs the cows as they race in Pacu Jawi on October 12, 2013 in Batusangkar, Indonesia. This Pacu Jawi (traditional cow racing) is held annually in muddy rice fields to celebrate the end of the harvest season by the Minangkabau people. Jockeys grab the tails of the bulls and skate across the mud barefoot balancing on a wooden plank to show the strength of their bulls who are later auctioned to buyers.

      How the world marks a bumper harvest

      No matter the time of year, or place, a bounty of vegetables is often all it takes to get people singing, dancing, cow racing -- even parading around giant phalluses.
    • Dazzling Diwali lights

      Fireworks boom, bulbs flash, and flames flicker as tens of millions of people across the globe celebrate the beginning of the Festival of Lights.
    • 10 scariest places in Asia

      Our list of doomed sites include a haunted school, political prisons and an abandoned hospital. No...we wouldn't go in there either!
    • Heidi Klum attends Shutterfly Presents Heidi Klum's 14th Annual Halloween Party sponsored by SVEDKA Vodka and smartwater at Marquee on October 31, 2013 in New York City.

      Hollywood Halloween

      Catch the best Halloween costumes from tinseltown featuring Heidi Klum, Jimmy Kimmel, Ellen DeGeneres, Miley Cyrus and all their A-list friends.
    • Masked revelers dressed-up as demons and witches take part in a Rauhnacht (rough night) New Year's procession in the southern German town of Waldkirchen on January 5, 2010. The annual festival, which finds its origins in medieval times, is held to ward off evil spirts from the past year. AFP PHOTO DDP / OLIVER LANG GERMANY OUT (Photo credit should read OLIVER LANG/AFP/Getty Images)

      On the hunt for real witches

      There are still many places in the world that treat magic as serious business. Check out our guide to the world's witchiest hotspots.
    • NYC gets its nerd on at Comic Con

      The best photos of the eighth and annual gathering of geeks in the city that never sleeps. The sold out event allowed fans to mingle with stars.
    • Come november, millions of red crabs living on Australia's Christmas Island make their way to the sea to mate and, eventually, lay their eggs.

      Awe-inspiring animal migrations

      When animals come together en masse, very often so do humans. Here's our guide to the animal migrations that bring people out in flocks.
    • 9 rules for surviving Oktoberfest

      Surviving the all-day drinking sessions of highly potent wheat beer at the (in)famous Oktoberfest in Munich is marathon, not a sprint.
    • Parties, piñatas and penguins?!

      For one weekend in September more than 155 million people in six neighboring countries across Central America pull out all the stops to honor the birth of their nations.
    • BIG PINE KEY, FL - JULY 11: Surrounded by yellowtail snapper fish, Elizabeth Campbell of Crystal Beach, FL pretends to play a french horn, July 11 at the Underwater Music Festival in the Florida Keys. Campbell was one of about 600 divers and snorkelers that submerged to listen to a local radio station's six-hour broadcast piped under the surface via special underwater speakers at the Looe Key National Marine Sanctuary.

      The world's wackiest hobbies

      Some hobbies take genuine talent, others just don't, but the real skill is turning your weird past-time into an international event.
    • How the world celebrates Eid

      For Muslims, Eid al-Fitr is one of the most festive periods in the religion's calendar. We asked you to send us your best Eid photos, here are your best shots.
    • The one day insect festival is sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. Bugfest attracts 25,000 visitors a year and serves up a range of creepy, crawly dishes. This year, the festival will focus on scorpions.

      Bug off! World's weirdest food fests

      Humans have a strange relationship with food. This seems to be a global truth that is perhaps best evidenced by the array of unusual food festivals the world over.
    • Each year, proponents of the healing powers of mud (and those that just like to getting down in the dirt) descend on Daecheon Beach in South Korea for the annual Boryeong Mud Festival. Last year, 2.6 million people participated, many diving in to the mud marathon, mud wrestling, and several other mud-related activities on offer.

      The world's messiest festivals

      There is something innately messy about summer. That must be why some of the world's filthiest festivals bide their time until the warmer months.
    • Janto Marzuki captured these images of a Stockholm midsummer celebration on June 20, 2008. In Sweden, families celebrate the start of summer with dancing and singing around a decorated pole in a park. They have special celebrations in folklore style in the historic animal park called Skansen.

      Your summer solstice celebrations

      We asked you to send us your best solstice photos. From skinny dipping, fire jumping and dancing like a rocket -- here are your best shots.
    • BELARUS: People bathe in the lake of Vyacha during 'Ivan Kupala Day', a traditional Slavonic holiday celebration in Mochany village, 25 km outside Minsk, early 07 July 2006. During the celebration originating from pagan times, people plait wreaths, jump over fires and bathe.

      Summer solstice: It's all about sex

      Linked to fertility -- both of the vegetal and human variety -- the solstice has spawned celebrations meant to fan the flames of love and lust.
    • iReporter Jenna Adams captured this quintessential summer day photo at an annual youth group retreat at Lake Arietta in Auburndale, Florida.

"It had been raining all day, and finally in the evening it stopped so everyone decided to go out on the lake for a couple of hours and I happened to capture this photo of one of the students jumping off the dock," she says.

"This moment in particular may not be the most memorable, but the emotions that it stirs up within me remind me of all the moments that were memorable in 2012."

      Your best moments of 2012

      For some it was an exhilarating holiday to an exotic place, finding new love or conquering their greatest fear. For others, it was witnessing an historic event.
    • Edinburgh's annual New Year's Eve (Hogmanay) festivities are cast aglow with a torchlight procession involving more than 25,000 locals on December 30. The parade is led by Shetland's Up Helly Aa vikings (pictured).

      Where to welcome the New Year

      For many people, New Year's Eve can be disappointing -- there's so much hype in the lead-up to the event, it often falls short of the mark.
    • Most Christmassy places on the planet

      If your Christmas is too often one of tacky decorations, over-cooked turkey and bitter family feuds, now may be the time to plan yourself a Yuletide getaway.
    • Jen Best from Liberty, Misouri, snapped this adorable picture of her six month old nephew, Grayson, playing with fairy lights after seeing the idea on Pintrest. "(Grayson) absolutely loved the lights," she says. "When we finished, my brother picked him up, and he held a light tightly in each hand and wouldn't let go."

      Your Christmas traditions

      Christmas is synonymous with decorations, markets and extravagant quantities of food. But traditions differ greatly depending on where you are in the world.
    • Europe's best Christmas markets

      For something intended to bring pleasure to loved ones, Christmas shopping in the Internet age can be a peculiarly joyless and atomized activity.
    • KADIMA, ISRAEL - DECEMBER 5: Fesh oil-fried and caramel-filled doughnuts, called sufganiyot in Hebrew, on display at the Roladin bakery December 5, 2006 in Kadima in central Israel. In Jewish tradition, it is customary to eat the doughnuts and other foods fried in oil during the upcoming eight-day festival of Hanukkah. Also known as the Festival of Lights, Hanukkah commemorates the re-dedication of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem in 165 BC following the victory of the Jewish Maccabees over the Seleucid Empire when there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day but miraculously, the oil burned for eight days. (Photo by David Silverman/Getty Images)

      The pleasure of Hanukkah food

      For some, Hanukkah is "the potato pancake holiday" -- a holiday that takes the mundane potato and gives it a massive makeover.
    • The biennale will attract artists such as Sudarshan Shetty, whose previous works have included this aluminium and wood sculpture known as "This too shall pass."

      India hosts first arts biennale

      The port-city of Kochi, on India's west coast, isn't known for its arts scene but that will change as it's first arts bienale.