The Basque people are known for their competitive nature. In fact, they will turn the seemingly most mundane things into sporting competitions. Their well-attended rural sports competitions have a variety of games that require an amazing amount of strength and plenty of testosterone.
Wood chopping, lifting hay bales, handling oxen, participating in insane tug of wars, running races with 200 pound bags of corn on their backs, and more are all part of the Basque rural sports tradition.
However, the best known of these sports outside of the Basque area of Spain, according to Eusk Guide: The Best of the Basque Area, is “harrijasotze,” which translates to “stone lifting” in English. This is a true mighty man’s sport, and only the strongest men in the region (and possibly the world) participate in it.
The Origins of Stone Lifting
Like most Basque rural sports, stone lifting has its origins in the traditional Basque occupations of the past 1,000 years, which are mainly fishing and farming. When these occupations became mostly obsolete during the Industrial Revolution, the Basque people held onto their traditions by turning them into sports.
Competition is fierce, and the best-known champions of Basque rural sports are looked upon by the locals as heroes, much as we look at popular sporting figures in the United States.
While Basque rural sports competitions are held in the Basque region throughout the year, the best time to see them according to Don Quijote Spanish Language Learning, is during a large, week-long tournament featuring all of the Basque rural sports that is held at the central stadium in Bilbao, Spain each year. It is something you will never forget.
Stone Lifting as a Sport and an Art
Stone lifting is the most well-known of the Basque rural sports (at least to the rest of the world) because of a man named Iñaki Perurena. According to the New York Times, Perurena, a stone-lifting champion from Navarre, is the first person in the world recorded to have lifted a stone weighing over 300 kilograms (around 661 pounds). That got international attention.
In a typical stone lifting contest, there are two stone-lifters competing against each other. They take turns in a specified number of attempts to lift the heaviest stones the most number of times. A completed lift is when the stone has been picked up from the floor and balanced on the lifter’s shoulder.
The stones used in the stone lifting competitions are made of granite and usually weigh between 100 and 212 kilograms (from approximately 220 to around 467 pounds), though heavier stones may be used, if the lifter wants them and has a proven ability to lift them. Competition stones are cut into squares, spheres, cylinders, and rectangles, to provide a variety of lifting challenges.
Stone Lifting Records
Basque country stone lifting has some impressive records to its name, with the record-holders performing seemingly superhuman feats. For example, there is an endurance portion of the stone lifting competition that measures how many times someone can lift a 150 kilogram stone (around 330 pounds) on and off of their shoulder within a ten minute time frame.
The record is 52 times, which is pretty amazing! The record for heaviest stone someone has lifted onto their shoulder is 326 kilograms (which is the equivalent of 718 pounds)! When you consider that the lifting competition isn’t complete until the lifter has whirled around with that heavy stone on their shoulder and then dropped it onto a foam pad, you know the men who compete in these sports mean business.
In fact, most of them undergo rigorous training throughout the year to be the best at what they do.
Basque country stone lifting isn’t for everyone. In fact, it may not even be suitable for anyone but the Basques. Lifting these stones takes an enormous amount of upper body strength and years of training to reach competitive levels.
It also takes a toll on the body. Many professional stone lifters have osteoarthritis by the time they’re in their 20’s or 30’s. Most have retired to become trainers for the next generation by the time they’re in their 40’s or 50’s. Even so, being a stone lifter is something these men wouldn’t change for the world.