Local Alt-Sports to Help You Think Outside the Gridiron
Pro bull-riding, kayak polo, and more unconventional sports & rec in ATX
If you're new to town, no doubt you'll be hearing about the major sports in the area. It's tough to miss UT football news, especially on home game days when the campus and surrounding area become a sea of burnt orange and white. But in Austin, we try to keep it weird, so we've rounded up some of the more unique sports and recreational activities to participate in or watch. This doesn't even include sports in the off-season, including major and minor league rugby (Austin Gilgronis, Huns, and Blacks), our two Ultimate teams (Sol and Torch), one of America's longest-running full-contact women's football teams (Austin Outlaws), and several Quidditch teams, including national champions Longhorn Quidditch and another band of Austin Outlaws, repping ATX in Major League Quidditch, which will be renamed "Quadball" next season.
The quintessential ATX sport, the high-impact, high-energy, modern version of roller derby immortalized in the 2009 film Whip It was developed here in 2001 after first being invented in the Thirties. Several leagues can now be found within the city limits, and it's just as much fun to watch as it is to join in. Catch regular bouts with the badasses of banked-track, Texas Roller Derby, and flat-track superstars Texas Rollergirls (ranked No. 7 worldwide, No. 4 in the U.S.), and start building up your pain tolerance if you're ready to try out for a team.
Professional Bull Riding
New to ATX this year is our pro bull-riding team, the Austin Gamblers. Their first local game is Aug. 26 at Moody Center, kicking off with a pre-show country concert from Kane Brown. If you're wondering what a bull-riding game entails, so were we. Rodeos are very Texas, but the PBR Team Series is new for 2022 and features teams of pro riders going head-to-head to collect the most points. The scoring system involves points for the difficulty of the bull to ride and the proficiency of the rider, awarded by four judges, and each rider must stay on for eight seconds. There are eight teams in the league, and the only other one in Texas is Ft. Worth's Ariat Texas Rattlers, which Austin will face on Aug. 27, bookended by pre- and post-parties at Stubb's. We're looking forward to seeing how this all shakes out.
Pickleball is trending right now, although it was invented way back in 1965. The sport combines elements of tennis, pingpong, and badminton, and there are pickleball clubs across the U.S. but not in every state. GQ recently called it "a senior citizen's idea of something youthful and hip – the Pete Buttigieg of sports," but hey, our outgoing mayor is pals with Pete, and we have plenty of pickleball devotees in the area. Locally you can play or join leagues at several rec centers, the Austin Tennis & Pickleball Center, and Dreamland in Dripping Springs, where Major League Pickleball is headquartered.
Austin's official kayak polo team, Austin Aquabats, has played on Lady Bird Lake since before some of you whippersnappers were even born. Since 1997, they've been paddling and passing balls into nets, and they typically play games twice weekly. Tuesdays are for newbies, though, with gear and instruction provided, and they're always looking for new players to potentially join the most successful kayak polo club in the U.S., which regularly represents at nationals.
If back-to-school time makes you nostalgic for childhood sports, you're in luck: Adult kickball leagues are a thing. Sportskind offers a very organized and profesh version with officials and photographers, and Austin Sports & Social Club adultifies the game with happy hours and drinking games for the 21-and-up crowd. Both clubs offer a variety of other sports and youthful activities where the goal is to have fun and make friends, and take registrants as teams or individuals.
Pro wrestling is an athletic art form, and Austin has a few ways to enjoy its spectacle. The well-loved Party World Rasslin' offers pretty much what the name entails. And we've got Slam Portal, a collective of comedic, artistic wrestlers putting on occasional raucous matches at venues like Central Machine Works. Meanwhile, Inspire A.D., which features our own Culture Editor Richard Whittaker as ring announcer, has been filming their action-packed pro wrestling events of late at Pinballz Arcade.
Austin is one of the more bike-friendly cities in the U.S., coming in 16th on a recent ranking by real estate company Clever, which put Houston and San Antonio at 29th and 30th, respectively, and Dallas dead last. Austin recently revived its Critical Mass bike ride, which is a costumes-encouraged, massive ride where bicycles don't fight traffic, they are traffic. There are actually two iterations now with "philosophical differences," according to one ride leader, who offers that the Eastside ride is "shorter and tamer" and the west side version is "longer and wilder," but each boasted 200+ riders in July. And there are plenty of other local rides to join: Follow Social Cycling Austin and Bikin' Betties to get deets on social rides that can include post-ride activities like yoga, swimming, or karaoke, and bike enthusiasts will want to check out Yellow Bike Project's offerings of volunteer opportunities and maintenance classes.