STURGIS | No matter where you live in America, you’re bound to play a few games and enter a few contests. It’s just the way we are, combining good-natured competition with a sense of camaraderie, whether it’s in our own backyards or at the Sturgis rally.
Roughly half of Americans play some form of adult games, ranging from horseshoes, badminton, backgammon and bocce ball to the more traditional pastimes of baseball, football, basketball and soccer. Heck, as many as 10,000 of us play croquet on a regular basis. Another 155 million Americans are addicted to video games, according to a 2016 study by the Pew Research Center.
On the national level, we also love contests, including songwriting, singing, dancing, hot dog eating, and team rocketry, to Miss This or That, and even the more geek-oriented North American Computational Linguistics Olympiad. Just Google “contests” and you’ll get 190 million results in about a half-second.
So we love our games, giveaways and contests, despite whether any physical or cerebral skill is involved. And that doesn’t change when several hundred thousand motorcycle lovers converge on the Sturgis rally every August.
Those contests got their start in the earliest days of the rally when bikers would get together and stage races, hill climbs and burnout contests to fill their idle hours, said Christina Steele, spokeswoman for the city of Sturgis.
The Jackpine Gypsies introduced plank riding, a contest to see which riders could go the farthest on an elevated 2-by-4 without putting a foot down, Steele explained. Similarly, the motorcycle club would conduct slow-ride competitions on a flat track to see which biker had the balance to ride the slowest on the course without touching a foot to the pavement, she said.
“Usually they were a little liquored up when they did this, which didn’t help much,” Steele said.
Early Tuesday evening, the city-sponsored rally conducted its inaugural Tattoo Contest at Rally Point on Harley-Davidson Way and Legendary Main Street offering a variety of prizes in myriad categories, including arm sleeve, leg sleeve, back piece, black and grey, pinup, cover-up, horror, portrait, traditional, floral and new school.
“There is some serious competition among tattoo artists at the rally, so we have no idea what to expect in terms of turnout,” Steele said an hour before the contest’s start.
But since the rally’s earliest years, and “because bikers are the champions of self-entertainment,” competitions have increased in number and evolved in diversity, combining good-natured fun with the occasional political incorrectness or mild sexual overtones, Steele said.
From the best beard world qualifiers to the wildest tattoo, there’s no end to those wacky and sometimes sexualized contests held during the rally. After all, most folks don’t come to South Dakota’s biggest costume party to commune with nature and commandeer a chaise lounge in the forest.
“Our guests come here, not to be isolated and sit alone in the quiet,” Rod Woodruff, president of the Buffalo Chip, said Tuesday. “They are here to party, be social, make lifelong friends and be entertained. And we are here to provide the venue to make that possible.”
With seemingly as many contests as campsites, the Chip seems to be the epicenter of rally wrangling, sporting several challenges each day, many located at its popular Bikini Beach.
Next to the Chip’s more traditional contests of rope swings, homemade bikinis and frozen T-shirts are a bit more outlandish competitions that include beers and burps, head-banging, midget bowling, pickle lickin’ and the Air Sex World Championships.
“It’s all about the fun,” Woodruff said. “Our guests are on vacation, they are ready to engage in fun activities, socialize and meet other campers all here to forget about their daily lives and have a rip-roaring good time. The contests are designed to get people involved, put a laugh in their belly and create memories they will recount when they get back home.”
And Steele predicted that the scope of the contests in the future would only expand.
“Sometimes, it’s just about bragging rights, which are always good,” she said. “I mean, how many people can go home and say I’m the champion pickle-licker in Sturgis?”