For four days in May, the small population of about 4,000 in Angels Camp, California grows more than tenfold. Tens of thousands flock to the tiny former mining town to witness and participate in the Jumping Frog Jubilee during the Calaveras County Fair. It’s exactly what you think it sounds like: an annual contest of competitive frog jumping.
“Frog jockeys” from around the world have been motivating their trained frogs to jump the farthest since 1863, when the competition was first held in nearby Copperopolis. The contest moved to Angels Camp, and is most famously known for being the setting of Mark Twain’s 1865 short story “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras.” Twain came across the frog jumping competition when he was traveling through the mountains east of San Francisco between 1864 and 1865.
The video above shows highlights from the 1965 Jumping Frog Jubilee. While beginners can rent bullfrogs from the “Frog Spa” at the fair, many of the frog jockeys catch their own frogs and train them. The arena consists of three large rings, with a pad at the center where the frogs are initially placed. Then, the jockeys perform a range of rather strange tricks to motivate their frogs to jump.
There’s a special technique (and even a science) to frog jumping. Families have passed down secrets down through generations, Smithsonian Magazine reports. These methods have pushed frogs to jump beyond the average, reaching anywhere from six to seven feet per jump. Biologists at Brown University who study the movement of frogs attended the Jumping Frog Jubilee to better understand how jockeys are able to jump so far and reported their findings in 2013.
The scientists found that the jockeys essentially take on the role of a deadly predator. The process generally begins by massaging a frog’s hind legs before dropping it a short distance to the center pad. Only moments after the frog hits the ground, the jockey alarmingly dives after it head-first, Smithsonian Magazine describes. Some competitors let out a mighty cry or blow on the frog. In the video below, you can see jockey Morgan Kitchell pounce behind her frog and give a loud cry.
The distance of first three jumps is measured and combined for a total score. No one has been able to beat the world record set back in 1986 by “Rosie the Ribiter” and jockey Lee Guidici. Rosie jumped a total of 21 feet and 5 ¾ inches, which is 7.16 feet per jump.
In downtown Angels Camp, you can walk down the ”Hop of Fame” where the champion frogs’ names and jumping lengths have been commemorated in brass plaques since the 1920s. The winners of the Jumping Frog Jubilee are awarded with a massive trophy, $900, and ultimate frog jumping bragging rights.
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