Eight sports that thrived in 2023’s spotlight

December 23, 2023
Updated 2023/12/23 at 7:32 AM
11 Min Read

Stand-up paddle boarding (SUP)

Water sports have gained much attention in recent years, among which stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) is one of the most popular ones in 2023.

SUP is a water sport that draws inspiration from surfing, with its modern roots firmly planted in the sun-kissed shores of Hawaii in the 1900s. Unlike traditional surfing, where you lie down on the board and use your hands to paddle, SUP allows you to stand on a wider and more stable board, propelling yourself through the water with a long paddle.

Variations include flat water paddling, racing, surfing, whitewater SUP, yoga, and fishing. Playing paddle boards does not require swimming skills, but it is important to wear a life jacket and a footrope.

“We played paddle boarding for about three hours and it wasn’t as difficult as we imagined,” a netizen in Beijing wrote in a post. “The next day, my thighs were a bit sore. This tested my balance ability, and I would like to go play with my friends again.”


Frisbee was still in a relatively niche state in China several years ago, however, it started to gain much more attention from 2022 to 2023 because of young people posting their experiences on social media.

Boasting advantages like few limitations for game venues and easy-to-understand rules, the sport has triggered a craze spreading fast across cities nationwide.

Frisbee is suitable for activities such as competitions, fitness, and public leisure. It is cheap and affordable for everyone to play. The biggest benefit is that this sport can be played with anyone, even your dog.

“Before we went the ultimate way, it had become a popular game in our community and enjoyed by many. And when enthusiasts mingled, the ultimate flying disc game was on,” said a 22-year-old fan Yolanda Li.

Eyeing opportunities brought by sizzling new sports, and social platforms nationwide have taken active steps to tap the market. Xiaohongshu, a lifestyle opinion-sharing social platform in China, established ties with the country’s sports administration and launched the National Ultimate Frisbee League last year.


Baduanjin, also known as the Eight Brocade Exercises, is an ancient health exercise that originated in China. It has become increasingly popular this year, with many social influencers sharing their exercise experiences online, believing that after practicing baduanjin, their bodies have become stronger and their immunity has been improved.

Baduanjin is a simple and easy-to-master health exercise that is suitable for various sub-healthy populations, including those who sit for long hours, have poor emotions, have spinal issues, and the elderly. It consists of eight gentle exercises, each with a specific name and associated health benefits.

“The popularity of Baduanjin among young people is increasing, especially since people spent so much time at home during COVID-19,” says 28-year-old Li Jianlin, who works as a fitness content creator for Keep, one of the most popular apps for sports lovers in China, and which offers online fitness programs.

“I knew nothing about baduanjin until I saw videos of people practicing on social media platforms. The movements are very slow, like tai chi, so I naturally associated it with the kind of exercise favored by the elderly,” says Huang Qian, a 28-year-old model.

She has issues with her cervical vertebrae, spleen and stomach. “I read reviews, saying that it can be helpful to these kinds of problems,” she says.

“It only takes me 12 minutes to finish the eight sequences. I feel refreshed and full of energy before starting my day,” says Huang, who now practices baduanjin every day.

Urban axe throwing

Have you heard of “Axe Gang”? It is a joking phrase to describe people who play urban axe throwing, which is a rapidly rising sport that’s chopping its way into the hearts of people this year.

Throwing an axe requires precise coordination and focused attention. The act of hurling an axe towards a target provides a satisfying release of energy, making it a great way to de-stress and unwind.

Participants are provided with real axes and guided by trained professionals in a safe and controlled environment.

Axe throwing originated in the stunning mountain regions of Canada. A group of outdoor enthusiasts, passionate about challenging themselves and experiencing the thrill of throwing axes, envisioned sharing this joy with city dwellers.

In addition, throwing axes can also be combined with activities such as tourism and outdoor exploration, providing people with a richer and more diverse travel experience.

Land Surfing

Land surfing offers several advantages over its ocean-bound counterparts such as accessibility, cost-effectiveness, variety, safety and fun. There are more posts about people land surfing in parks or on streets in cities on social platforms this year, which triggered more people to join.

Land surfing, also known as pavement surfing or street surfing, is a thrilling sport that offers the exhilaration of surfing without needing a drop of water. Imagine the feeling of carving turns on asphalt, riding imaginary waves, and experiencing the invigorating glide – all within the urban landscape.

Players rely on gravity to drive speed and sway their bodies to make the land surfboard slide. In parks and squares across China, young daredevils can be spotted balancing atop long skateboards, moving their bodies as if surfing the waves.

Xiaohongshu searches for “land surfing” revealed a significant rise in the first half of 2022, with the number rocketing 232 percent year-on-year. The number recorded an astonishing high in May — an increase of 460 percent year-on-year.

Roundnet or Spikeball

There is a sport that is very niche, even without a formal Chinese name, but full of fun and gradually becoming popular in China – Spikeball. People usually use Mini Volleyball to describe this sport.

Spikeball, also known as Roundnet, is a captivating sport that’s quickly capturing hearts and igniting passions across the globe. This dynamic activity seamlessly blends athleticism, strategy, and teamwork, drawing inspiration from volleyball, tennis, and beach tennis to create a fast-paced and exhilarating experience.

Spikeball transcends the limitations of specific venues or player numbers. Unleash the thrill on grassy fields, sandy beaches, bustling parks, quiet neighborhoods, or even spacious indoor areas. All you need is a small, bouncy ball and a compact net to transform any space into an arena for epic Spikeball battles.

In the 1980s, a creative mind named Jeff Knurek, a toymaker and cartoonist gave birth to this dynamic sport. However, after a brief surge in popularity, interest waned, leaving Spikeball seemingly forgotten.

In 2008, Chris Ruder, captivated by the game’s potential, discovered the dormant Spikeball and embarked on a mission to revive it.


Thanks to promotion on social media and by local clubs, pickleball, now one of the fast-growing sports in the US, has gained sudden popularity among young people across China since spring this year.

In China, from April 8 to May 8, lifestyle social media platform Xiaohongshu launched a campaign called “Pickleball Together” to promote the sport and recruit members for its own Pickleball League.

“Now in 2023, this sport is booming and becoming a trendy activity among urban young people,” said Zeng Guobiao, director of the China Liaison Office of the International Pickleball Federation (IPF).

Pickleball is a racket-style sport that combines the characteristics of badminton, tennis, and table tennis. It is easy to learn and fun to play with simple rules.

The number of pickleball players in the United States has skyrocketed from 4.82 million in 2021 to over 36 million in 2023, demonstrating an astonishing growth trend.

Nearly one-third of the players are aged between 18 and 34, making up the largest percentage of pickleball players nationwide, according to the US Association of Pickleball Professionals.

Archery Tag

Archery Tag, also known as Extreme Archery, was invented by American John Jackson. This thrilling sport went viral in China this year, which attracted internet celebrities, entertainment celebrities as well as companies to choose it for team building.

The sport takes the precision of archery and combines it with the excitement of dodgeball. Players battle it out on a field roughly half the size of a basketball court, wielding specially designed bows and foam-tipped arrows.

Archery Tag has gained widespread popularity for its fun, competitive, and safe gameplay. No prior experience is needed to play Archery Tag, and the use of foam-tipped arrows ensures a safe playing environment, making it suitable for all ages and skill levels.

People only need a basic set of equipment, including bows, arrows, masks, and a designated playing area. This makes it ideal for parks, backyards, and even indoor spaces.

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