Monitor: Adventure Sport
International comment on extreme sport following the death of 21 canyoners in Switzerland
Saturday 31 July 1999
ACTIVITIES SUCH as white-water rafting, bungee jumping, abseiling, hang gliding, rock climbing, parachuting and now canyoning have become a fixture in our entertainment landscape. They have met a market need and it is worth considering why. In answering this we might need to look more deeply into the human condition. Life has equipped us with instincts that are often ignored in a world of air-conditioning and communication through computer screens. Just as we are warned that our natural physical strength will waste away without regular exercise, it may be argued that our natural responses to danger need exercising too. When that exercise goes wrong, as it did in Switzerland this week, it... reminds us that the world can still be a hazardous place.
THE CONTROLS of modern life, the laws and attitudes that regulate everything makes time spent canyoning even more precious. Freedom and experience are, for many people, worth a risk. But there is an inherent paradox in the adventure travel business. Young people want excitement and love to test boundaries, but the horror and sorrow when a young life is snuffed out on something as lighthearted as a holiday is difficult to bear. How can you reconcile the rewards with such a grim possibility? (Ed Douglas) Sydney Morning Herald
IT IS the golden rule of canyoning the world over: rain and canyons don't mix. Dangerous situations arise for canyoners constantly - difficult climbing gear, misjudging the depth of freezing water or jumping into a dark pool and discovering that a trunk lies hidden just below the surface - and are the downside of their sport. Such misadventures lead to broken limbs and hypothermia. But in terms of a threat to an entire party of canyoners, these hazards pale into insignificance compared with a flash flood.
THEY CALL it the feargood factor - young men and women in search of the ultimate challenge who can tell their friends: "I stood at the edge of death." They will plunge down mountain sides, scamper up narrow glaciers, hurtle down a Tarmac street at 100mph on their bellies - or slide down a thundering waterfall into a fast-flowing river. This is the generation of extreme sports fanatics - white-knuckle adventurers who do not know the meaning of danger. While the rest of us might look upon a giant waterslide as a death-defying holiday experience, the extreme brigade laugh in the face of genuine terror.
WHATEVER CONCLUSIONS are drawn about Tuesday's canyoning disaster in Switzerland, the underlying question will remain: why is it that so many young people seem willing to risk their lives in pursuit of what many would dismiss as a cheap thrill? Adventure sport has become one of the growth industries of the Nineties. After the bungee jumping stunts of the Dangerous Sports Club caught the imagination of students in the Seventies, the practice was commercialised by the New Zealander AJ Hackett. Novel ways of feeding the cravings of the adrenaline junkie grew as new technologies became available. They range from climbing into Perspex spheres and rolling down hillsides to the craze for canyoning which involves abseiling, swimming and jumping through canyons and waterfalls. Why? All these activities generate an intensity of feeling that banishes all clutter from the brain. As an antidote to modern life's stresses they are unbeatable. (Richard Madden)
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