Travel: Up the pole and all at sea

It is one of Denmark's most popular attractions, but Kevin Pilley found pole-sitting a pain in the butt
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The Independent Travel
It is easily the most excruciatingly mind-numbingly boring spectator sport in the world. Very probably, it is also the world's dullest and most tedious participant sport. It is also one of Denmark's most popular summertime tourist attractions.

The World Pole-Sitting Championships are held every year in Jarresbaeksmunde harbour in Naestved, 40 minutes from Copenhagen. Last year, 20 contestants put their boredom and buttock-tolerance thresholds to the test by sitting for a week on top of 16ft-high aluminium poles, 100ft out to sea. They slept curled uncomfortably around their one-by-one-and-a-half feet bucket- seats. Their three meals were rowed out to them daily. As was their mail and WC facilities.

It is a comment on the nature of the sport that the most entertaining part is seeing the participants use the toilet. Members of the local scuba diving club are in charge of a 24-hour bedpan service as well as a large canvas windbreak which is handed up from a speedboat to preserve their dignity. Capable of speeds up to 50mph, it guarantees delivery of a toilet- roll within five minutes of a call-out. The service is free.

Four pole-sitters shared first place by sitting it out for 137 hours. There was a 22-year-old student, Anne Nielson, and 37-year-old Kim Malinowski, a truck-driver from nearby Haslev. A pilot called Bjorn and an unemployed local called Bent joined them on the winners' rostrum. Most of the spectators had gone home.

Sadly, the minimum wage does not apply in pole-sitting. The world champions received around 50p per hour each for their efforts. For a week's work they earned about pounds 85. "It is the hardest sport in the world. You must first conquer your mind and then your bottom," said a member of the Malinowski support team after he had won his fifth pole-sitting title. He is probably the greatest pole-sitter there has ever been. His personal record for staying up a pole is 152 hours. He is thought to have logged over 800 hours during his competitive career, not including practice. His bottom is generally considered to be invincible.

Denmark has dominated the event since it began 10 years ago. Britain has never competed in it. Sunstroke and posterior fatigue are the main occupational hazards in pole-sitting. They affect spectators and contestants alike. Along with catalepsy. As I watched the forlorn figures fidgeting out at sea, I realised I was watching nothing. Apart from occasional shouts of mockery and motivation, nothing happens. The most exciting event was a wet T-shirt contest laid on for the male contestants. The ladies were later entertained by a Danish version of The Full Monty.

Striptease is good for the sitters' morale. Otherwise, some read, some listen to Walkmans, some smoke, some fish, some nap. While the crowd parties. "The secret is to keep your legs moving and the blood circulating. The first day is the test. Get through that and you can go all the way," said organiser and pole-sitting historian Flemming Hansen, who told me that the sport began in Holland 30 years ago when the Dutch began sitting up on poles in their gardens for fun. The first world champion (118 hours) was Dutch fireman Jen Mikkel.

"It is very relaxing and a cheap way of getting away from it all," said Hansen. "The worst part is hearing the people ashore enjoying themselves in the beer tent and disco."

The only rules are that mobile phones and TV aerials are forbidden and the position of the parasols can be changed only every two hours. You are disqualified if you fall into the sea. The event is open to all - although sleepwalkers are discouraged. The final words go to Malinowski: "All you can hear is the tide coming in and out under you and the blood ebbing out of your bottom. It beats sitting in an office all day."

The 1999 World Pole Sitting Championship will be held between 29 June and 4 July. For further information, contact the Danish Tourist Board, 55 Sloane Street, London SW1X 9SY (tel: 0171-259 5958).