Extreme swinging! Oh gods, that looks like so much fun! I was one of those insane swingers in my younger years, swinging is best when you’re upside down on the upswing, and I’ve wrapped a few chains in my time. I’ve always loved swinging, it’s always felt extraordinarily satisfying. I still love swinging. There was a set of swings across from the school here in town, and I’d always have to stop and have a swing. I think swinging is a particularly good activity for those of us with extreme stress problems – it gives you a comforting action, akin to rocking, and allows you to become fully focused on your physical self, and have complete joy in that. I wish I had a swing set.
…Meanwhile in Estonia, thanks to a cultural love affair with swings, going over the top has developed into a serious extreme sport.
Kiiking, as the sport of extreme swinging is known (“kiik” is “swing” in Estonian), is fairly young, having first been introduced in the early 1990s, but it has deep roots in Estonia’s cultural past. “Wooden swings are traditionally a big part of Estonian culture and all around Estonia you can find different wooden swings (they are called ‘village swings’) where all the people from surrounding places came together during celebrations or just to have fun while swinging and singing,” says Raili Laansalu, a kiiker since she was just 8 years old, and whose family currently runs the premiere website for the sport, Kiiking.com. To this day, communal wooden swings can be found in towns and villages across the country, so it’s perhaps no wonder that some Estonian daredevil would be the one to invent a way to go over the top.
As Laansalu tells it, a man named Tarmo Männigo attempted an arc over the spindle of both of Kosk’s swings. Männigo was able to conquer the first swing, which stood about 2.5 meters tall, but when he attempted to swing around the second, which stood slightly taller, at 2.7 meters tall, he couldn’t quite get over. It became clear that the taller the swing got, the more difficult it would be to complete a circuit over the spindle, which meant that there could be competitive accomplishments, and thus, a new sport was born. “We, who are kiikers so to say, like to say that “kiiking” starts when your legs are higher than your head, before that it is just swinging,” says Laansalu.
By 1997 Kosk had continued to refine his vision of kiiking as a pastime, and he invented a telescoping metal swing that could be raised and lowered safely, to allow for variable skill levels. The design has continued to be refined over the years, and the height of the swings increased. The spindly metal forks and system of support wires of modern kiiking swings are a far cry from Kosk’s original rustic inventions.
At least in Estonia, where kiiking is most popular, the rules of competition are regulated by the Estonian Kiiking Union (Eesti Kiikingi Liit). Kiikers set a certain height for the swing that they will then have the chance to try and round using just the momentum from their body. Should they swing all the way around at the stated height, they can try to go higher. “[For example], I set my first height at 4 meters. I make one spindle so I am allowed to choose a new height. For next one I choose 4.20 meters. I also complete that so I choose now 4.50 meters. If I do not complete 4.50m, my end result will be 4.20m,” says Laansalu. The competitor who can flip around the highest swing wins. According to Guinness World Records, the current champion kiiker cleared a 7.15 meter swing in 2015.
You can read and see more at Atlas Obscura.