Jumpers risk life and limb for latest craze: Tombstoning

By Cahal Milmo

01 July 2006

Even its advocates admit you need to be brave, bordering on psychotic to attempt it. Safety experts claim it's like jumping off a skyscraper onto a wet flannel. Despite - or probably because of -the dangers, tombstoning is becoming one of Britain's fastest growing extreme sports. The craze for jumping off cliffs into the sea has inspired websites and an expanding band of daredevil followers who travel the country to try out the best sites.

However, the combination of the hot weather and the party atmosphere generated by the World Cup have caused concern that this weekend will prove particularly busy for emergency services.

Tombstoning, so named because of the high level of fatalities and serious injuries, has grown in popularity around the British coast (being the largest island in Europe, it's not surprising it is popular in Britain). In Devon and Cornwall, where the craze has caught on among both residents and holidaymakers, emergency services, including coastguards and RNLI lifeboats, deal with an average of one cliff jumping rescue a week during the summer. Police now issue warnings to people found waiting at popular spots

Mark Clark, of the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, said: "We are seeing more and more cases as a result of tombstoning around the coast and we are very worried about it as a phenomenon.

"The risk is that just below the surface of what looks like deep water is a rock waiting to break any jumper's fall. It is the equivalent of jumping off a tall building on to a wet flannel."

In the past two years there have been at least three deaths and a dozen serious injuries .

A week ago a 13-year-old boy suffered serious spinal injuries when he dived off rocks at Shoreham, West Sussex. Last year, an Australian surfer, Harry Dixon, 21, suffered two broken legs when he took time off from Cornwall's surfing championships to tombstone off 16-metre high cliffs.

Aficionados claim that they are merely continuing a long-standing "subculture" of youngsters in coastal communities plunging off cliff faces where they know tidal patterns. Internet forums on extreme sports now carry lists of favoured sites across Britain from Cornwall to the coast of Northern Ireland.

Devotees claim that they avoid injury by knowing precisely how far they have to jump away from the cliff top to avoid obstacles.

Detractors point out that most injuries are caused by people overestimating how far out they they can jump.

Mark Nicholas, an 18-year-old tombstoner from Plymouth, this week underlined what critics say is the absurdity of the sport by jumping off a 60ft cliff just three hours after he had been discharged from hospital with a severely bruised heart and lung suffered at the same spot 24 hours earlier.

He said: "I have been tombstoning with my mates for two or three years and I have never hurt myself before. I absolutely love it. It is a rush, a buzz and I won't give it up."

Veterans recommend that it should only be undertaken in a wet suit and after a full examination of the jump site.

Carol Biddlecombe can testify to the dangers of tombstoning. In March 2000, her son Nick, who was 17 at the time, jumped into water at a beach near Southampton and shattered three vertebrae when he hit a submerged rock.

She said: "He is now paralysed from the shoulders down and confined to a wheelchair.

"It is a terrible price to pay for one moment when he listened to two friends encouraging him to jump. It fills me with horror when I see reports of how more people are doing this."
Well, doctors have far more important things to do than attend to the injuries of goofballs. Ditto for state budgets. I can only assume anyone who's paralyzed from 'tombstoning' doesn't have the gall to demand the country 'keep' him. Some could earn a post-apocalyptic living giving lectures at schools on the dangers of the sport or earn their keep on the street pushing pennants and pencils. Whatever. As long as the sympathy train doesn't stop at their station.
no new posts