Words by Michael J. Rosen
"High to the Clouds Without Drugs"
At your neighborhood park, you might expect to find redheaded twins playing "chicken" on the monkey bars, a frustrated nine-year-old inching down the way-too-sticky-slide, or a pair of lovebirds arguing over who gets to hand the jump rope back to the counselor. What you might not expect is a European man on swing set that can wheel riders who are standing on the "seats," over 25 feet high in a complete 360° circle over the spindle. The sport of kiiking, Estonian for "swinging," is hardly child's play.
Each swing is made of telescopic carbon steel and has arms that can be lengthened from 3 to 8 meters (about 10 feet to over 26 feet). Since 1999, the Estonian Kiiking Union has sanctioned competitions that have participants defy gravity and their loved one's wishes by using their weight, a pumping-squatting motion, and the oomph of momentum to swing until they can make a single rotation over the crossbar. In competitions, the height of the swing's arms is lengthened little by little; the winner is the one who makes it over the bar with the longest swing arms.
Kiiking as a recreational activity dates back to the 19th century when partygoers in Estonian villages would ride 4-to-10-person timber swings, some of which are still in use today. Unlike the kiikers on today's metal swings, earlier swingers were not harnessed in (hands and feet bound to the poles and platform respectively). What's Estonian for, "Look, Ma, no brains!"
If we're talking semantics, it's worth mentioning that while kiik is "swing," many aficionados of the sport say that you're not really kiiking until, while swinging, your legs are reaching higher than your head. If we're talking statistics, then you'd need to know that Andrus Aasamäe holds the kiiking world record with a 7.02 meters swing (over 22 feet). The American record: 5.31 meters-is just short of the women's world record of 5.86 meters. First it was baseball, then basketball, and now, kiiking: What's happening to America's athletic dominance?
Speed and height make kiiking an adrenaline-pumping sport. According to www.kiiking.ee "woman in a skirt on the swing" makes it a spectator one.
In competitions, each athlete has a maximum of five minutes to propel the swing over the bar, yet few competitors can manage longer than three minutes. The leg muscles are quickly exhausted with that forceful deep-knee bending, squatting, thrusting, pumping motion.