Obscure Sports: Extreme Ironing

Oct. 3, 2011

Tyler Bodlak
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In 1997, Phil Shaw wanted to go rock climbing, but the massive pile of clothes that desperately needed to be ironed beckoned to him.

Ironically, he did what any normal person would probably – not – do in that situation, and combined the two, and in the process, created a sport known as extreme ironing.

Not surprisingly, the sport did not catch on immediately. Most people realized that ironing is a chore best done in the comforts of your own home, but Shaw refused to give up.

In 1999, Shaw and a friend set out on a world tour aimed at spreading the sport, as they brought along their backpacks stuffed with an iron, an ironing board, and loads of wrinkly shirts just waiting to be ironed.

Along the way, they met a group of adventurous Germans who brought the sport back to their home country. In 2002, a German village hosted the first extreme ironing world championship, and extreme ironing had officially arrived.

Half sport, half performance, and half comedy, extreme ironing is, according to the sport’s official website, “the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt.”

As extreme ironing has grown in popularity, the pursuit of a crisp looking shirt has gotten downright strange.

In 2001, a two-person crew of British climbers lugged their ironing gear to the summit of Mt. Everest, completing the feat by ironing the Union Jack flag from the top of the world.

Underwater is also a popular destination for ironists. In March 2008, a team of 72 divers set a new world record for the largest number of people ironing underwater at once; a prestigious record, it may be.

Ironically, what began as an attempt to combine work and play is now a bizarre sport with a global following.

But please remember: Extreme ironing is a dangerous sport that should never be attempted by beginners unless under the watchful eye of an experienced professional. Iron at your own risk.