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tombstoning

noun [uncountable] British

the extreme sport of jumping or diving into water from a very high place such as a harbour wall, cliff face, etc

tombstone

verb [transitive] British

tombstoner

noun [countable] British

'Tombstoning is the practice of plunging into open water from a high point. Coastguards have warned tombstoners they are dicing with death.'

BBC News 30th June 2010

'They are ready to respond to calls around the clock, and they never know quite what they could face… One was on Sunday when a 75-year-old man jumped – or tombstoned – 30ft (10.5m) off Durdle Door into the sea.'

BBC News 15th July 2010

'A tombstoner was photographed risking serious injury by hurling himself into a water-filled quarry just feet from large rocks.'

Telegraph, UK 26th July 2010

Despite repeated warnings about the serious risks involved, it seems that adrenalin junkies wanting to take the plunge are increasingly captivated by the hazardous craze of tombstoning.

the craze is gaining momentum, lifeguard and lifeboat crews reporting that the number
of cases they have dealt with
has doubled during the past
four years

Tombstoning involves jumping into a natural stretch of water from an extremely high place, typically a cliff face, harbour wall, high bridge or seaside pier. Safety campaigners have warned that the practice is extremely dangerous, potentially causing serious neck or spinal injuries, and even death. There are inherent risks of jumping into water, such as not knowing the depth or whether there are any rocks or obstructions underneath, or simply being unsure of your own capabilities in open water.

Tombstoning first hit the spotlight about five years ago, but the craze is gaining momentum, lifeguard and lifeboat crews reporting that the number of cases they have dealt with has doubled during the past four years. It's been suggested that the rise of YouTube and Internet-based video has galvanized the appeal of tombstoning, with thrill-seekers taking inspiration from watching video clips of jaw-dropping jumps in impressive locations.

Evidence also suggests that participants, coined tombstoners, fall into all age categories, not just adrenaline-fuelled youngsters. In July 2010, 75-year-old Christopher Irven, a retired army major, became Britain's oldest tombstoner when he dived 40 feet from rocky outcrop Durdle Door. Unfortunately, Mr Irven's daredevil dive turned into a belly flop, and he had to be air-lifted to hospital with injuries to his stomach and groin.

Background – tombstoning

The practice of tombstoning seems to have originated in the UK's West Country, and the expression is still used mainly in British English. Its origins may possibly relate back to 1995 newspaper reports of people jumping off Tombstone Rock near Wembury, a village on the South coast of Devon. Though tombstoning started out as a playful nickname for the craze, it has a sombre appropriateness, since several people in the UK have died doing it (a tombstone is a large stone which is put over the place where a dead person is buried).

The expression tombstoning is also sometimes used to refer to the practice of using the names of dead people for committing financial fraud and identity theft.

Those people sensible enough not to risk the watery kind of tombstoning, but who would enjoy a more adventurous approach to swimming, might be interested in the activity of coasteering. This incorporates scrambling, diving and swimming in rougher currents, but all under the supervision of trained experts in locations where the risks have been carefully assessed.

by Kerry Maxwell, author of Brave New Words

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This article was first published on 16th August 2010.

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