Extreme sports day!

By on October 1, 2008

To celebrate Health and Sports Day, this month we take a look at some unconventional sports that take physical and mental health to a whole new level: the extreme! 

 

With the amount of exercise you get from surfing trains, navigating from platform to platform, jostling elbows, or dodging lit cigarettes, it may seem that urban life is adventure enough. But take a deep breath and imagine yourself falling gently through the air, crossing fifty meters with a single leap, or throwing yourself headfirst over ice-cold rapids, perhaps barrel-jumping into a pool of crystal clear water. This isn’t pure fantasy. Paragliding and canyoning are two recreational sports that have become increasingly popular with weekend warriors. If, like me, you spend far too much time indoors, moving from one air-conditioned interior to another, then this call to adventure can be irresistible. 

 

PARAGLIDING

Consider it the gentle art of falling, only you’re strapped to thirty feet of nylon. Paragliding is basically throwing yourself off a steep hill or cliff wearing a banana-shaped chute. After take-off, you release the chute, and with careful navigation of the air currents, you can be swept along for a considerable distance. While a leap off a 16-meter hill might find you airborne for no longer than a few seconds, more experienced paragliders can spend 20 leisurely minutes winding their way down from a 150-meter cliff.

 

For my first experience with paragliding, I went to the Saitama Komachi paragliding club. The first part of the day was spent watching an instructional video and learning how to handle the “wing,” or chute (canopy). This involves not tangling yourself in the fifty or so lines running from the chute to the harness. Another important lesson is the art of running in the air like Wile E. Coyote (the one where he runs off the edge of the cliff and continues to pump his feet until he realizes that he’s in mid-air). In paragliding, this is exactly how you’re supposed to launch yourself. It’s supposed to help position the wing once it’s been opened. You then spend the next few seconds trying to catch the right amount of current through the vents of the canopy.

 

In paragliding, the amount of time you spend airborne depends on your ability to “catch” pockets of air, using the lines and the position of your body to steer. Do it well and you can spend a leisurely time drifting for a distance before gracefully rolling to a stop. Do it poorly and like me, you’ll end up in a woodsy stream.

 

In Kanto, most schools have courses for both solo and tandem paragliders. If your family members are old enough to attempt something like waterskiing, then they will likely be fine managing the requisite equipment. There’s no age requirement for tandem flights (tandem involves flying attached to a professional instructor), but schools prefer solo gliders to be at least 18 years old if they’re flying without parental permission.

For more information about the Komachi paragliding school, visit www.komachipara.com/lisence.html (Japanese only). 

 

CANYONING

There’s something mildly masochistic about this sport. For one, you have to squeeze yourself into two layers of neoprene and wear a crash helmet. For another, you have to hike far enough upstream to place yourself at the head of some fairly fast-flowing rapids. And yet once you’re in the water, you’re extremely grateful for the extra padding. Not only is it pristine mountain water; it’s cold.

 

Then comes the fun part. In canyoning, the goal is to move downstream, and any method goes. You can do this by thrusting yourself head first over shallow rapids, sliding down feet first on your firmly padded rear, or by using traditional rock climbing gear such as ropes and abseiling or by simply jumping into the cascading water. Expect a few bruises and more than one chipped nail. Canyoning isn’t an elegant sport, but it’s an extremely fun, slippery, muddy, messy and overall pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Canyoning can be very easy or extremely difficult, though emphasis in the sport is usually on aesthetics and fun rather than pure difficulty, so don’t worry. Some hiking is involved to access the canyons, but most of the time is spent in the water. Canyoning is suitable for 8 years and over and requires the guidance of a professional. With courses for the whole family being run by various outdoor adventure centers, a real family adventure can be had that doesn’t require a lot of skill and preparation, just determination and a deep desire to be thrilled. What are you waiting for? Make your next undo-kai (Sports Day) one to remember.

www.canyons.jp/Family.html & www.evergreen-hakuba.com both offer a variety of family packages with friendly, experienced, English-speaking guides.

About TF Tribe