Adrenaline and thrill junkies

Eager thrill seekers take risks the rest of us dare not: including climbing skyscrapers without safety equipment, a parachute or slackline. Here is our list of places to go for your own adrenaline high
Eager thrill seekers take risks the rest of us dare not: including climbing skyscrapers without safety equipment, a parachute or slackline. Here is our list of places to go for your own adrenaline high.

Parachute jumps are always breathtaking

Get the ‘free fall’ experience with aero clubs, in regional centres and small towns. Most are linked to DOSAAF, the Voluntary Society for Assisting the Army, Air Force, and Navy.

“From May until September, experienced parachutists jump from a height of 800-2,000m; novices start from 800m and may jump in tandem with an instructor from 2,500m,” says Alexey Matvievsky, a parachute and landing instructor with Vitebsk DOSAAF aero club (named after Gorovets). Each jumper’s weight must be within the range of 45kg to 90kg.  The aero club offers a surveillance flight on an Mi-2 helicopter, that can hold up to eight adult passengers. For larger groups, they can fly an An-2 plane, designed for ten passengers.

B.A.S.E. jumpers also use parachutes, but jump from high structures. Most are experienced parachutists who switched to B.A.S.E jumping after becoming bored of jumping from airplanes. B.A.S.E. is an acronym for ‘building’, ‘antenna’, ‘span’ and ‘earth’. To become a fully-fledged B.A.S.E. jumper, one should jump from each of these objects, says Alexey, who boasts five years of experience, and has been skydiving for nine years.

Naturally, we discuss the dangers with people, as injuries do occur in extreme sports. Alexey underlines, “B.A.S.E. jumping is considered most dangerous because of how close jumping platforms are to the ground. We use special parachutes that unfold in minimal time and there are no reserve parachutes.” Alexey soon plans to visit the world’s largest B.A.S.E. drop zone, Kjerag Mountain, in Norway.

About three years ago, Minsk’s adrenaline addicts brought slacklining to the city, where the person walks along webbing suspended between two tall objects. “Previously, we’ve slacklined using a takeoff ramp in Raubichi; now we’re doing so at Lake Komsomolsokoe,” says slackliner Andrey Sayevich.  “We don’t have medical insurance: if you fall from such a height, you won’t need it. We have passed first aid courses with the Red Cross though.”

Most slackliners are men but the first slackline record holder was Faith Deckey, aged 23, who traversed an 80m band at a height of 1,200m. In 2013, Lukas Irmler beat her record by walking at a height of 5,200m, in the Andes.

Slackliner training at height of 70m

In summer time, webbing is often spanned over water. For lengths of over 150m, Andrey tells us that the term used is ‘longline’ — and it’s far harder to balance, due to movement and sagging through the line. However, the current trend among experienced sportsmen is highline: walking on a band suspended at high altitude, for instance, between two cliffs. As there are no cliffs in Belarus, highliners travel to the Crimea.

Rope jumping is another thrill for adrenaline lovers. Wikipedia says that rope jumping is ‘jumping from a high object using a rope with an intricate cushioning system made from alpinist ropes and harnesses’. Having tried it myself, I can say that it’s not for the weak of stomach! Every weekend, rope jumpers conquer high objects across the country. Alexandra Mokhanova, with five years of jumping experience, paints a picture of a typical jumper, saying that men tend to climb over a parapet and cry. She notes, “Initially, there was a rush of people wanting to try it out but, now, most seem satisfied. Most rope jumpers are young but parents sometimes come with their children. My father is a rope jumper, by the way.”

As to where extreme sportsmen find suitable sites, she adds that they need to be at least 30m tall and preferably not residential. She adds, “There are many informal movements, such as diggers, roofers and stalkers. We share information about isolated structures. Previously, rope jumpers used the coliseum [an unfinished garage at the ambulance centre in Minsk] but we also use Google Maps to find watch towers.”

If it’s raining, even the most dedicated will delay a jump, as wet rope is prone to stretching. Since it’s very long, it’s impossible to predict how far it will stretch, and there is the risk of hitting the ground. Rope jumpers do use a double safety harness so, if one set fails, the other will work. Before a jump, a test weight is thrown (or a brave/foolhardy member of the team).

Alexandra adds that knot tying is a crucial job. If no one wants to take responsibility, they draw lots! When the system is perfectly aligned, there’s nothing to be afraid of. “However,” she adds, “None of us dared jump from a 200m high cliff on the Greek island of Zakynthos last summer. Extreme sportsmen travel widely, mainly to countries that have cliffs, as tall sites are needed.”

It’s hard to legalise rope jumping and many other extreme activities, since they are neither sports, nor attractions, and there is always an element of risk, which would oblige ambulances and the militia to be present, and for the Emergency Ministry to make safety checks on harnesses. Engaging all these services every time would be a challenge.

Zip lines are also popular, using an inclined cable from top to bottom. Although the first zip lines appeared in Costa Rica in the 1990s, the idea is quite new in Belarus. There’s now an annual zip line festival, taking place in the Minsk Region in September.

Extreme caving is also new for us. Minsk’s Irina Gorodnaya has conducted descents and ascents, and notes that most enthusiasts in Belarus make trips to Abkhazian caves. Unlike rope jumpers, speleologists use a single rope, so any mistake can be fatal. Practice shows that it’s next to impossible to survive falling into a cave, as Irina warns. Rock climbers train in Trapetsia climbing gym, which opened last autumn on Dzerzhinsky Avenue in Minsk. Honing their skills, they then go to Deneshi Rocks, near Zhitomir.

Those who aren’t good with heights have many land options at their disposal, including zorbing, which has ‘rolled to us’ from Western Europe. The idea is to climb inside a clear plastic sphere, and roll down a slope for up to 200m (at an angle of 15 to 25 degrees). You can also zorb on water, without risk of drowning, since the orb is inflated with 13 cubic metres of air, able to hold a 13-tonne object.

Meanwhile, from Germany, there is ‘powerbocking’ in ‘seven league boots’. Named after Austrian engineer Alexander Böck, who patented his invention in 2004, powerbocking came to Belarus in 2006, when a Belarusian sportsman from Skyer extreme club set a world record, performing 25 backward somersaults within a minute.

Wearing spring-loaded boots, you can accelerate to 35 km/h or jump 3m, as powerbocker Anton Karseka explains. “Being physically fit helps, especially if you’re familiar with sky jumping, high board diving, acrobatics, or gymnastics,” asserts Anton.

Amateur boots are priced at $200-350, while professional gear costs around $1,000.

Dreaming of wings and the skies, many adrenaline seekers say that nothing compares to the feeling of flight. Just take care hovering towards the clouds!

Official commentary

Yelena KIRICHENKO, Head of the Justice Ministry’s Department of Non-profit Organisations

In 2010, we registered the Belarusian Extreme Sports Federation public association. The Federation’s sphere of interests encompasses, in particular, parkour and skateboarding. The organisation aims to develop and promote these sports in our country.

By Inna Gorbatenko 
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