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Extreme ironing: Danger, action, steam and starch
Nov. 22, 2002
Toronto Star

For extreme sport enthusiasts, it's not enough to just scale up a cliff anymore. The real challenge is making it to the top with an ironing board on your back.

Extreme Ironing -- a sport that combines physical feats with a little housework -- is catching on in Europe. Athletes swap photos of themselves ironing on snow-capped mountaintops, on water-skis and underwater at ExtremeIroning.com.

"It all started in a back garden in Leicester, five years ago," said Phil Shaw, inventor of the sport.

After a busy day working at the knitwear factory, Shaw was looking forward to a relaxing afternoon in his backyard. The last thing he wanted to do was iron -- but the stack of crumpled clothes compelled him. In a flash of inspiration, Shaw moved the ironing board outside so he could catch some rays while he pressed and steamed.

But even that wasn't extreme enough for Shaw -- he wanted more danger and action in his ironing. So the sport soon migrated from his rather "pokey" backyard to the challenging hills and valleys of England's Lake District.

"The idea was to combine something that was quite exciting, like rock climbing, with something that was quite boring, like ironing," Shaw said.

He and his Extreme Ironing friends also took on monikers such as Spray and Hot Crease. Shaw, the original Extreme Ironer, calls himself Steam.

Software engineer Matthew "Starch" Patrick said he enjoys the "immediate gratification" of the hot sport. "The smell, feel and look of a freshly pressed garment has a lot to commend it," he said.

Today, an estimated 200 men and women take part in the sport across Europe. Athletes experiment with everything from very long extension cords, to batteries and solar-powered irons to get the heat they need to their extreme location.

Patrick was one of approximately 80 competitors from 10 countries who met up in Munich for the first Extreme Iron Championships in September.

With sponsorship from Dash, a European laundry detergent, the championships were far grander than Shaw had ever imagined -- complete with bands and beer tents.

"It was a real mini-Olympics for ironing," he said.

Competitors faced off in a series of challenges, each with its own special terrain: there was a forest area, a river, an urban area where competitors ironed on (and under) a car, a rock climbing wall, and a flat free-style zone.

They were judged on both the quality of their ironing and their style. Some hung from the trees in the forest section, ironing upside down. Others ironed on surfboards to avoid getting wet in the river, or bounced on trampolines to get a little height on the board.

Many contestants were already into extreme sports, and took on the ironing to bring something new to their sport.

Norbert Fuchs of Austria was already a mountain-climber, but said he still had to prepare for the championship. The 25-year-old electrical engineer started training in earnest last summer, with his brother Georg. Neither won a trophy, but the brothers say they keep on training for the love of the sport.

"It's perfect conditions here because the mountains are huge ... steep and dangerous," Fuchs said.

Top prize went to Inga "Hot Pants" Kosak from Germany, who won a trip to see the Iron Man competition in Hawaii.

Shaw hopes to put on another competition if he can find a good sponsor.

He's currently working on a documentary about the sport that's scheduled to air in Europe next month.

"We've still got irons in the fire," said Shaw.

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