The Tombstoning Question
is there a better way?
On the return flight from a sunshine holiday in Tenerife, I was inspired to explore the quandary facing UK authorities over the increasingly popular practice of tombstoning. A picture on the lavatory wall of the Jet2 aircraft captured the sheer joy of jumping into clear cool water on a hot sunny day.
All over Tenerife, from the harbor walls in Garachico and Los Cristianos, from every rock and specially constructed key side, adults, children and teenagers share the joy of jumping into the water, a joy we here in England seem to confuse with the potentially hazardous sport of tombstoning.
Without harm or injury thousands daily take the plunge and no one seems to think anything of it. Yet in the British press a number of tomb-stoning stories have been making the news, some expressing genuine concerns and others, little more than health and safety killjoys. From the outset let's make a distinction between jumping into water and tombstoning.
Tombstoning or Jumping?
Jumping into water can be exhilarating and addictive but tombstoning describes the "…practice of jumping from great heights into the sea or similar body of water from a cliff or other high point such that the jumper enters the water vertically straight, like a tombstone."
The higher the jumping point the greater the waters depth needs to be. The RNLI advise: "As a rule of thumb, a jump of ten meters requires a depth of at least five meters". ROSPA's advice makes sense: "Don't jump into the unknown. Consider the dangers before you take the plunge." Of course jumping from low walls or rocks into deep water presents a fun alternative with low risk and should not be confused with real tombstoning. The energetic among us repeatedly jump in at swimming pools and lidos but you can't class jumping in from the side of a pool as tombstoning. However officials seem to disagree and state that there is no safe time or height from which to jump.
A Comparison with Attitudes in Spain
In Spain the communal tiled hotel and apartment pathways are meticulously tended as the Spanish take great pride in their surroundings, always sweeping and mopping, watering plants trimming trees and taking great satisfaction in their work. Now, a recently moped tiled surface is very slippery and a hazard worth at least three pages of risk assessment paperwork here in the UK, but there was no need for a caution sign in Spain. It would seem that both adults and children have memories long enough to remind them that wet floors are slippery without the need for 'Captain Obvious'.
When it comes to swimming, Spanish parents hold hands with their youngsters and keep a close eye on them and on other children at all times as they play. When splashing in the sea, mum dad and big brother are there to offer a helping hand and so the need for lifeguards is minimal. Children seem valued and loved by all and yet when it comes to water they enjoy much more freedom than most British youngsters. With a relative at their side a six or seven year old will swim way out of his or her depth, having been taught how to swim by the family. Babies swim in rubber rings, toddlers in water wings, two at first, then just one until, whilst still tiny, they swim confidently within an arm's reach of safety.
Not all resorts in Tenerife have big enough beaches to cope with demand and so many have created swimming and sunbathing facilities on rocky outcrops and quaysides. When the weather is hot, young boys and girls inevitably gather to jump into the cooling waters, and they develop all kinds of flight techniques with arms and legs posed as they show off to their family and friends (see video by the sea). The lifeguards do not try to stop them; it's a natural thing to be doing at the seaside. Why then do officials get so hot under the collar when children start jumping into water in the UK?
I believe that swimming should be more than just a life saving skill. Swimming should be fun and people should be able to enjoy it in all its forms including jumping and diving without undue criticism.