Go Jump Off a Cliff: The UK's Growing Coasteering Craze

by  Blane Bachelor | Jan 14, 2010
Rocky coast in Cornwall, UK
Rocky coast in Cornwall, UK / mick blakey/iStock

Mix rock climbing and cliff jumping with a strong ocean current and what do you get? The recipe for coasteering, a relatively new activity that’s been serving up plenty of thrills to rush-seekers in the UK.

Invented by a group of Welsh surfers in the mid-1980s, coasteering is all about navigating the coastline through a combination of swimming, climbing, and jumping. In recent years, the pastime has exploded in popularity beyond Wales to Scotland and Northern Ireland, whose rocky coastlines beckon to adrenaline junkies.

Coasteering hasn’t made its way across the pond just yet, but there are plenty of reputable outfitters and guides scattered across the UK. Among them are TYF Adventure, Coasteering.org, and Outdoor NI.

“We have 37 activities on our website, and coasteering is in our top five,” says Chris Scott, of Outdoor NI, which markets outdoor activities in Northern Ireland. “It’s a risk activity that people can do quite easily. You don’t have to be incredibly physically fit or an absolute expert. All you have to do is be able to put one foot and one hand in front of the other.

But you do have to take certain safety precautions — unless you don't mind getting shredded by jagged rocks or whisked away by strong currents. Without an experienced guide, wetsuit, helmet, and buoyancy aid, you’re asking for trouble.

Indeed, while coasteering has plenty of new fans, its inherent risks have stirred up a bit of controversy. Critics deem the practice of jumping off cliffs into the water “tombstoning,” and in recent years more than a dozen people have died, with dozens of others sustaining injuries, across the UK after jumping into too-shallow water.

However, coasteering enthusiasts say there’s a world of difference between what they’re doing and tombstoning. Risks are minimized, they insist, by using safety equipment, scouting the areas for depths and tidal currents, and always going out with an experienced guide.

“I would compare [coasteering] to rally driving with an instructor to just taking someone’s [race] car and racing off with it,” Scott says. “If you do a high-risk activity and you don’t take precautions, of course that’s not advisable.”

Check them out, get a guide, and suit up — then you really can go jump off a cliff.

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