Fast, not furious in Asia`s `nanny state`

Last Updated: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 09:19

Singapore: When 13 year-old Singaporean Choo Yixuan wants to take a break from her gruelling daily schedule of schoolwork and swim training, she dons a jumpsuit to go skydiving -- without a parachute. 

But her parents need not worry -- Choo`s thrice-weekly indulgence happens inside a wind tunnel, shielding her from the risk of dramatic mishaps in the sky. 

The self-confessed adrenaline junkie is among the growing ranks of young Singaporeans taking up versions of sports whose only extreme element is their level of safety. 

"I don`t see anything `extreme` about indoor sky-diving, in fact it is actually very, very safe," said Choo, a student at the elite Singapore Sports School and an aspiring professional swimmer. 

Choo was recently part of a team that set a Guinness World Record for the most number of passes through a hula hoop while indoor-skydiving. 

A study by Western Michigan University School of Medicine released earlier this year showed that out of four million injuries related to extreme sports in the United States from 2010-2011, 11 percent of those were to the head and neck. 

Such a trend would be unacceptable in Singapore, long called Asia`s "nanny-state" due to government policy that is seen as overprotective and controlling.

The city republic`s tiny size -- an airplane enters Indonesian and Malaysian airspace within minutes of takeoff from Changi Airport-- also forces Singapore to make the most of its compact geography. 

iFly Singapore, the territory`s only wind tunnel for indoor skydiving, has seen over 150,000 visitors since its opening in 2011. 

There are other options for Singapore`s daredevil hardcore -- such as sliding down a mini-slope while sitting on a rubber tube in an indoor "Snow City", cable-skiing around a pond, and wakeboarding along a tiny strip of water. 
"The younger generation of Singaporeans are looking for extreme sports that offer exhilarating experiences, but they are also calculating the level of risk it poses," Lawrence Koh, a former veteran military skydiver who founded iFly Singapore, told AFP.

While the bulk of indoor skydivers at the facility -- housed inside a gleaming glass building on the resort island Sentosa -- are one-time thrill seekers, Koh said nearly a hundred are committed local hobbyists. 

Vernon Quek, a 28-year-old Christian pastor, is one of them, making weekly visits to the wind tunnel to practice "Dynamic 4 Way", a form of synchronised indoor skydiving.

The indoor version may be without planes or parachutes but Quek says the skills required are similar to the real thing. 

"It is important to master the basic positions," he said.

"After that, the joy of being able to zoom around the tunnel, flying by controlling your hands, feet, body et cetera is simply awesome." 

There are risks however. Quek said he once paid the price for sloppily-tied shoelaces. 

"I quickly learnt that when shoes get sucked up into the tunnel, they usually don`t make it back in one piece!" Greg Pavlov, a 22-year-old Australian expatriate, said the city-state`s extreme sports scene is expanding fast.

"There is a lot of potential. There isn`t much land here in Singapore, but (these) places show that you can certainly do some outdoor sports in a small area too," he told AFP after an afternoon of wakeboarding at the Ski360Degree facility -- a cable-ski facility set in a small lagoon along Singapore`s east coast.

However, others say cost remains a barrier hindering more people from coming on board as extreme sports enthusiasts in Singapore. 

Two hours at Ski360Degree will set you back Sg$64 ($51) on a weekend, while two 45-second dives at the iFly Singapore wind tunnel costs Sg$99. 

Mastering special moves is the main allure at SKI360Degree, where an automated cable system pulls wakeboarders or water skiers around a 650-metre (0.40 miles) circuit at a speed of up to 58 kilometres (36 miles) an hour. 

"Many of our customers see this as a safer alternative to doing water sports out in the sea, it is a more controlled environment," said Roy Teo, the facility`s managing director. 

The course has multiple ramps and sliders that allow cable-skiers to "trick-ski", while some choose to slalom through the closed lagoon -- located just metres away from an actual beach.

Teo said while Singaporeans had come in droves when the facility opened in 2006, the numbers have dwindled since, with most of the 100-odd skiers daily being expatriates or tourists.

Unlike iFly Singapore, cable-skiing requires exposure to the elements -- an experience some people don`t enjoy too much in the humid and rainy tropical nation. 

"I think Singaporeans would love it if there was something like this indoors. We cannot stand it when there`s no air-conditioning," Teo said. 

AFP

First Published: Wednesday, August 27, 2014 - 09:19

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