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Believe it or not, Extreme Ironing is a real sport. You’ll never look at your iron or ironing board the same way.

If you’re scratching your head wondering what in the world we’re talking about when we say “extreme ironing,” you’re not alone.

It’s a phenomenon that’s been around since the early 1980s, at least by one account. Whenever it started, it is now a real sport with its own board (no pun intended): the Extreme Ironing Bureau (they go by the catchy nickname “Team Steam”), which describes this unique sport this way:

“Extreme Ironing is the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt. Extreme ironing, also called EI, can take place anywhere under the sky and borrows disciplines from other extreme sports, such as rock climbing, skiing, scuba diving, sky diving, and running.”

It’s doubtful that anyone has ever thought of ironing as dangerous, outside of sustaining a burn from the iron’s hot surface, but that may be because you’ve been doing it wrong!

What Is Extreme Ironing and How Did It Start? 

Extreme Ironing while rock climbing

Believe it or not, there’s actually a bit of controversy over where and when extreme ironing got its start.

The origins of the sport date back to England when Tony Hiam was inspired by his eccentric brother-in-law John Slater, an ironing enthusiast who liked to iron his clothes even when he was camping and therefore living in a tent. Hiam thought this was the weirdest thing and attempted to convince his eccentric brother-in-law that ironing is useless. How did he do that? By taking his ironing board and iron to the tops of mountains, to airport terminals, on top of telephone booths, and more.

Hiam was so committed to what seemed at the time to be a prank that he carried his iron and ironing board in the trunk of his car just in case he passed prime remote locations suitable for a little ironing in the wild, or, extreme ironing as it came to be known

As surprising as it may seem, there’s another origin story for the sport of extreme ironing. Team Steam claims Phil Shaw founded the sport in Leicester, England in 1997 when, after a long, hard day at work at the knitwear factory, he came home to a pile of clothes that needed ironing and just could not deal with the boring task at that moment.

Phil was an avid rock climber and would have preferred to go out and do that rather than iron. Phil grabbed his laundry materials and headed out into his backyard to do his ironing. When his roommate got home and saw Phil ironing outside, he asked what he was doing. As legend has it, Phil replied, “extreme ironing.”

In 1999, Shaw decided the world was ready to be introduced to the death-defying world of extreme ironing, so he took his iron and ironing board to the United States, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, and Fiji. He met German tourists while he was in New Zealand, which led to the creation of international extreme ironing groups, as well as the German Extreme Ironing Section.

How Did Extreme Ironing Become Popular?

Extreme ironing while parasailing

It took a while for extreme ironing to take off. This extreme outdoor activity was helped by a 2003 documentary called Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victorywhich appeared on the UK’s Channel 4.

The documentary aired after the British extreme ironing team snagged Bronze and Gold medals in the first Extreme Ironing Championships in Germany in 2002. Twelve teams competed for the top prize in extreme ironing. 

Channel 4 also aired an additional story looking at the rivalry between the Extreme Ironing Bureau (EIB) and a new group that broke off from the extreme ironing group to start an extreme sport with vacuum cleaners. 

Who Is the Best at Extreme Ironing?

Man irons clothes shirtless

Based on the results of the 2002 Extreme Ironing Championships, women rule the sport. Despite the controversy two men have over who founded the sport, women placed in all three top positions at the world championships after completing five grueling tests of their ironing skills.

In these tournaments, competitors are asked to iron several different fabrics in varying environments, including a rocky surface, in the forest, in the city, and underwater. Becca Rogers took third place, Jade Dunn took second place, and Chrissy Quaid won first place. The prizes ranged from a trip to Hawaii to household appliances. 

The Strangest Places Extreme Ironing Has Taken Place

Scuba diver irons clothes underwater with sharks

As the sport of extreme ironing has taken off, it has happened in some truly bizarre locations and with some truly extreme positions. For example, extreme ironing bungee jumping is considered to be the ultimate thrill for the adrenaline junkies who partake in the sport. 

Extreme ironing athletes have even climbed to the Mt. Everest Base Camp and ironed a Union Jack at an altitude of 17,850 feet above sea level. This record was set by Brits John Roberts, Ben Gibbons, and Christophe Jowsey in 2003, the BBC reported

In 2008, 72 divers set a new world record for underwater ironing when they all ironed simultaneously underwater together. The following year, a group of 128 divers tried to break that world record by sending 128 divers below the surface of the water. They managed to get 86 divers to iron simultaneously, breaking the previous record. Then, in 2010, divers in Key Largo, Florida tried to break that record only to be usurped in 2011 by a Dutch diving club that sent 173 divers into an indoor swimming pool to iron underwater.

In New Zealand, Matthew Battley hiked up Mount Ruapehu to iron. He did not set his sights on ironing halfway up, he hiked the whole way up the active volcano using a pulley mechanism to haul his ironing board. When he reached the top, he ironed a button-down shirt with 80-mile-per-hour winds threatening to blow him and his ironing board off the side of the volcano. 

Another man ironed on the M1 motorway in London and another did so 138 feet underwater in the world’s deepest pool in Italy. Other people have ironed on an ice sheet and in an old lava tunnel. Still others iron while parachuting down to earth.

What Are the Rules of Extreme Ironing?

Extreme ironing on a mountain peak

Believe it or not, there are strict rules and regulations that govern the sport of extreme ironing.

For instance, competitors must use an ironing board, with legs, that is at least one meter long and 30 centimeters wide. Approved irons must be made of iron and plastic irons are prohibited. The garments that are ironed also have to be larger than a tea towel. 

Extreme ironing competitors use portable irons that do not need to be plugged in, for anyone wondering whether they actually work. 

In 2012, extreme ironing international pioneer, Phil Shaw, came out of retirement to run the inaugural Extreme Ironing Half Marathon while stopping to iron clothes along the way.

The event was won by a former Army officer Tom McShane, who beat out eight other extreme ironing world competitors for the top prize of a new Philips iron. McShane finished the half marathon in 1 hour and 44 minutes while ironing three items of clothing during the 13.1-mile jaunt.

The Extreme Ironing Half Marathon took place during the Hastings Half Marathon, meaning more than 4,000 runners not carrying an ironing board, iron, and wrinkled laundry had to navigate the course around the extreme ironing athletes. 

What Is the Point of Extreme Ironing – And Is It Good for You?

Extreme ironing on a giant boulder

In a nutshell, extreme ironing is for fun. It combines the mundane task of ironing with mental strength, physical fitness, and a keen sense of humor. After all, the very concept is completely ridiculous. And they do say laughter is the best medicine!

So, in the end, whether you partake in extreme ironing and enjoy it or you read this article and it made you laugh, we can conclude that extreme ironing is indeed good for you. 

Of course, to state the rather obvious, extreme ironing will also ensure you have well-pressed clothes, while also getting a bit of exercise. Both of those will make life a bit easier overall and the multi-tasking of the combination of the somewhat pointless venture of ironing while hiking, running or scaling a mountain will save you time in the long run. 

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