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Estonians – The Master Swingers

In most European countries, you grow out of swinging in your early teens. But not in Estonia, where kiiking, or swinging, is a national sport recognized by the Estonian Sports Association.

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man in the air swings in Estonia
Photo: Rivo Veber / Courtesy of Eesti Kiikinguliit & MTÜ Vabadusesport

Not the adult kind of swinging, mind you. Actual swinging, as in the thing children do on the playground. Well, at least in most countries, children usually stop at some age; perhaps you can find teenagers hanging out and using swings as benches. But adults?

That’s only in Estonia.

And not only is kiiking an Estonian kind of fun, but it’s also a national sport, with competition and records. But we’ll get to that later; let’s start with rules, or, what this sport is about, and how it came to be a sport in the first place.

Kiiking: swinging standing up

Kiik in Estonian simply means a swing. But children in Estonia would use this playground apparatus unlike most others usually do – standing up. Therefore, Estonian swings are higher and larger than most – children even swing in groups of up to even eight.

But one thing never changes: children’s natural inclination to swing as high as possible, just to prove nobody-really-knows-what and to check their – and others’ – limitations. The true grit was shown by crossing the horizontal line drawn through the axis, therefore being with your feet higher than your head.

And then came Ado Kosk, a man from Pärnu who designed the first sport swing. The year was 1993. It was later improved with a regulated arm to make it safer for sportsmen. Ado Kosk even got a patent for his kiik.

The Olympic swing

And soon came the craze. Just two years after the patent was issued, Eesti Kiikinguliit, an organization of professional swingers, was formed. Not even a year had passed when this organization became a member of the Estonian Sports Association. After its merger with the Estonian Olympic Committee, Eesti Kiikinguliit became a member of that organization as well. So, technically, kiiking, or swinging, became an Olympic discipline. It lasted only for a short while, though, as a few years later, the organization ceased to qualify as an Olympic Committee member.

But that does not mean that kiiking was forgotten. Even today, the Estonian championship is still being held and records kept for the current sultans of swing. What’s the record, you ask? Well, as noted in the Guinness Book of Records, in 2021, kiiker Sven Saarpere swung around the axis of a kiik that was over seven meters high! But kiiking is not limited to Estonia in any way. It’s practiced in Germany, the USA, the Netherlands, and New Zealand, to name a few.

The record for the most swings was set in 2016… in Lebanon by Bechara Abou Khatero. He made it to 799 before he got too dizzy. And there’s a record for the most swings in one minute: thirty-nine, made by German Manuel Heister in Beijing in 2009. Through Estonia, swinging as a sport discipline came to worldwide fame.

Przemysław Bociąga

is a Polish journalist and essayist based in Warsaw. An anthropologist and art historian by education, he specializes in combining cultural phenomena with compelling narrative. He has authored and co-authored several books covering lifestyle and history. The most recent of them is “Impeccable. The biography of masculine image”. He has contributed to many leading magazines, both in print and online, and teaches cultural anthropology to college students.

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