Have you ever thought, one early morning, as you sleepily iron your shirt before heading to work, that there are so many better things you could be doing with the time you devote to ironing? You could be sleeping in, or eating breakfast, or spending more time on your hobbies, like rock climbing, base jumping, or hanging off the side of a taxi driving through New York City.
You know, ordinary things.
Back in 1997 in Leicester, England, Phil Shaw was thinking that exact same thing. Legend has it that Shaw returned home after a day of working in a knitwear factory to the dull prospect of ironing. Wishing instead to spend his afternoon rock climbing, Shaw decided to combine the two activities. He adopted the moniker “Steam,” and Extreme Ironing was born.
The official statement from the Extreme Ironing Bureau is that the sport “combines the thrill of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt”. Since 1997, Extreme Ironists worldwide have pressed their garments underwater, while plummeting to the earth on a skydive, on Mount Everest, while kayaking, snowboarding, and basically anywhere imaginable. The sport took off, producing a documentary titled Extreme Ironing: Pressing for Victory, an Extreme Ironing World Championship in 2002, and a tour of the United States in 2004. Following the tour, Steam retired from the sport. Ironists across the globe carried on Steam’s legacy, setting world records and ironing in increasingly extreme locales.
Although the concept of Extreme Ironing may simply seem ludicrous (and it is), there is a depth to it that most extreme sports don’t have. It takes a domestic chore outside of the domestic sphere, shattering traditional gender roles. Housework is no longer only women’s work, nor is housework necessarily done in the home at all.
Even more than an extreme sport, Extreme Ironing is performance art at its finest. Rock climbing or hang gliding or scuba diving is extreme before the addition of ironing to the mix, but it isn’t performance art. Extreme Ironing takes people outside of their comfort zones. It makes people uncomfortable; they don’t know how to react to the ridiculous people ironing clothing while hanging out of a duck boat in the Boston Harbor. Founder Phil Shaw says, “I’d almost forgotten how people respond to it, and sometimes they just look confused, other times they laugh, other times they ignore you…At the end of the day, it’s a bit of fun, and people enjoy it.”
So if you’ve got some free time on your hands and you’re looking for a new hobby, try taking your ironing board someplace unexpected and getting to work on your chores.