What is tombstoning?

Jumping into the sea (photo by Bryce Edwards - CC-BY)

Tombstoning is a perjorative term coined by the media and the health’n’safety brigade to describe the practice of jumping off high places into water. Others might call it “jumping into the sea”.

The media like the emotive term because it fits into compact headlines. A headline of “Tombstoning craze kills boy” works better for them than “Boy drowns after jumping into harbor”. The nanny state and the health & safety industry like the term because it implies dangerous stupidity, which strengthens their natural instinct to ban, discourage or regulate it.

The reality is that water jumping is an enjoyable recreation, although with the potential for injury and death. However, the risk factors of tombstoning are more easily managed than for many other adventure sports. When undertaken cautiously and responsibly, water jumping is fairly safe.

As a recreation, water jumping has many advantages. The brief “air time” between the jump and the splash gives an experience of weightlessness as exhilarating as that provided by skydiving, with a lower level of risk. There’s no financial cost, and no specialist equipment is required. It’s good exercise—with the swim back to land alternating with the climb up to the jumping point—particularly as people typically jump many times in succession.

Tombstoning is environmentally sound and sustainable. It can be a sociable family activity. It’s carried out in the fresh air and sunshine, so you’re building your Vitamin D reserves as you do it. Natural sea water and unpolluted river water have moderate levels of a diverse range of micro-organisms, which helps your body to fortify its immune system.

This is not to deny the real dangers of tombstoning. Before jumping you need to evaluate the risks and mitigate them. Two of the main factors associated with injury and death are hitting rock instead of water, and consuming alcohol before jumping. This article does not attempt to list the other hazards.

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