How Estonians Kiik Ass: One Extreme Swing Sport at a Time

The goal of kiiking is to swing over and around the top bar.

How Estonians Kiik Ass: One Extreme Swing Sport at a Time

By Fiona Zublin


Just because sex is now safe doesn't mean all sports are danger-free.

By Fiona Zublin

Somebody telling you how exciting a sport is will never get you to love that sport regardless of how fervently or how long they try to sell you on it. You truly care about a sport only when you find yourself yelling at an athlete on your TV screen in the middle of the day while sporting a foam finger.

When that moment came for me not too long ago, it had everything to do with a giant swing. That’s right, the bane of parents of young children everywhere: a good old-fashioned falling-off-and-cracking-your-head-open swing.

Kiiking (pronounced KEE-king) is Estonia’s beloved homegrown sport. Participants are securely strapped to a huge apparatus while standing up. Practice usually takes place outside because there are few buildings available with high enough ceilings. And, you know: COVID.

Once strapped in though, kiikers swing back and forth in a movement familiar to most of us from our childhood playground exertions. Most of us, though, just dreamed of swinging so hard we went all the way over the top. Kiikers actually do it. 

More than half of the people who try [kiiking] can’t do it on their first time. Your whole body and brain have to think together.

Johanna Sooba, Estonian Kiiking Federation

Outside of Estonia, it’s almost impossible to find kiiking organizations, says Johanna Sooba, head of marketing of the Estonian Kiiking Federation. Within the country’s borders, though, there are 10 competitions per year.

The current record for the highest swing — the measure by which competitions are judged — is now approximately 24 feet and 2.551 inches. But kiikers who set up swings in tourist areas for demos put to bed any notion that all they’re doing is swinging and therefore anyone can do it.

“It looks so easy when you watch it on a smaller swing,” Sooba explains, “but more than half of the people who try can’t do it on their first time. Your whole body and brain have to think together and you get so tired.” There’s also the nausea, which Sooba compares to the stomach drop we experience in a fast elevator. An elevator that never stops plummeting.

Many people experience that stomach drop when watching kiiking, even in grainy YouTube videos. It’s not just the wooshing and the corresponding glee — it’s the lead-up, watching a person swing back and forth, back and forth, higher and higher each time, anticipating the swing that will take them over the top.

There are also nail-biting moments invested in figuring out whether or not the kiiker make it over the top, and when they do — why would you watch a video where they don’t — it’s a triumph. You have to watch it to get it. Which is just another way of saying seeing is believing.

Want to try kiiking or to see it being tried before it becomes an Olympic sport and all the kids are doing it? Well, you can’t. COVID has killed the entire 2020 season according to the Estonian Kiiking Federation, so no tours to demonstrate kiiking to skeptical bystanders. But in 2021? The goal is to entice people to try it, or at the very least get them yelling about it. Foam finger optional.