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Diana Balham: Thrills good, spills bad

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In the adventure sports world, dangerous and unsafe have different meanings, writes Diana Balham.

Paragliding is what might termed a 'real adventure' in New Zealand tourism. Photo / Alan Gibson
Paragliding is what might termed a 'real adventure' in New Zealand tourism. Photo / Alan Gibson

With the regulation of adventure tourism back in the news again maybe it's time to look at ways to make this sector of the industry safer. After all, most of us haven't got a spare 10,000 hours to master the outdoor activity of our choice, so these experiences have to become bite-sized, hand-holding exercises where we can experience the thrills without any of the spills.

We want to tick them off our bucket lists and move on to the next thing. Tandem skydiving? Been there. Jet boating? Done that. Bungy-jumping off the Beehive? Got the video, the beer cooler and the chunder down my front. Score!

For sale are shouty T-shirts that say "I survived the [whatever]!!!" and "Face down the fear at [wherever]!!!" For a few extra bucks, you can wear your tediously unlimited bragging rights.

In fact, these so-called "soft adventure" activities have had most of the danger sucked out of them in order to make them more accessible to the widest range of people. (You know your sport has got too tame when subsets of people start doing it naked or on skateboards.)

It's a case of perceived risk v actual risk - you can't actually hurt yourself on a zip-line unless your legs fall off. So how do you tell the difference between "soft adventure" and an activity where there is genuinely an element of risk - like canyoning or whitewater rafting - because your experience isn't under someone else's control?

Easy, says my husband, a committed 10,000-hours man in several areas, including paragliding, outdoor rock-climbing and insanely arduous tramping trips into places even possums won't go.

There are "sack of spuds" adventures and then there are "real adventures", he says.

A "sack of spuds" adventure is one that a loose arrangement of potatoes would survive unmashed. In other words, any wimp could do this and be rocking the T-shirt on Facebook by teatime.

An accreditation agency - Sosafe (Sack Of Spuds Adventure For Everyone - could be charged with licensing operations. If your business gets the Sosafe stamp, you're good to go after just about every sector of the tourist market.

Of course there's a place for family-friendly activities; not everyone wants to suffer for their fun. However, whatever the activity, the goods - both human and mechanical - should be fit for purpose.

We have a right to expect that crews will be ready and able to do their jobs, not gung-ho cowboys who got on the weed the night before.

But there's a huge difference between a shonky operation and an activity that carries an element of risk because the actual, unvarnished outdoors and some decision-making are involved.

We shouldn't have to make adventure unadventurous.

If you don't want to risk breaking a nail, only vacate the cafe if you can see the Sosafe logo.

Leave the less predictable stuff to the people who don't mind getting dirty and covered in bruises.

One person's hell is another person's good time.

- NZ Herald

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