It would be a total disservice to Central America to place it in the same category as the rest of North America for diving. They are almost two different worlds. This short little band of land which millions of years ago connected the two Americas has its own climate, and lively, rich coastal activity. It’s long been recognised as a hidden gem for diving, and in recent years it’s only grown more popular.
It’s pretty much a given that competitive eating is a gross, over-indulgence of food, one that’s better heard about than witnessed first-hand. Who wants to see a human bloat themselves beyond measure? Dripping with food-muddied water and abandoning every last shred of dignity in the name of Major League Eating, champions of the competitive eating scene have found a way to go against the pre-programmed fail-safes of their bodies. If you’re in the mood for distended stomachs, suppressing the natural gag reflex, and disregarding the body’s vital messages, then buckle in because we’re going down the gullet hole for this one.
Gurgitators, competitive eaters, fight against their bodies to perform incredible eating feats. Using water training (drinking a gallon of water in 30 seconds), or simply by consuming large meals regularly, competitors stretch their stomachs in an effort to condition their bodies to accept large intake quantities.
For the average person, nausea is triggered after consuming more than 1 litre of food. According to ESPN, gurgitators can surpass this standard by 3 litres or more! Aside from that, the calories consumed in one competition can range from 4,000 calories (18-25 hot dogs) to 12,500 calories (50 hot dogs), thoroughly trumping the recommended intake for the day, 2,300 calories on average for adults.
After the competition, some gurgitators will purge themselves in what has been labelled a “Roman incident” by the International Federation of Competitive Eating, or the IFOCE. Mitigating these events is the IFOCE, who have been drawing up rules, regulations, qualifying contests, and safety measures for this bizarre sport since its formation in 1997.
The accepted technique for gorging oneself is to dip food in water, thereby lubricating the food to make chewing and swallowing it easier. Virtually any liquid can be used to soften the food, but calorie-free water is the best choice considering the abhorrent amount of calories otherwise consumed. Past that, consumption methods are dependent on preference; breaking food into smaller pieces in order to fit more in the mouth for example, or eating different parts of the food separately.
Eating competitions, while entertaining, are unhealthy and potentially dangerous for competitors. Repeated purging will damage tooth enamel and the oesophagus while stretching of the stomach may eventually require surgery to retain normal functioning. Overall, I’d say to steer clear of this strange sport.
Cliff diving – casting all caution and rational thought to the wind, before hurling yourself off a rocky face with nothing but water to catch you at the bottom. It’s certainly not for the faint of heart, but many thrill seekers the world over swear by it, worship it, wear it as a badge of ball-ownership. You can do it pretty much anywhere in the world, but some places have become famous for fearless flinging. Here are the three best/worst.
The Kimberly – Australia
The Azure Window – Malta
Crater Lake – USA
Crystal Pools – South Africa
Lake Vouliagmeni – Greece
I wasn’t quite sure exactly how to categorise this one, as it encompasses the northern and western regions of Asia, but also spills into Europe, thanks to Russia. That pesky Russia. It creates an interesting contrast, though as Russia is a haven for cold water and ice diving, where the best spots in the Middle East are all, obviously, in far warmer, more coral-laden waters.
In either case, both of these adjoined chunks of land present some amazing, unsung opportunities for diving, and narrowing it down to 5 was tricky (Russia gets 2, because it’s stupidly big). Travelling to these regions presents challenges of its own, but if you have the patience and wherewithal, the rewards are huge. But not as huge as Russia. Bloody Russia.
The Daymaniyat Islands are the first and only marine reserve in all of Oman. Boat traffic is heavily monitored, and the stretch plays host to a number of protected species. There are 9 islands in total, with a number of popular sites, with minor variables (hence why I didn’t earmark a specific one). During the summer there are big plankton blooms, which in turn attract big filter feeders like whale sharks. You’ll also see some pretty sizeable sea turtles, as there are an abundance of big crabs and crayfish for them to snack on.
Qatar is a veritable haven for diving, as many have recently discovered. The tiny nation is flanked on 3 sides by warm sea, brimming with coral and marine life in various forms. It’s particularly good for wreck diving, with a number of sunken oil rigs strewn along the coast, alongside other smaller ships. The Pericles is one of these, situated some 30km from Doha, in the Persian Gulf. It was lately a Greek built cargo liner, used by Japanese merchants, until it sunk in 83. It’s no oil rig, but it’s still massive, and hangs open for divers to fully explore. Barracuda congregate there is huge schools, likely hunting the angel fish, batfish and snapper that hang around inside.
Travelling to the White Sea’s only functioning PADI dive centre in the village of Nilmaguba is a challenge in and of itself, and this kind of diving is only really advisable if you’re at a more advanced level, but if you can handle it, you’re in for something truly incredible. The water is astoundingly clear beneath the ice, and brimming with soft coral and mollusks, many of which are totally unique to the area, but the main draw are the Beluga whales. You have to dive in a specific, enclosed area, built to help them expand their numbers, but you needn’t worry about any no-shows. The whales are remarkably friendly and playful, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone coming away from the experience who wasn’t utterly captivated by them.
Actually getting into Saudi Arabia is a bit of a headache, you need a visa and a passport that’s good for a minimum of 6 months, and in order to dive you need a Saudi permit, in Arabic. It’s a headache, but the diving there is so good it makes it very much worth it, you won’t go just once. If you did have to pick only one spot though, it would almost certainly be Redmah Wall. This 150 metre drop is a soft coral paradise, littered with nudibranchs, hawkfish, whip coral, and feather and basket stars. The wall is lined with shelves and caverns where you can observe various crustaceans, as well as clownfish and the odd blue spotted ray. It’s like diving through a living rainbow.
If you’re taking a diving trip to Russia, you shouldn’t ever pass up the chance to dive in Lake Baikal, the largest, deepest freshwater body in the world. There are several sites across the shore and from the islands, but Listvyanka is probably the best point to start from. The area of the lake you dive into depends on weather conditions, but you’ll be garuanteed to see amazing things, regardless of where exactly you drop in the crystal clear water. Visibility can be anything up to 40 metres, and the deep you get, the better it is. Baikal is a tectonic fissure, so expect massive rocky walls and overhangs. Marine life is sparse, but you’ll see plenty of sponges, you might happen up the odd omul, a native type of Arctic cisco, or a goby disguising itself on the lakebed. If you choose a site further north, you may also see a nerpa, the only freshwater seal in the world.
Most water sports feel fairly developmental in nature. Sailing, rowing, surfing and swimming are all very well established, but beyond that, there’s definitely a prevailing experimental vibe to it all. You’re probably already familiar with sports like kite-boarding, free diving, water polo and jetski racing, but there’s a whole range of bizarre, incredible water sports out there that are still shrouded in obscurity.