Got yourself a wild streak? Then spend your next vacation under the hot Balkan sun in the city of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Not only will you do some good by helping to restore BiH’s lagging post Civil War economy, but if you’re brave enough, you might just score some major points by proving your masculine mettle.
Extreme since 1566
As one of the oldest venues for extreme sporting events, Mostar’s Stari Most, or Old Bridge, has been the place to go for male rites of passage since it was first built back in 1566 to connect the Neretva River’s two banks at its narrowest point, a strategic location that marked the centre of this Ottoman Empire’s regional capital city.
You know how to walk? You know how to dive.
Crossing the Neretva gorge at a height of 21 metres, over twice that of a high board diving competition, the Stari Most has long offered men the chance to prove their pluck by diving from its highest point into the teal-blue waters below. In Mostar, so the saying goes, as soon as you learn how to walk, you learn how to dive. It’s a rite of passage that makes heroes of men, and many take their first leaps during July’s annual dive competition in which up to 70 odd participants can choose to make their descents either feet or head first. Onlookers keep their eyes locked on the apex of the single-arch bridge where, one by one, divers enter the water in a spectacle of machismo and local tradition as they vie for title in the world’s longest-running high diving competition, the Ikari.
Presided over by the local diving club, Mostarski Ikari, Speedo-clad bridge jumpers regularly enthral onlookers with their feats of bravado. They jump, not only during July’s Ikari, but throughout the warmer months, entertaining tourists and residents alike. It’s no surprise then, that many of the world’s high diving champions got their start at Stari Most. Zvezdan Grozdic, international cliff-diver who has proved his mettle on the elite World Cup circuit, took his first plummets in Mostar back in the late 1990s. Although Grozdic now jumps from staggering heights off cliffs world-wide, it’s not easy to out-jump local legend, Emir Balic, an Ikari veteran who by the age of 70 (in 2004) had taken the plunge over 1000 times-the first of which when he was the boyishly tender age of fifteen.
Do you have what it takes?
Though the Ikari adjourned after heavy shelling shattered the Stari Most on 9 November 1993, the international community came together after the Bosnian War (1992-1995) to rebuild the bridge, which re-opened on 23 July 2004 with a grand ceremonial dive-reinstating the 438 year old Ikari tradition.
If you happen to be in Mostar now, take a walk along the Old Bridge at Stari Most and peer down into the gorge below. If you think you’re brave enough to risk the leap, think it over carefully and make sure to talk to a regular diver first. No matter what time of year, the Neretva stays at a cool temperature which can cause a dangerous shock upon impact. That’s why you’ll see divers drench themselves with buckets of ice cold water before making the leap. If you’re not willing to risk life and limb, you might just luck out anyhow and catch a young boy take his first leap to manhood in Mostar’s Neretva River.
By Krista Weger for Mantality.co.za