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Deep Water Solo: Thailand’s latest adrenaline rush

On the horizon, the distinctively stark limestone pinnacle Koh Poda Island rises up from the sea. The tide is high, so there is no sign of the white sandy beach that fans out from Koh Poda, which lies a 25-minute boat journey from the beaches of the Railay peninsula in Krabi, Southern Thailand.
The long-tailed boat I am riding with five other adventurers bears down on Poda. Our eyes begin to make out the honeycombed pattern of the cliffs and a dangling rope promptly grabbed by Karim, our superman guide who moonlights as a circus fire juggler, Thai boxing instructor and runner with a 100% victory record.

Today, Karim is running an introduction to ‘deepwater solo’ (DWS). The trivial but tremendous craze from England takes the form of solo rock climbing that relies on the safety net presence of water at the base of a climb to protect against injury. No rope is used. You just ascend as high as possible and then fall off – willingly or otherwise.

Pulling us close to a cliff, Karim asks: “Who wants to go first?”

From beneath his black baseball cap embossed with a skull-and-crossbones insignia, Karim eyes us intensely. In the shimmering high-season heat, no one rushes to walk the plank, for three reasons.

The first is that we have each gorged on a box of egg fried rice, prompting talk of deep-water vomiting. The second is Karim’s earlier disclosure that he dislikes jumping from high objects or even our boat. The third is that we associate jumping off cliffs with suicide – or its extreme sport close cousin, “tombstoning”, which means jumping off a cliff under the influence and praying that the water is deep and devoid of submerged objects.

Keen to atone for chickening out of rock climbing earlier, I volunteer to go first. Karim waves me up onto the roof of the boat. My plan is to attack the rock face fast and take the plunge before everyone starts coaxing and shouting out: “Jump!”

Briskly shinning up to the first ledge that comes into view, I hug a natural pillar set into the rock, laboriously wheel around and hover, facing the Andaman Sea that seems a long way down: a void I am not ready to be sucked into yet. Pretending to be mesmerised by the Andaman’s emerald charm, I fret and reflect on recent detours.
I have been travelling with a film crew shadowing fellow Singaporean, Hai-Yen Chong, a glamorous “ultra-marathon” athlete with a touch of the ballerina about her. Yoked to this media circus, I kayaked through mangrove and open ocean before our timber boat took us to the sleepy island of Koh Yao Noi, which has just one 7-Eleven and more cats and buffalos than people.

In the morning, tailed by a cameraman on a moped, Chong jogged before posing for the camera in the fork of a tree silhouetted against the sea. Cross-legged in a field, she then gave an interview destined to be interrupted by a dribble of inquisitive goats. Meanwhile, tasked to find a mysterious guide called Kitty with another journalist, I wandered along the island’s perimeter road, calling: “Here, Kitty Kitty” and “Hello Kitty”. Our quarry never materialised. But at a bar in the evening, an Eddie Murphy lookalike took the stage, batting his eyelashes and singing the Everly Brothers’ All I Have to Do is Dream.

Now, still marooned on the cliff ledge, I snap out of my daydream and, feeling like Captain Bligh, watch the boat that brought me to my precarious point retreat. Paralysis follows. Eventually, I press my sneaker-clad feet together, hesitate then hop and drop like the doomed mythical flying man Icarus, flailing because I have forgotten to glue my arms by my side.

Splash down! Although I have effectively only jumped from the mezzanine not the penthouse, the jolt is dramatic. The surface shatters with a bubbling roar. Spiralling, my body drills into the depths until the water absorbs my momentum then shoots me back up towards the light like a rocket. The surface ruptures, erupts. My glad gasps are answered by a chorus of whoops and applause led by the irrepressible Chong, who is a bungee jumper and dragon boat racer in her spare time.

Next up, her ponytail scraped into a bun, she daintily weaves towards the top of the rock face. Chatting, she succeeds in reaching a spot three times higher than the ledge where I lodged. Poised, Chong ritualistically steeples her arms over her head before lowering them and executing a perfect dagger descent.

After her DWS baptism, she is ecstatic. She describes DWS as “total euphoria”. The sport is exhilarating, like taking a power shower after seven espressos – just not very deep.

Should you dabble, be careful about what cliff you recruit as a launch pad because, if a rock lurks beneath, your jump could be the last move you make. Remember to keep your legs together and your arms by your side and let go. Seize the day.

For more on Thai adventure sports, snorkelling, kayaking and island-hopping, check out

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