Daredevils and their death-defying deeds 

Daredevilry is part of human nature for just a very few people of any generation. In many cases it is indeed daring the ‘devil’, i.e. Death or the Grim Reaper, because even the most calculated risks can go wrong, and possibly some people are just not that afraid of dying, or maybe they’re just plain daft, or perhaps think they’re invincible. Most reasonable people would avoid high risk behaviour in favour of staying alive. You can decide from the comfort of your couch, office chair or bed which one or any of these stunts were worth possibly dying for. 

The Biggest Wave Ever Surfed

The biggest wave is not in Hawaii or Australia, but in a little coastal town in Portugal. It even has a name – Nazaré (pronounced ‘Naz-a-ray’). This wave is a freak of nature, resulting from the sea welling up from the largest underwater canyon in Europe and producing swells up to 100 ft  (30.5 m)­­  – the eqivalent of a ten-storey building.

Germany is not a nation associated with giant surf or producing professional surfers, but on 29 October 2020 Sebastian Steudtner was towed by jet ski into what Guinness World Records ratified as the biggest wave ever surfed – a 26.2m tower that dwarfed Steudtner to a tiny ant-like scale. Thankfully and surprisingly, no deaths have been caused by surfing Nazaré, but two professional surfers have recalled their near-death experiences here.

That these waves form directly in front of a cliff top viewing platform that puts onloookers incredibly close to the action and provides a dramatic view of these monster waves looks like Nazaré was just made for TV!

The Deepest Dive Ever

Explorer and businessman Victor Vescovo descended 35,853 feet (10,927 metres ­– that’s nearly 11 kilometres! ) into the Pacific Ocean, breaking the record for deepest dive ever. The southern end of the Mariana Trench, known as Challenger Deep, is Earth’s deepest place. Only two other people have made very similar individual dives, and one of them was film director James Cameron, known for ‘Avatar’ and ‘Titanic’ among many other movies, who achieved this feat it 50 years later.

A recent descent by Vescovo  in a submersible called the DSV Limiting Factor took 3.5 to 4 hours to reach the record-breaking depth — where they encountered a flat, beige basin covered with a thick layer of silt. They found some bottom-dwelling sea cucumbers and amphipods, which when tested were found to contain microplastics. A plastic bag and sweet wrappers were also spotted  ­– 11 kilometers beneath the ocean’s surface. That is very disturbing! 

The Hairiest World Record Ever!

This one is just for fun. Strongman Manjit Singh broke a world record for pulling a double-decker bus the farthest distance with a cable attached to his hair. Mr Singh, 59, dragged the bus 21.2 metres (70 feet) at Battersea Park in 2012. The stunt was held on the fifth annual Guinness World Records Day – 24 hours of record-breaking attempts globally.

In 2009, Singh had attempted but failed to break a record by pulling a similar bus with his ears, using metal clamps painfully attached to those appendages. Eish and ouch! 

The Highest Skydive Ever

In 2012, Felix Baumgartner made a skydive from the edge of space. He jumped from 127,852 feet (38,969 meters), making his the highest skydive ever! Baumgartner was also the first person to break the sound barrier without vehicular power.

Okay, you’re wearing a type of spacesuit with helmet and an oxygen feed, but imagine hurtling from space in freefall faster than the speed of sound! Unfortunately, he didn’t have a lot of time resting on his laurels for this incredible feat, because two years later a ‘Johnny-come-lately’ by the name of Alan Eustace (a computer scientist and Google exec) topped his record by jumping from 135,889 feet (41.41 kilometers). Incredible! Both men were taken up to these heights using helium balloons, Baumgartner in a module above the balloon, while Eustace was positioned below the strange, elongate balloon before launching down.

Evel Knievel ­­­– greatest death-defying daredevil and showman ever!

Everyone of a certain age (i.e. a tad older) will remember the antics of this consummate showman, ramping over 20 double-decker buses on his Harley Davidson XR-70 motorcycle, or  leaping from the top of a 10-storey building onto another one across the road. He created a kind of patriotic Elvis-on-two-wheels persona with his white leather jumpsuits with constrasting V-shaped insets in blue or red with white stars stars, and a short cloak.

During his career, Knievel suffered many, many botched landings, earning an entry in the Guinness Book of World Records as the survivor of "most bones broken in a lifetime." However, the number probaly was exaggerated. Knievel’s son Robbie has calculated that his father had broken about 40 to 50 bones. That is still a LOT of bones, never mind the comas and concussions! 

Robbie, who was already doing jumps on his bicycle aged 4 and was riding motorcycles at age 7, obviously went on to follow in his father’s footsteps, appearing in shows with him and finally going solo. At age 12, he was on tour with his father, where he would perform in the pre-jump shows. As an adult, up until 2009, Robbie used high-performance Honda CR500 motocross bikes that were much more suited for jumping stunts than the much heavier road bikes used by Evel. After his father’s death, Robbie got permission to do a stunt that Evel longed to do but the law refused to permit: jumping the Grand Canyon. Robbie became the first person to jump the Grand Canyon on a rocket-propelled motorbike when he cleared a 60-metre (200ft) chasm to break his own distance record. 

First Person to Go Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel (and Live)

The Horseshoe Falls on the Canadian side of the Niagara River is not that tall and spectacular-looking, but it does hold the record for the most volume of water per minute gushing over the lip into the churning chasm below.  In October 1829, Sam Patch, known as the Yankee Leaper, was the first person to survive jumping down the 53m Horseshoe Falls, and with no protective or flotation devices to boot.

Crazy that he did it and crazy that he lived to tell the tale. But in 1901, a new craze was started by a 63-year-old widowed schoolteacher named Annie Edson Taylor. Her reason for doing so was the hope of acclaim and the economic benefits that would come from doing so. Desparation, rather than inspiration, was her driving motivation. Using a large wooden pickle barrel which was lined with padding to avoid injury, and a leather harness to be strapped into to prevent being flung about inside the barrel, Annie climbed into her self-made capsule, and with the help of a few friends was launched into the river and over she went. She was shaken and rather bruised when helped out of the barrel, but otherwise fine. Unfortunately, this small fame never brought her any economic benefit and after many years working as a street seller, she died penniless.

An estimated 5,000 bodies were found at the foot of the falls between 1850 and 2011, many of them suspected suicides, but also crazy people trying their luck in barrels, kayaks, jet skis ­– you name it. It is now illegal to go over the falls as a stunt. 

Living in a small glass box for the longest time ever – well, 44 days… 

David Blaine first came to our attention in the 90s with his David Blaine: Street Magic and Magic Man TV shows. His understated, un-showy demeanour when interacting with people on the street was a perfect foil to the astonishing tricks/magic he performed, which Time magazine described as "His deceptively low-key, ultracool manner leaves spectators more amazed than if he'd razzle-dazzled.” 

Unfortunately for him, his ability to play tricks, make magic, create illusions and baffle and astonish audiences didn’t quite mesh with his other performances, particularly his work as an endurance artist. He was frozen in a block of ice for 72 hours but was pulled out and hospitalised after 61 hours, buried in a box under a 3-ton water tank for 7 days, and many more daredevil stunts, many of which seriously harmed his health. 

In particular, in 2003 Blaine was hoisted above the Thames in a small Perspex box with only 4.5 litres of water per day water and barely enough room to stand up and lie down. With all of these stunts, there were always sceptics who thought that his feats of endurance were somehow fake or exaggerated. 44 days later he emerged, bearded, 27 kg lighter – with symptoms of starvation, heart palpitations and breathing problems. The English population were generally not great fans of Blaine or this stunt. One wag sent up a burger via a remote-controlled helicopter, while others tried to pelt his pod with eggs or golf balls. And of course, the stunt making a mockery of the involuntary starvation suffered by the poorest people.