Spranga the local sport of Heimaey – cliff rappelling
Athletic activitites play an immense role in the islands´ cultural life and have in fact made their name known far and wide. To most Icelanders the sport traditionally
characterising the islands is “sprang”, a miniature version of cliff rappelling, now mainly practised at Skiphellar, not far from the harbor.
Men in Westman Islands, did not go to the cliffs in the early days untrained. Suitable places on Heimaey were found to train for the rope swinging used when gathering eggs. There is one place in particular near the western harbor that has the conditions needed to teach the different techniques used when hanging from the face of the cliffs on ropes.That is called Sprangan.
In recent years classes have been held during the summer so children can safely learn this sport. The “experts” that come there show off their gymnastic skills while swinging, making turns and twists as they fly from one side of the cliff to the other, pushing off with their feet as they approach the face of the rock.
As the young people progress in learning the sport, they climb from the lowest ledge, about 3 meters above the ground, to the higher ledges, each ledge having its own name. From the higher ledges they leap down with the rope in their hands, and from the ground it looks like exhilarating fun.
It depends on the level of expertise how high one can go and the sites bear different topological names, like barnasteinn – Child’s rock, Almenningur –The public, Stígvél – The boot, Gras – the Grass.
When visitors come to the island, it’s a common custom to take them to the cliff face and let them try their hand at flying through the air on the end of a rope. But even off the lowest ledge one quickly discovers it takes skills and strength to swing in the cliff. People should be very careful there and it’s not recommended to swing unless with locals.
The elder people of Heimaey remember how flexible they were in the earlier days and their minds are often “younger” than their body and when they come back to Sprangan its much harder than it used to be 🙂