Straightening out planking

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"You really don't know a place until you pretend you're a board on its horizontal surfaces."
PHOTO COURTESY OF RYLAND WEBB

The newest international pastime involves lying face down on the ground with the ultimate goal of remaining as stiff as possible. I’d lump it in with parkour, mosh pits, and the car and phone booth stuffing competitions from the late 1950s and early ‘60s on account of its baffling physical appeal. For those of you unaware of this global craze and perhaps had no clue as to why Rosario Dawson was lying on a table on Jimmy Kimmel Live... they call it planking.

Although planking’s popularity has taken off this summer in the U.S, the trend goes back as far as 1994. It stayed under the radar as an underground hobby in Australia and Europe forever before its newfound seismic popularity.  

A written description of planking sounds neither amusing nor enticing. The goal of the practice is to find the most complex, unorthodox structure around and “plank” atop it, making sure to assume proper planking position -- stiff as a board, arms at your sides. Planking is driven by a particular kind of oneupsmanship. Anything from fences to basketball hoops, forklifts to flagpoles, (yes flagpoles) plankers manage to find a way to remain as stiff as possible while their buddies quickly snap a photo of their latest feat. The higher the physical risk the better. 

But are bragging rights worth your life? 

On May 13, a man was arrested in Queensland, Australia for allegedly planking on top of an Australian police car. And sadly on May 15, a 20-year old Australian man made worldwide headlines after his failed attempt to plank on  a building’s balcony seven stories high resulted in the trend’s first casualty.

But for many, planking is nothing but clean harmless fun. Ryland Webb, an 18-year old from San Francisco, not only likes planking’s fun times -- he also uses it as an opportunity to make a statement. 

Webb says he first started planking out of curiosity. “The first time I planked was with some friends on a long afternoon. We didn’t really know what to do so we gave [planking] a shot.”

While in Portland, Maine, Webb says that he used planking as a way of interaction. “We were in a different city and we viewed planking as an alternative way to interact with the natives. You really don't know a place until you pretend you're a board on its horizontal surfaces.”

“As times progressed we started to view the activity as our own innocent way of fucking shit up,” Webb says. “Planks began to be fashioned either to provoke reactions from bystanders, or symbolize some abstract form of youth rebellion.” He and his friends planked bike racks, benches, cars, newspaper stands, and fences.

And it’s not a trend if famous people aren’t doing it. Basketball players like Dwight Howard and former Golden State Warrior Gilbert Arenas, as well as mainstream artists like Katy Perry, Chris Brown, and Usher have all taken a plank now and then. 

But since planking’s breakout, there has been a growing amount of critics wary of the game’s origins and intentions. Some believe it to be an insulting representation of the horrific stacking of slaves atop wooden planks which took place during the Middle Passage. The idea of planking has sparked outrage from many; including Alvin Nathaniel Joiner IV, better known as rapper Xzibit, who tweeted “Planking is THE dumbest shit ever. #Planking was a way to transport slaves on ships during the slave trade, it’s not funny. Educate.”

It’s hard to say what the true intentions of planking really are. The game which has taken on many various monikers in the past, including “the lying down game”, “playing dead”, “extreme lying down,” and “facedowns.” 

But it does appear that the trend is sticking around, for the moment at least. Don’t be surprised if -- on your next coffee run or hamster walk -- you see someone lying face down atop of a bike rack or a public mail box. Planking may just be one of those things we’ll have to take lying down.