It was a hot, sunny day outside. I was in the backyard of a Gilbert home, taking notes and observing the scene before me. A young, beautiful woman wearing a bikini and sunglasses was surrounded by men and women, who were carefully and deliberately tying lengths of rope through a series of steel hooks which bloodlessly pierced the flesh of her hips and ribs. Above and around her was a large canopy made of steel, with a sturdy rope hanging above her, and running through a system of block and tackle attached to the frame. Under any normal circumstance, this would be cause for alarm, but she was the first in a line of many people waiting throughout the day.
Suspension, as it is called by many practitioners, is the art of hanging by the strength of the flesh. It is incredibly painful and exhausting, and one may wonder why someone chooses to do it. Chris Beverly, the head organizer of the event, says, “The beautiful thing about it is that it’s different for every person. For some people, it may just be the enjoyment of the pain, to get over emotional pain. For some it’s about the adrenaline rush, the challenge. And much more rare, but in some cases, it’s for sexual gratification… For me, I enjoy the overcoming of my own body’s capabilities. The first time I did it, it literally changed my life.”
Brandon, a third-time suspender and avid hiker, does it to push the limits of his body’s tolerance to pain and to break mental barriers. For the past few months he has hiked down and up the Grand Canyon every weekend, cutting his time with every hike. Earlier this year he completed the Continental Divide Trail, which traversed the vast distance between the US borders of Mexico and Canada, a 3,100-mile adventure. This time, he chose a “resurrection” suspension, which has the hooks along the ribs and sides of the torso.
Cheyenne does it for meditative purposes, and calls suspension “hook therapy.” Cheerful and bubbly, she chose the “suicide” suspension (the most popular), which has two hooks in the upper back.
Later, as the day went on, I had a chance to meet Steve Haworth, a giant in the suspension community and the progenitor of modern body modifications and techniques. A man who has had two separate documentaries filmed about him, and yet curiously lacks any modifications I could discern. Steve joined a conversation I was having with Brandon, and they shared the story of the first time Brandon went up on the hooks, how nervous he was, and how it was the reassurance from Steve that allowed him to be lifted up. I didn’t get a chance to talk to Steve personally, but coming close to greatness may be good enough for now.
After the sun set and the yard started to fill up more, a whole host of strange and colorful (sometimes literally) people began to make their way through the small gate and into the party. Tattoos, piercings, dyed hair, spikes, yellow eyes. Friendly banter and a fire to gather around, with the great canopy in the background, hosting a steady number of suspensioners accompanied by a wide array of music chosen for each participant, DJ’d by Beautiful John. He had angel wings inked on his back, and his modest equipment was a laptop and a small mixer hooked up to a single high-output speaker, which synthesized metal, grunge, rock, movie soundtracks, punk, electronic, and all the sub-genres in between.
With the night, more and more people began to go up. A young man, walking with swagger and two hooks on his back, sauntered up to the rope, was quickly tethered up, and within seconds he was jumping and swinging all about the place. He propelled himself up into the air and swung back down, higher and higher until he reached the top of the canopy and grabbed on, to much applause. Another man, middle aged and just shy of obese, nervously approached the canopy and was attached to the rope. After much preparation and building of courage, he motioned to the winch operator who very slowly raised him up. His skin strained at the weight, and the man hollered in shock and surprise, gasping for air as more adrenaline than he thought his body could possibly contain suddenly surged through his veins. He hung there for the span of a few seconds before hastily shouting to be lowered. His friends led him away as he panted and laughed at the sudden, shocking inspiration he had just received.
Brandon, in his turn to go up, was attended to by Steve Haworth, just as it was the first time. He asked if he was going to be okay, and Steve told him he would be. Brandon’s face was stoic and ready, and after spending much time waiting for the threading of the hooks which outlined his body, he began to slowly prepare his skin by rocking back and forth against the tension. After a while, he motioned to be raised very slowly, and his knees began to straighten. Then his ankles, then the balls of his feet, and finally his toes. He hung in the air for moment, then began to shift and move to start swinging around the area in a circle. Rob Zombie began to burst through the speakers, and afterwards he found his zone.
There was no drinking allowed at the event, for good reason, and by midnight I began to feel the pain of sobriety, so my stay ended here. Many will ask, even after reading this article and others like it, “So what’s the point?” and the only thing I could tell them is that you have to see it to understand. You have to see, with your own eyes, why people chose to suspend themselves with hooks. Seeing someone do a thing so difficult and painful is quite a sight to behold, and you can’t help but respect the fortitude it requires to be able to even try it, let alone carry it out fully. I found myself, along with a friend I was there with, beginning to harbor a strange desire to suspend, just to see if we were capable of doing it. And although it was just a fleeting thought, the impression remained on my mind, and now the idea of suspension isn’t so foreign and shocking to me. And if you, reader, attend an event like it, I hope your preconceptions will change as well.