Phil Shaw, a man with chores to do and a hobby to pursue, faced a paralyzing choice: To iron or to rock climb, that was the question. Shaw's breakthrough answer: Why not both? Thus did Shaw, a computer consultant in Leicester, England, strap on his ironing board, scale a cliff and smooth his garments at the top—and a sport was born.

As goes Leicester, so goes the globe. Since Shaw's inaugural 1997 expedition, around 1,000 daredevils, including scuba divers, surfers and stunt cyclers, irons in hand and tongues firmly in cheeks, have steamed ahead. Last year Shaw, 29, and others competed in the first Extreme Ironing World Championships in Germany, where contestants raced through an obstacle course. Next? "If you can have synchronized swimming in the Olympics," Shaw asks, "why can't you have extreme ironing?" Why not, indeed?