The latest Internet fad doesn’t require you to scale park walls or coordinate an elaborate group dance number in a public place. Instead, you find as bizarre a location as possible to lay facedown like a plank of wood.
Planking, or the “lying down game,” takes its names from how participants emulate a wooden board by lying face down in an unexpected, often public, place.
Gonzalo Sanchez, founder of Planking Austin, is bringing the phenomenon to the city in hopes of inspiring people to partake in the sport he said he believes has the power to bring people together.
“The point of planking is really whatever you want it to be,” he said. “But for me it’s a way to stay connected to my family and bond with my friends.”
Sanchez and his friends Mitch Landis and Chris Cronn began planking a few weeks ago and decided to launch Planking Austin in early May simply to promote the activity. Within a week of the group’s launch, Sanchez was contacted by Fox Austin for an on-air interview. Since then, the group’s membership has grown to 159 as of Sunday afternoon, and their mission has changed.
“Our dream now is to convince the University [of Texas] to get the entire entering freshman class to do a group plank,” Sanchez said.
But there are a couple obstacles inhibiting the trio from achieving their goal. Namely, people have never heard of planking, or if they have, they think it’s pointless.
It seems ridiculous that imitating a plank of wood would come with instructions, but as Landis and Cronn lie down on the steps of the South Mall, Sanchez gives a rundown of the “dos and don’ts” of planking.
The person must be face down, expressionless, with their arms at their sides and toes together and pointed. The crucial part of perpetuating the popularity of this activity is, however, the photograph. You must have a picture taken of the plank and post the picture somewhere where others can see it.
The photography part of planking has gotten easier, as more people have smartphones that can take high-resolution photos and instantly upload them to multiple platforms.
“It’s like if a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it,” said Cronn, a UT alumnus. “If you plank and don’t post a picture, then no one knows you’ve done it.”
The trend has been controversial following the death of 20-year-old Acton Beale, who fell to his death in May trying to plank on a balcony in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. In a report by the U.K.’s Daily Mail, Brisbane Deputy Police Commissioner Ross Barnett fears more accidents could occur “as people become more competitive and try more obscure and difficult episodes of planking.”
“We always promote safe and responsible planking,” Cronn said. “It’s when people take it to the extreme that they get hurt.”
Sanchez and Landis both moved to Austin in the past six months and they said planking has been a bonding activity more than anything else.
“While I’m traveling, away from home, the pictures I take planking are something fun to look back on,” said Landis, who is originally from Australia. “Also, I’m connected with my friends back home who show me their pictures, and it’s been a way for me to bond with these guys here.”
Walking around campus, you couldn’t tell the guys were new friends. They take playful stabs at each other’s egos, help each other climb statues and walls to plank and are constantly laughing.
During a plank on Littlefield Fountain, a group of freshmen gathered and stared with a combination of curiosity and envy. Cronn approached them and asked if they knew what planking was. After a few minutes, the three friends and four strangers were all planking around the fountain.
After the first four freshmen planked, two other groups came up to Cronn and said they wanted to try it, too. The newcomers were in hysterics as they assumed the planking position and took pictures of each other.
Planking may not be solving world hunger or helping the environment, Cronn said, but it does clearly bring people together. Since planking can be done anywhere, the possibilities are endless, he added.
“In a way, it’s like finding your own inspiration,” Cronn said. “That’s what planking is, finding your inspiration.”