Extreme Sports are nontraditional sports and activities that require participants to combine athletic skill with pronounced risk. Most extreme sports are not true competitive sports because the main challenge is not imposed by another athlete or opposing team, but by the inherent difficulty of the activity. Extreme sports allow and encourage individual creativity in the innovation of new maneuvers and in the stylish execution of existing techniques.
Wearing his trademark red, white, and blue suit, American daredevil Evel Knievel entertained millions of fans during the 1960s and 1970s with amazing motorcycle stunts and jumps. In October 1975 Knievel successfully jumped 14 Greyhound buses at King's Island in Ohio, setting a motorcycle-jumping distance record of 190 ft (58 m). Another Knievel feat was jumping the 150 ft (46 m) wide fountains of Caesar's Palace Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, on New Year's Day, 1968.
Because extreme sports enthusiasts place themselves in dangerous situations, controlling risk is vital. Before enthusiasts attempt risky activities, they must know their own physical abilities and understand how well they can block the natural instinct of fear. Extreme sports enthusiasts also must recognize the physical limits of their equipment. Participants should have experience in whatever activity they are taking to an extreme level, and must know what they will do in an emergency.
II How Extreme Sports Are Developed
Some of the most popular sports that can have extreme elements are extreme skiing, extreme free rock climbing, snowboarding, mountain biking, in-line skating, and white-water kayaking. In these activities, extreme athletes exceed traditional safety limitations to create new disciplines in the sport. For example, people who engage in extreme skiing make dangerous runs down mountains over uncharted terrain. The enhanced danger posed by cliffs, crevasses, and extremely steep slopes elevates traditional snow skiing to an extreme level. Likewise, extreme free rock climbing, or rock climbing without ropes, is generally considered more dangerous than traditional climbing methods, which typically incorporate protection in the form of a climbing partner and roping system.
Some extreme sports combine the techniques and physical skills of two or more sports, often mainstream sports that were once considered extreme. One of the best examples of this sort of transition is found with skysurfing, which first became popular in the 1990s. The sport combines skydiving and snowboarding. Experienced parachutists perform acrobatic stunts on boards similar to snowboards. Individually, skydiving and snowboarding were once considered extreme. And snowboarding's own development owed much to the sports of skateboarding and surfing, which were considered nontraditional when they were first popularized in the 1960s.
III Extreme Sports for Individuals
Many extreme sports are performed by individuals, either for the inherent thrill of the activity or for this thrill combined with competition. Bungee jumping, BASE jumping, skysurfing, and street luge are just a few of the extreme sports designed for individuals.
Bungee jumping is leaping from a fixed location such as a crane, platform, bridge, or cliff and breaking the fall with a bungee cord — an elastic-type rope — that is attached to the ankles. Jumps take place from heights of 25 to 200 m (80 to 650 ft). After the jumper begins falling, the bungee cord pays out behind the jumper's feet. When it is fully extended, the cord breaks the jumper's fall, stretching to minimize the jolt of the stop. The United States Bungee Association (USBA) estimates that more than 7 million bungee jumps have been made since the late 1980s, making bungee jumping one of the most popular extreme sports. Bungee jumping is most commonly done from specially designed platforms and under the supervision of a licensed company. It is considered one of the least dangerous activities of the extreme sports.
In BASE jumping, parachutists jump from artificial and natural structures at heights between 90 and 1,100 m (300 and 3,600 ft). (The name BASE comes from buildings, antennas, spans ［bridges］, and earth ［cliffs and waterfalls］ — the four launching points for jumpers.) Because the launch heights are low compared to those in traditional skydiving, the parachutes used in BASE jumping are specially designed to open quickly. BASE jumping is considered one of the most dangerous of all extreme sports. One danger is that a jumper's parachute may not open fast enough.Another is that wind can easily blow a jumper into a rock face or another nearby surface. Most law enforcement agencies prohibit BASE jumping, but even where the activity is legal, only competent skydivers should attempt jumps.
In skysurfing, an expert skydiver performs acrobatic stunts while free-falling from about 4,000 m (13,000 ft). The skysurfer stands upright on a board similar to a snowboard. The board is attached to the feet with special bindings that allow the skysurfer to detach from the board if necessary. The board's aerodynamic properties enable skysurfers to move horizontally and to do loops, turns, and similar feats in midair. Around 1,100 m (3,600 ft), the skysurfer deploys a parachute. Skysurfing is dangerous because the board is difficult to control. Skysurfers must concentrate on using their bodies and the board to avoid spins that can render them unconscious or disoriented during a fall. This spinning phenomenon can also cause the lines of the parachute to tangle and the parachute to deploy improperly.
Street luge is a ground-based extreme sport similar to traditional luge (which is held on an ice-covered course). Street lugers race on paved roads, reaching speeds of more than 110 km/h (70 mph). A street luge, or rail, is a narrow aluminum beam that is 41 cm (16 in) wide and 2.6 m (8.5 ft) long. The rail rides on small wheels similar to those on skateboards. Street lugers lie face up in a stiff, feet-first posture that maximizes aerodynamic efficiency. The rail has no braking system or steering mechanism, so riders direct the rail using slight shifts of weight or pressure from the feet. Lugers race against the clock to complete a course in the fastest possible time. Extreme speeds make street luge dangerous, and the risks increase because only a helmet and abrasion-resistant clothing protect the racer in a crash. Because there are no permanent racecourses, street luge is often practiced on the open road, where automobile traffic can also pose a threat.
In almost every extreme sport, a governing body sponsors competitions. These organizations include the U.S. Bungee Association; the International Pro BASE Circuit (IPBC), which governs BASE jumping; the World Freestyle Federation (WFF), which governs skysurfing; and the Road Racers Association for International Luge (RAIL), which governs street luge.
A different sort of extreme sports competition is the annual X Games, with events in a wide range of sports, just as the Olympic Games feature competition in many mainstream sports. And just as the Olympics occur in summer and winter, so do the X Games. The X Games take place over a week and are sponsored by the ESPN cable television network.
The first X Games (then called the Extreme Games) were held in 1995 in Rhode Island. The Summer X Games involve more than 400 athletes competing in more than 25 alternative sports, including bicycle stunt riding, aggressive in-line skating, skateboarding, skysurfing, snowboarding, and street luge. The Winter X Games, created in 1997, feature mountain-bike racing on snow, ice climbing, and other winter events.
IV Extreme Sports for Teams
Not all extreme sports consist of individual competition. One type of team competition is adventure racing. Adventure racers travel in teams across rugged terrain without using motorized equipment. Races may involve skiing, hiking, sea kayaking, and many other activities. All members of a team must stay together during a race. Adventure racing is considered by some to be the ultimate test of athletic ability and mental strength because participants must engage in high levels of athletic activity in harsh environments. Enthusiasts are often injured and frequently lose their way during the course of a competition.
The precursors to today's adventure races were endurance races such as triathlons and extreme long-distance running events. Two of today's most popular adventure racing events are the Raid Gauloises and the Eco-Challenge. Created in 1989 by French journalist Gerard Fusil, the Raid Gauloises is a grueling two-week adventure race in which five-person teams cross rugged and remote terrain. The inaugural Raid was held in New Zealand, and subsequent races have been staged in Costa Rica, Madagascar, Borneo, and Chile. The race has five separate stages designed to fit each location's unique terrain. Stages may require horseback riding, white-water paddling, mountain climbing, running, skydiving, or hiking. Eachyear, about half the teams that enter the Raid are able to complete the race. French teams have dominated the competition since its inception.
The Eco-Challenge adventure race was first organized in 1995 by Mark Burnett, a member of the first American team to compete in the Raid Gauloises. The Eco-Challenge is a 10-day, 600 km (370 mi) event. The first Eco-Challenge was held in Ut
ah. Like the Raid, the Eco-Challenge features five-member teams and has several stages. Typical activities in the Eco-Challenge are mountain biking, sea kayaking, long-distance hiking, and skiing. Before each year's race, Eco-Challenge athletes participate in an environmental service project, to illustrate the power of teamwork and promote outdoor activities that have minimal effect on the environment.
Land Diving with the Pentecost Islanders Land diving is a little like bungee jumping, only older. Gather a bunch of friends to cheer you on, give a short speech, then leap headfirst from a 24 m (80 ft) tower with nothing but a pair of vines between you and terra firma. How — and why — did this curious tradition evolve on Vanuatu's Pentecost Island? In this 1970 National Geographic article, photographer and amateur anthropologist Kal Muller, who was the first outsider to try land diving firsthand, takes a close look at an ages-old South Pacific ritual.
Some sociologists say that extreme sports are similar to vision quests or other traditional rites of passage common in some cultures. In many traditional cultures, rites of passage are severe physical ordeals during which adolescents experience intense personal growth. Initiates often leave their families and undergo a lengthy seclusion during the event. Some modern observers believe that extreme sports enthusiasts seek the same sort of experience by undertaking risky activities in small, closely knit groups.
It is difficult to determine exactly when the term extreme sports came to refer to the modern sports discussed in this article, but many believe it can be traced to the early 1970s, when rock climbing and marathon running — then considered extreme — gained popularity. Several reasons have been cited for the growth of extreme sports since that time.
Extreme sports may have gained popularity in the late 20th century as a reaction to the increased safety of modern life. Lacking a feeling of danger in their everyday activities, people may have felt compelled to seek out danger or risk.
Another reason for increased participation in extreme sports is enhanced sports technology. For example, the invention of sticky rubber-soled climbing shoes and artificial climbing walls broadened the appeal of rock climbing. And advances in ski design allowed more skiers to attempt extreme feats previously thought impossible.Some observers credit television and movies for helping to popularize extreme sports. Television coverage of competitions and events has brought extreme sports and their participants more attention. As more people become aware of extreme sports, the activities gain more enthusiasts. One result of the growing interest is that those who pride themselves on participating in challenging, cutting-edge activities are constantly searching for new ways to test themselves. This ensures the continuing development of newer extreme sports.