Extreme sports really have gone mainstream.
When someone added the adjective “extreme” to “sport” they figured that dabbling in that sport was akin to cheating death at every turn. While it may be true, some “extreme” sports are all that terrifying anymore.
Protective equipment, better instruction, advances in technology and extreme athlete fitness have all been responsible for making out-there sports safer and more accessible. Take, for instance, kayaking. Without helmets and better kayaks, guiding a sleek kayak down a raging river would seem very extreme to most. The same holds true for skateboarding, where a nasty fall with a flimsy helmet — or no helmet at all — could spell the end.
The feint of heart need not be as afraid anymore to try a sport that straddles “the edge.” With good teaching, the right equipment and safeguards put in place, novices to seasoned pros can enjoy an extreme sport with just a healthy fear of serious injury or death.
Here are five extreme sports that aren’t really all that extreme anymore.
5. Body Boarding
Body boarding is surfing’s mellow little brother. The dangers inherent with riding a monster wave while standing up are mitigated by lying down on a boxy “boogie board” and doing the same thing. While there have been documented deaths from body boarding, including a champion bodyboarder dying from a Great White Shark attack in South Africa in 2012, there have been far fewer fatalities than surfing. Body boarding became a thing in 1971 in North America and quickly became a global phenomenon. Soon body boarders were attempting aerial tricks like 360s and backflips to win championships at some of the most surf locations in the world including: Teahupo’o (French Polynesia), Shark Island (Australia) and El Fronton (Spain). Yet, body or “boogie” boarding the traditional way (lying down) can be attempted by just about anyone of any age — if they avoid the “bombs”, or heavy waves.
4. Wind Surfing
Like body boarding, windsurfing is a tamer, more user-friendly form of surfing. There is a professional circuit for die-hard enthusiasts, but by and large windsurfing is more predominantly a recreational activity. Go to a resort on a lake or ocean and there is bound to be a windsurfing stand, complete with beginner instruction. What does differentiate it from surfing are the amount of moving parts and what a novice must master before remaining upright. First there is the board, which incorporates a free-rotating universal joint and also consists of a mast, two-sided boom and a sail. Once the user learns how to keep their core balance and utilize the boom and sail to make turns and go faster, it’s not all that difficult. Life jackets and helmets also minimize wear and tear on windsurfers who dump. Experienced and or pro windsurfers can pull off jumps, loops and other spinning manoeuvres.
Skiiers must have looked at the first people to strap one board on both feet and said, “they’re nuts.” But, the marriage of surfing and skiing was bound to happen, anyway. Too bad that early on, skiiers considered snowboarders inferior, both for the way they dressed and how they carried themselves at ski resorts. But, despite this lack of concern for etiquette, early snowboarders pushed the limits of traditional skiing, so much so that it became the epitome of “extreme” sport. Like downhill skiiing, it too morphed into a mainstream sport, much to the chagrin of early pioneers who turned the sport into an ‘X’ games darling and eventually an Olympic winter sport, complete with snowcross, slopstyle, alpine and half pipe competitions. For beginners and recreationalists, equipment has negated much of the danger involved — usually head injuries from failure to execute turns — and made it as safe as the two-ski cousin.
2. Water Skiing
This is probably the oldest recorded extreme sport, having it’s early roots planted in the early 1920s. For nearly a hundred years, vacationers and professional water skiiers alike have strapped on the skis and life vests and gone for a whirl behind boats of varying sizes. Little did accredited founder Ralph Samuelson of Minnesota know the craze he would start when he strapped a couple of boards to his feet, tethered himself to a boat with clothesline and let his brother pull him around at speeds topping out at 20 mph. Years later, Dick Pope (aka the Father of American Water Skiiing), staged elaborate water ski shows at Cypress Gardens in Florida, the result being international attention. Professionals compete in slaloming and jumping competitions while the sport’s more extreme practitioners go barefoot, do freestyle aerials and a form of racing pitting waterskiiers against each other. For the casual participant, it’s a fairly safe activity at slower speed, as long as helmets are worn and water safety precautions followed.
1. Hang Gliding
This is the only sport in the list where the user doesn’t strap something to their feet (other than good shoes to land with). Of these five extreme sports, this one would have the most danger, in that an inexperienced user can easily plunge fast and be maimed or killed by the freefall. Yet, of all the vertical sports and with advances in the gliders, it is a more stable way to fly and touch ground safely. It used to be a fairly dangerous sport, but new gliders have better glide ratios (12:1 typically; 12 metres of forward motion for every one metre of altitude lost), as well as better anti-roll characteristics and flexibility in the wings to control pitch and yaw. Modern hang gliding pilots can also utilize state-of-the-art technology to limit accidents, including variometers (senses acceleration forces), two-way radios (push to talk on VHF for ground to air communication) as well as GPS (assists in flight performance for longer trips).