Extreme sport

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A free solo ice climber on a steep ice slope, with personal safety gear (such as a helmet) but completely without a rope or any form of climbing protection from fall Ice Climbing.jpg
A free solo ice climber on a steep ice slope, with personal safety gear (such as a helmet) but completely without a rope or any form of climbing protection from fall

Action sports, adventure sports or extreme sports are activities perceived as involving a high degree of risk. [1] [2] [3] These activities often involve speed, height, a high level of physical exertion and highly specialized gear. [1] Extreme tourism overlaps with extreme sport. The two share the same main attraction, "adrenaline rush" caused by an element of risk, and differ mostly in the degree of engagement and professionalism.



The definition of extreme sports is not exact and the origin of the terms is unclear, but it gained popularity in the 1990s when it was picked up by marketing companies to promote the X Games and when the Extreme Sports Channel and Extreme International launched. More recently, the commonly used definition from research is "a competitive (comparison or self-evaluative) activity within which the participant is subjected to natural or unusual physical and mental challenges such as speed, height, depth or natural forces and where fast and accurate cognitive perceptual processing may be required for a successful outcome" by Dr. Rhonda Cohen (2012). [4] [5]

While the use of the term "extreme sport" has spread everywhere to describe a multitude of different activities, exactly which sports are considered 'extreme' is debatable. There are, however, several characteristics common to most extreme sports. [6] While they are not the exclusive domain of youth, extreme sports tend to have a younger-than-average target demographic. Extreme sports are also rarely sanctioned by schools for their physical education curriculum. [7] Extreme sports tend to be more solitary than many of the popular traditional sports [8] (rafting and paintballing are notable exceptions, as they are done in teams).

Activities categorized by media as extreme sports differ from traditional sports due to the higher number of inherently uncontrollable variables. These environmental variables are frequently weather and terrain related, including wind, snow, water and mountains. Because these natural phenomena cannot be controlled, they inevitably affect the outcome of the given activity or event.

In a traditional sporting event, athletes compete against each other under controlled circumstances. While it is possible to create a controlled sporting event such as X Games, there are environmental variables that cannot be held constant for all athletes. Examples include changing snow conditions for snowboarders, rock and ice quality for climbers, and wave height and shape for surfers.

Whilst traditional sporting judgment criteria may be adopted when assessing performance (distance, time, score, etc.), extreme sports performers are often evaluated on more subjective and aesthetic criteria. [9] This results in a tendency to reject unified judging methods, with different sports employing their own ideals [10] and indeed having the ability to evolve their assessment standards with new trends or developments in the sports.


While the exact definition and what is included as extreme sport is debatable, some attempted to make classification for extreme sports. [11]

One argument is that to qualify as an "extreme sport" both expression terms need to be fulfilled;

Along this definition, being a passenger in a canyon jet boat ride will not fulfill the requirements as the skill required pertains to the pilot, not the passengers. "Thrill seeking" might be a more suitable qualification than "extreme sport" or "action sport" in these cases.[ citation needed ]


The origin of the divergence of the term "extreme sports" from "sports" may date to the 1950s in the appearance of a phrase usually, but wrongly, attributed to Ernest Hemingway. [12] The phrase is;

There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.

The implication of the phrase was that the word "sport" defined an activity in which one might be killed. The other activities being termed "games". The phrase may have been invented by either writer Barnaby Conrad or automotive author Ken Purdy. [12]

Hang glider launching from Mount Tamalpais Hanggliding03042006.JPG
Hang glider launching from Mount Tamalpais

The Dangerous Sports Club of Oxford University, England was founded by David Kirke, Chris Baker, Ed Hulton and Alan Weston. They first came to wide public attention by inventing modern day bungee jumping, by making the first modern jumps on 1 April 1979, from the Clifton Suspension Bridge, Bristol, England. They followed the Clifton Bridge effort with a jump from the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, California (including the first female bungee jump by Jane Wilmot), and with a televised leap from the Royal Gorge Suspension Bridge in Colorado, sponsored by and televised on the popular American television program That's Incredible! Bungee jumping was treated as a novelty for a few years, then became a craze for young people, and is now an established industry for thrill seekers.

The Club also pioneered a surrealist form of skiing, holding three events at St. Moritz, Switzerland, in which competitors were required to devise a sculpture mounted on skis and ride it down a mountain. The event reached its limits when the Club arrived in St. Moritz with a London double-decker bus, wanting to send it down the ski slopes, and the Swiss resort managers refused.

Other Club activities included expedition hang gliding from active volcanoes; the launching of giant (20 m) plastic spheres with pilots suspended in the centre (zorbing); microlight flying; and BASE jumping (in the early days of this sport).

In recent decades the term extreme sport was further promoted after the Extreme Sports Channel, Extremesportscompany.com launched and then the X Games, a multi-sport event was created and developed by ESPN. [13] [14] The first X Games (known as 1995 Extreme Games) were held in Newport, Providence, Mount Snow, and Vermont in the United States. [15] [16]

Certain extreme sports clearly trace back to other extreme sports, or combinations thereof. For example, windsurfing was conceived as a result of efforts to equip a surfboard with a sailing boat's propulsion system (mast and sail). Kitesurfing on the other hand was conceived by combining the propulsion system of kite buggying (a parafoil) with the bi-directional boards used for wakeboarding. Wakeboarding is in turn derived from snowboarding and waterskiing.


Snowboarder drops off a cornice. Snowboarder cornice at sugarbowl.jpg
Snowboarder drops off a cornice.

Some contend [17] that the distinction between an extreme sport and a conventional one has as much to do with marketing as with the level of danger involved or the adrenaline generated. For example, rugby union is both dangerous and adrenaline-inducing but is not considered an extreme sport due to its traditional image, and because it does not involve high speed or an intention to perform stunts (the aesthetic criteria mentioned above) and also it does not have changing environmental variables for the athletes.


A feature of such activities in the view of some is their alleged capacity to induce an adrenaline rush in participants. [18] However, the medical view is that the rush or high associated with the activity is not due to adrenaline being released as a response to fear, but due to increased levels of dopamine, endorphins and serotonin because of the high level of physical exertion. [19] Furthermore, recent studies suggest that the link to adrenaline and 'true' extreme sports is tentative. [20] [21] Brymer and Gray's study defined 'true' extreme sports as a leisure or recreation activity where the most likely outcome of a mismanaged accident or mistake was death. This definition was designed to separate the marketing hype from the activity.

Wingsuit flying is a recent activity. Wingsuit-01.jpg
Wingsuit flying is a recent activity.

Eric Brymer [22] also found that the potential of various extraordinary human experiences, many of which parallel those found in activities such as meditation, was an important part of the extreme sport experience. Those experiences put the participants outside their comfort zone and are often done in conjunction with adventure travel.

Some of the sports have existed for decades and their proponents span generations, some going on to become well known personalities. Rock climbing and ice climbing have spawned publicly recognizable names such as Edmund Hillary, Chris Bonington, Wolfgang Güllich and more recently Joe Simpson. Another example is surfing, invented centuries ago by the inhabitants of Polynesia, it will become national sport of Hawaii. [23]

Disabled people participate in extreme sports. Nonprofit organizations such as Adaptive Action Sports seek to increase awareness of the participation in action sports by members of the disabled community, as well as increase access to the adaptive technologies that make participation possible and to competitions such as The X Games.[ promotion? ] [24] [25]

Mortality, health, and thrill

Extreme sports may be perceived as extremely dangerous, conducive to fatalities, near-fatalities and other serious injuries. The perceived risk in an extreme sport has been considered a somewhat necessary part of its appeal, [26] which is partially a result of pressure for athletes to make more money and provide maximum entertainment. [27]

While attempting a forward loop in overpowered storm conditions off the coast of Cantabria, Spain, a windsurfer jumping waves gets catapulted into a high double flip Windsurf-wipeout.jpg
While attempting a forward loop in overpowered storm conditions off the coast of Cantabria, Spain, a windsurfer jumping waves gets catapulted into a high double flip

Extreme sports is a sub-category of sports that are described as any kind of sport "of a character or kind farthest removed from the ordinary or average". [28] These kinds of sports often carry out the potential risk of serious and permanent physical injury and even death. [29] However, these sports also have the potential to produce drastic benefits on mental and physical health and provide opportunity for individuals to engage fully with life. [21]

Extreme sports trigger the release of the hormone adrenaline, which can facilitate performance of stunts. [30] It is believed that the implementation of extreme sports on mental health patients improves their perspective and recognition of aspects of life. [29]

In outdoor adventure sports, participants get to experience the emotion of intense thrill, usually associated with the extreme sports. [31] Even though some extreme sports present a higher level of risk, people still choose to embark in the experience of extreme sports for the sake of the adrenaline. According to Sigmund Freud, we have an instinctual 'death wish', which is a subconscious inbuilt desire to destroy ourselves, proving that in the seek for the thrill, danger is considered pleasurable. [32]

Ableism and extreme sports

Disability scholarship can help challenge what the word "extreme" in "extreme sports" means. Scholar Sarah Jaquette Ray describes how risk in adventure sports is dependent upon the threat of disability, which provides meaning to “extreme” endeavors, while adventure culture’s focus on physical fitness often makes people with disabilities invisible within the extreme sports community. [33] In these ways, extreme sport culture is actually defined by ableism.

Jaquette Ray also writes about the contradiction presented by technology in outdoor risk culture: disability is often understood as reliance on non-natural equipment, yet extreme sports rely deeply on gear and are still seen as a form of "natural" human performance. [33] The technologies that make the outdoors accessible to people with disabilities are qualitatively different from the technologies used in extreme sports, and yet only the former are seen as unnatural. [33] This contradiction reveals adventure culture’s fear of disability because disability is fundamentally about dependence on other people and technology. [33] Writer and scholar Eli Clare has written extensively about his experience with disability in the outdoors, stating “Part of claiming disability is choosing this messy, imperfect work-in-progress called interdependence.” [34]

List of extreme and adventure sports

Adventure sports

Extreme sports

See also

Related Research Articles

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Parasports are sports played by people with a disability, including physical and intellectual disabilities. Some parasports are forms of adapted physical activities from existing able-bodied sports, while others have been specifically created for persons with a disability and do not have an able-bodied equivalent. Disability exists in four categories: physical, mental, permanent and temporary. At a competitive level, disability sport classifications are applied to allow people of varying abilities to face similar opposition.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Winter sports</span> Sports or recreational activities which are played on snow or ice

Winter sports or winter activities are competitive sports or non-competitive recreational activities which are played on snow or ice. Most are variations of skiing, ice skating and sledding. Traditionally, such games were only played in cold areas during winter, but artificial snow and artificial ice allow more flexibility. Playing areas and fields consist of either snow or ice.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Bungee jumping</span> Activity that involves jumping from a tall structure while connected to a large elastic cord

Bungee jumping, also spelled bungy jumping, is an activity that involves a person jumping from a great height while connected to a large elastic cord. The launching pad is usually erected on a tall structure such as a building or crane, a bridge across a deep ravine, or on a natural geographic feature such as a cliff. It is also possible to jump from a type of aircraft that has the ability to hover above the ground, such as a hot-air-balloon or helicopter. The thrill comes from the free-falling and the rebound. When the person jumps, the cord stretches and the jumper flies upwards again as the cord recoils, and continues to oscillate up and down until all the kinetic energy is dissipated.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Extreme ironing</span> Ironing in unconventional locations

Extreme ironing is an extreme sport in which people take ironing boards to remote locations and iron items of clothing. According to the Extreme Ironing Bureau, extreme ironing is "the latest danger sport that combines the thrills of an extreme outdoor activity with the satisfaction of a well-pressed shirt."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Olympic sports</span> Type of sport with events contested at the Olympic Games

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">X-Treme Sports</span> Television channel

X-Treme Sports was a Canadian English language category 2 television channel owned by Canwest Media Inc., a division of Canwest Global Communications. X-Treme Sports aired a variety of programming primarily related to extreme sports.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adventure travel</span> Type of niche tourism

Adventure travel is a type of niche tourism, involving exploration or travel with a certain degree of risk, and which may require special skills and physical exertion. In the United States, adventure tourism has grown in recent decades as tourists seek out-of-the-ordinary or "roads less traveled" vacations, but lack of a clear operational definition has hampered measurement of market size and growth. According to the U.S.-based Adventure Travel Trade Association, adventure travel may be any tourist activity that includes physical activity, a cultural exchange, and connection with nature.

The Dangerous Sports Club was a group of adventurers and extreme sports pioneers based in Oxford and London, England. They were active from the late 1970s for about ten years, during which they developed modern bungee jumping and experimented with a variety of other innovative sporting activities.

<i>Jack Osbourne: Adrenaline Junkie</i> TV series or program

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<span class="mw-page-title-main">Assistive technology in sport</span>

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