An extreme sport (also known as an action sport) is a general, somewhat hazily-defined term for any of several newer sports involving adrenaline-inducing action. They often feature a combination of speed, height, danger and spectacular stunts. Levels of danger vary widely, but there is always an element – an “extreme” factor – that causes an adrenaline rush which keeps participants loyal to their sport. Some participants termed ‘adrenaline junkies’ develop an obsession with their sport and even claim to be “addicted to adrenaline”. (This is the result of a misnomer, since often the high obtained is a product of increased levels of dopamine endorphins and serotonin).
Extreme sports are most often pursued by young adults who wish to push their own limits of fear and physical ability, and in doing so, also help to push the limits of their sport as a whole. Because of this youthful demographic, extreme sports often attract their own kind of youth culture with associated clothing fashions and music. Indeed, the distinction between an extreme sport and a conventional sport is often as much due to marketing as the level of danger involved or the adrenaline generated. For example, snowboarding has a more extreme image than skiing mainly because it is newer, even though skiing is a faster and at least equally dangerous way of getting down the mountain. Also, only individual sports are generally considered to be extreme, so a sport like Rugby Union, though dangerous and adrenaline-inducing, is disqualified both by its traditional image and because it is a team sport.
The term gained popularity with the advent of the X Games, a made-for-television collection of such events. Advertisers were quick to realise the appeal of the event and competitors and organisers are now flooded with sponsorship. The high profile of extreme sports and the culture surrounding them has also led people to invent jokey parodies, such as Extreme ironing, urban housework, extreme croquet, extreme unicycling, house gymnastics, and extreme wheelbarrow.
Purists often reject the stereotypical “adrenaline junkie” image and enjoy their activities for many diverse reasons. Practitioners might enjoy developing their physical and/or mental skills, seek mastery of inhospitable environments, look to escape from the mundane rigours of day-to-day existence, or simply love the wilderness environment in which many of these sports take place. Bob Drury, a paraglider pilot says:
“We do these things not to escape life, but to prevent life escaping us”.
Or, alternatively, from an anonymous source:
“All who live, die. But not all who die have lived.”
Several extreme sports, including snowboarding, were included in the 2002 Winter Olympic Games.
Some extreme sports have been around for many decades and the proponents span many generations, often including well known personalities. For example rock climbing and ice climbing has spawned such immortal names as Edmund Hillary, Chris Bonington and more recently Joe Simpson. Another example is Surfing, which was originally invented centuries ago by the native inhabitants of Hawaii.