Anyone who has seen the footage of Hermann Maier’s spectacular crash at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics will have a fairly good idea about the dangers of skiing. But did it stop you booking a week in Val-d’Isère the following season? Probably not.
When it comes to adventure sports, however extreme, we all know there are inherent risks involved. You could be caught by an avalanche while skiing, a shark while surfing, a stray wind while base jumping or even a bolt of lightening while golfing.
Despite this millions take to the slopes, waves and air every year. Many pushing the boundaries of what is safe or even possible, on the never ending quest for adrenaline.
So what makes normally gravity-abiding people throw themselves out of planes or off of tall buildings?
If we are to believe Sigmund Freud, we all have an instinctual ‘death wish’, a subconscious inbuilt desire to destroy ourselves. Now, most people don’t set out to try adventure sports or extreme sports with a goal to kill or maim themselves, but danger is definitely a big part of the pleasure for most thrill seekers.
As a result, adrenaline junkies are always looking for bigger, higher or faster thrills. On average 30 people a year die while skydiving, yet this month Felix Baumgartner will attempt to beat Joe Kittinger’s 52-year-old record for the highest skydive, set at 103,000 feet.
Baumgartner will make the jump from 120,000 feet in a special pressurized suit. He will reach the sound barrier about 35 seconds into the jump and then continue to fall for another five minutes.
When it comes to thrill-seeking, Baumgartner is literally going to the ends of the earth for his, and you would need to have nerves of reinforced titanium to make a jump like the one he is planning. But the view of the earth from 120,000 feet up must be something pretty spectacular. And once his feet touch the ground, he’ll probably want to go straight back up and do it all over again.
Heading in the opposite direction now, and deep cave diving is becoming increasingly popular as a sport. Not content with the general risks of scuba diving – the limited air supply, risk of the bends and drowning to name a few. These deep-sea explorers have added unchartered territory, low visibility ad cramped conditions to the mix.
As a result the American National Speleological Society defines a “successful” cave dive as “one you return from”. We can only imagine that the excitement of being the first to explore these unmapped subterranean networks makes the dangers worthwhile. An activity not for the faint hearted or claustrophobic.
Staying on top of the ocean, and big wave surfing is taking water sports to new extremes. Experienced surfers are towed out onto large waves using specially designed boards. Now these waves aren’t just big, they are huge, from a minimum of 20 feet up to a staggering 50 feet high.
The main danger in a big wave wipeout is being held under by consecutive waves. Breaking waves can push a surfer 20 to 50 feet below the surface. Once they stop spinning round, surfers may have less than 20 seconds to figure out which way is up before the next wave hits. Other hazards include hitting hidden rocks or reefs, colliding with your own board and even the threat of circling sharks.
Speaking of dangerous animals, horse riding is often overlooked as a dangerous sport, possibly because it doesn’t appear too extreme. But in reality, it ranks as one of the most dangerous. To get a comparison, studies have shown that you are 20 times more likely to be injured whilst horse riding than when on a motorbike.
Unlike motorcycles, horses don’t have breaks, and if the horse you are sitting decides it is bolting, there is not a great deal you can do about it. Even Superman, Christopher Reeve, a gifted horseman, was left paralysed after being thrown from a horse.
Yet the thrill of controlling such a powerful beast and of travelling at speeds up to 40mph, ensures the popularity of horse riding will endure for many years to come.
At the end of the day, people take part in dangerous sports, not to tease death, but to feel more alive. The bigger the danger, the bigger the thrill.
So no matter how dangerous a sport may be, there will always be someone, somewhere willing to give it a go.
For more adventure travel info and guides, check out: Adventure Sports Gear: Penknife or Multitool?/ Top 10 travel apps for iPhone, iPad and smartphones / The Ultimate List of Extreme Sports / Airline weight restrictions: what every traveller needs to know/ The Rise of Gastro Adventuring
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