Extreme sports (such as skydiving, parkour or alpine snowboarding, among others) are a very varied and interesting sports category to analyze, even define. Although the concept of extreme or action sport emerged as an advertising marketing strategy in the 1990s, it is still used today because it is useful for categorizing different types of sports that we perceive as dangerous and, above all, as a physical and mental challenge for the person who practices them - as well as a real shot of adrenaline.
Extreme sports (also known as action sports and adventure sports) are a type of sporting activity that can carry a high risk for the person who practices them, although this depends on the safety measures taken in each case, among other aspects, and the categorization of a sport as "risky" is sometimes more of a perceptual issue.
This type of sport can involve high speed or very intense physical effort (such as mountain biking or climbing), requiring the use of specialized equipment or practicing at high altitudes; parachuting is a good example of the latter two cases. Cohen et al. (2018) highlight the relevance of rapid and accurate mental processing for risky sports.
Compared to other types of sports, adventure sports tend to be more solitary and it is not so common to compete against other people and in very controlled conditions, but the athlete often faces unpredictable scenarios and their performance is more difficult to evaluate through objective criteria. It may also be interesting to mention that in origin "extreme sport" is a label with a promotional function associated with the foundation of the annual American event X Games and the television channel Extreme Sports Channel.
Below you will find a list of 15 very popular extreme sports of different types. Many of them require the use of vehicles.
Climbing is an adventure sport consisting of climbing or descending rock walls (both natural and artificial). It can be conceived as an unevaluated leisure activity, or it can be evaluated on the basis of the speed of a given route or the level of progress in it.
Ice climbing is a riskier variant that requires highly specialized equipment. Another popular type of climbing is "deep-water soloing", which is practiced alone using a natural formation of water and a special cushion for falling. Deep-water soloing is often considered much more dangerous as the level of safety decreases dramatically.
Mountaineering is an extreme sport that consists of reaching the top of a mountain, which may involve many other techniques and sports, including climbing and hiking.
Parachuting is one of the most famous adventure sports. To practice it, athletes throw themselves from the air at a great height and descend to the ground with the help of a parachute. It is considered an extreme sport because it poses a significant risk to parachutists. BASE jump is a variant of parachuting that is characterized because, instead of jumping from an airplane, it is done from a fixed structure: buildings, electric towers, viaducts, cliffs...
Abseiling consists of descending with ropes on a vertical surface, such as a rock wall. It is often combined with other extreme sports, such as climbing and mountaineering.
Paragliding is an adventure sport in which a person uses a wing (which is attached with a harness) to glide, sometimes for a long time and at great distances.
Skateboarding is one of the most famous and practiced extreme sports worldwide, especially since the 1990s (although in the United States it was already relatively popular in the 1970s). There are different variants that involve very different degrees of risk, although injuries are common in any modality if the person has no experience or caution. Downhill skateboarding, for example, is practiced at a speed of up to 125 km/h.
Another of the most popular extreme sports is surfing. It is a water hazard sport in which the person, standing on a board, uses the force of the waves to "ride" them and perform different types of acrobatic techniques.
Bodyboarding is an action sport similar to surfing. In this case, the athlete concentrates mainly on surfing the waves, usually lying on the board, not so much on making elaborate movements on them, so it is usually used as preparatory training for surfing.
Skiing and snowboarding are the two main extreme winter sports. Skiing uses two elongated boards attached to the feet (skis) to glide through the snow, while snowboarding uses a single board. There are different modalities that can be considered risk sports to varying degrees.
Diving can be considered a risky sport in some of its modalities; the central factor in this sense is breathing. Freediving is a good example, but cave diving can also be practiced as an extreme sport.
River rafting is more commonly known as rafting. It is an adventure sport that is practiced in turbulent rivers and that consists of following the current of a river rowing on a boat. Rafting can be carried out in different types of boats, the most common being kayaking, canoeing, and rafting. It is common to refer to the descent in rivers as "kayak", etc. depending on the boat used.
Parkour is an urban sport (although it can be practiced in other environments) that was developed from obstacle courses typical of military training. It consists of running, jumping, climbing, etc. to advance quickly and efficiently using only the body itself and the physical characteristics of the environment.
El Freerunning es una disciplina derivada del parkour en la que se pone más énfasis en el uso de los movimientos gimnásticos, con una intención más estética y artística. Freerunning is a discipline derived from parkour that focuses rather on the use of gymnastic movements, with a more aesthetic and artistic intention.
Mountain biking is an adventure sport practiced on difficult terrain with specialized bicycles. Some of the variants of biking most worthy of being considered extreme sports are downhill mountain biking, freecycling and BMX.
Canyoning consists of descending the canyons of a river using different techniques, so it often includes other adventure sports such as abseiling and climbing. Jumps are another typical feature of canyoning.
Highline is an extreme sport in which a tense rope is crossed maintaining the balance at a great height. Although the most common is to use a harness or a similar safety device, there is also the "free-solo Highline", which is practiced without aids of this type and therefore involves very high risk. This is an extreme variant of slackline, in which the height at which the rope is placed does not pose a risk to the athlete but the challenge is limited to balance.
The wingsuit is a type of parachuting or BASE jump that involves the use of an "air suit" with wings that can be used to glide through the air. In recent years technological advances are allowing the development of very eye-catching air suits.
Cohen, R., Baluch, B. & Duffy, L. J. (2018). Defining Extreme Sport: Conceptions and Misconceptions. Frontiers in Psychology, 9.
Tomlinson, J. (2004). Extreme Sports: In Search of the Ultimate Thrill. Hove: Firefly Books Ltd.