What Makes a Sport Extreme?

AUGUST 9, 2009 - Extreme Sports : Rider show h...
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Extreme sport shot to popularity in the nineties, despite popular belief, the definition of extreme is not how inherently dangerous the sport is, but whether or not it aligns with a number of other unwritten rules. Extreme sport’s lowest common denominator is that of counter culture, by counter culture I mean being in opposition to the established culture of sport and recreation, that is, values of safety, fair play and sportsmanship. Cycling is statically one of the most dangerous sports, as riders often pick up numerous injuries, whereas Squash is one of the most lethal, more people die playing Squash than in any other sport.

A sport being classed as ‘extreme’ therefore, isn’t all about danger and death, rather it is a division of competitive sport that flies in the face of traditional ideals. Extreme sports are commonly perceived to be performed at high speed and provide an adrenaline rush, though this does not tell the whole story. Consider motorsport, arguably the quickest and most adrenaline inducing sport, this does not fall under the ‘extreme’ banner.

Rather, we may think about extreme sports in terms of their youthfulness or lack of tradition, thus BMX is far more widely thought of as an extreme sport than motor racing. Another facet of extreme sports is the propensity to perform stunts, this comes back to the counter-cultural aspect of the genre, rather than straight out competition, extreme sport allows an encourages the performance aspect; who can perform the most outlandish stunt? One thing we can say with confidence about is extreme sports is that they are largely individual endeavors (winning is based on time or accumulation of points) rather than team ‘games’.

The definition of extreme sports has changed over the years, closely intertwined with the marketing of certain sports or activities as ‘extreme’. When the term was first coined extreme activities were considered to be things like scuba diving, skiing, mountain biking and snowboarding. As these pursuits became more popular however they no longer warranted the ‘extreme’, counter cultural moniker and have been superseded by more youthful variations like skateboarding, BMXing and aggressive skating.

It is key to recognize the important part that other cultural artifacts play in the image and popularity of extreme sports, video games like the Tony Hawk series have done wonders for the popularity of skateboarding while punk rock bands like 182 have always been closely associated with the culture of extreme sports. So it seems extreme sports are fundamentally youthful, counter-cultural and influenced by media, while thriving on the perception of danger or risk of injury.

Joe is a copywriter and extreme sports enthusiast. He doesn’t do anything as dangerous like jumping off cliffs, but he does like to ride his BMX bikes.

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