When you go out doing your adventure sport of choice, do you risk your life for a thrill? Obviously, the most dangerous extreme sports have a higher level of risk, but that doesn’t stop people from doing them.
Seen the footage of Hermann Maier’s spectacular crash at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics? Then you understand skiing can be dangerous. But did it stop you booking a week skiing? Probably not.
When it comes to adventure sports, however extreme, we all know there are risks involved. You could be caught by an avalanche while skiing, a shark while surfing, a stray wind while paragliding or even a bolt of lightning whilst on the golf course.
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 off tall buildings? Or land loving people to try to surf 20 metre high waves? Or to go faster, further, higher and more extreme?
If we are to believe Sigmund Freud, we all have an instinctual ‘death wish’, a subconscious inbuilt desire to destroy ourselves. OK, so most people don’t try extreme sports with a goal to kill or injure 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.
If you want that thrill (or want to avoid the danger!) check out the most dangerous extreme sports below:
On average, 22.4 people die a year skydiving in the US. But from 3.2 million jumps that means the fatality rate is 1 in 133,571. Not bad odds to risk your life for a thrill…
But it’s the more extreme side of skydiving where the risks increase. BASE jumping and wingsuit flying have a far higher rate of death thought to be around 1 in 2400 jumps or 1 in 60 participants.
In 2015 experienced wingsuit flyers Dean Potter and Graham Hunt died wingsuiting in Yosemite. Plus there have been a raft of other BASE jump and wingsuit deaths keeping the sport in the media.
BASE jumping and wingsuit flying are probably the most dangerous extreme sports. But there are plenty of others with high risks.
Heading in the opposite direction, cave diving is growing in popularity. General scuba diving is not without danger – the limited air supply, risk of the bends and drowning to name a few.
Despite the risks scuba diving has a good safety record. Thousands of people go on recreational dives every day and there are only around 200 deaths per year.
But Cave divers are often in unchartered territory, with low visibility and very cramped conditions. Plus there is no emergency exit of swimming to the surface if you get into difficulties and dives are much longer.
Despite this just 5% of scuba diving deaths are cave divers. This doesn’t sound like much until you realise it is an absolutely tiny portion of dives are made in caves.
The dangers of cave diving were shown recently when a professional cave diver passed away in Thailand. He ran out of air while taking supplies to a group of Thai children who’d become trapped by a storm flooding the cave they were exploring.
The American National Speleological Society defines a “successful” cave dive as “one you return from”. The excitement of exploring unmapped subterranean networks must be huge.
Staying on top of the ocean, and big wave surfing is taking water sports to new extremes. Surfing waves at least 6.2m (20 feet) high is crazy enough but often they are so big surfers need to use jet skis to tow them in.
The biggest wave ever surfed was 24m (80 feet) high by Rodrigo Koxa in Nazare, Portugal! Most big wave surfing takes place on waves at the lower end of the scale but it is still incredibly dangerous.
Breaking waves have immense force behind them, snapping boards – and people – is not uncommon. They also push surfers deep below the surface and hold them there so there is a real threat of drowning.
Once they’ve stopped spinning, surfers have less than 20 seconds to figure out which way is up before the next wave hits. Other hazards include hitting rocks or reefs or colliding with your own board. Also there are always sharks to consider…
Speaking of dangerous animals, horse riding is often overlooked as an adventure sport, possibly because it doesn’t appear too extreme. But in terms of injuries, it ranks as one of the most dangerous.
Studies have shown that you are 20 times more likely to be injured whilst riding a horse than a motorbike. Unlike motorcycles, horses don’t have brakes, plus a horse has a mind of its own.
Controlling such a powerful beast and travelling at speeds up to 40 mph is a huge thrill. It ensures the popularity of horse riding will endure for many years to come.
Christopher Reeve – a.k.a. Superman – was a gifted horseman but was left paralysed after being thrown from a horse. According to deadorkicking.com he passed away in 2004 at the age of 52.
Rather rely on yourself than on animals? Well climbing without ropes and other safety equipment sounds dangerous and it is. And the higher you go the bigger the danger.
World renowned free soloist Ueli Steck passed away in 2017 having fallen an estimated 1000m climbing the Nuptse Wall in Nepal. Many other famous free solo climbers have also passed away doing what they love.
In recent years there have also been a raft of deaths from people free-climbing buildings for the perfect selfie. However, with the launch of the film Free Solo by climber Alex Honnold the popularity in only going to grow.
After climbing higher it’s time for another airbourne sport. Speed riding and speed flying both use a specially adapted paraglider wing to fly at speeds up to 145 km/h (90 mph) close to the ground.
The difference between the two is that speedriding is done over snow wearing skis. It is a relatively new activity and one of the most dangerous extreme sports accounting for at least 50 deaths since 2006.
I thought we would finish with a slightly silly note but with a serious message. The chainsaw is known as one of the most dangerous tools with 30,000 catastrophic injuries a year in the US alone.
Combine the danger of a chainsaw with the element of competition and you would have thought it would be one of the most dangerous extreme sports. However, competitive chainsawing has an excellent safety record.
The reason behind this is the participants are very highly trained. They also wear all the suitable safety gear such as chainsaw chaps (safety trousers) and other protective clothing.
While competitive chainsawing isn’t really an extreme sport it’s safety record teaches us an important lesson. When doing something dangerous ensure you have the relevant training and wear appropriate safety gear.
Which is why I wear a helmet snowboarding!
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. And a few weeks later someone else will be going higher, further, faster or bigger….
Do you risk your life for a thrill? Let us know in the comments which of the most dangerous extreme sports you do and we might write an article about your exploits.