Contrary to popular belief, people who participate in extreme sports aren't simply risk-taking adrenaline junkies.
Researchers from at Queensland University of Technology define extreme sports as leisure activities in which just one mistake can be fatal. These sports include BASE jumping, rock climbing, big wave surfing, snowboarding, and parachuting. Researchers say that these sports have risen in popularity over the past years, while more traditional sports have declined.
People have always thought that the adrenaline that risky and dangerous sports induce is what makes these sports attractive. After all, an adrenaline rush can be quite enjoyable. However, the pursuit of an adrenaline rush is not what drives extreme sportsmen.
Extreme sportsmen claim that when they participate in an extreme sport, it's like their senses are heightened. "For example, BASE jumpers talk about being able to see all the colors and nooks and crannies of the rock as they zoom past at 300km/h, or extreme climbers feel like they are floating and dancing with the rock. People talk about time slowing down and merging with nature," says Professor Eric Brymer, one of the researchers.
Extreme sports are a positive, almost spiritual experience. The experience of participating in an extreme sport is difficult to put into into words, according to extreme sportsmen. Thus, the researchers had to find a different approach to understand what motivates extreme sportsmen. They eschewed a theory-based approach that may not take the entirety of the experience into account. Instead, the researchers took a phenomenological approach that focused on the lived experience of participating in the sports.
Understanding what motivates participation in an extreme sport leads to a better understanding of the human experience, researchers say. Participation in extreme sports is a manifestation of human agency, because extreme sportsmen make the conscious choice to participate in something potentially fatal.
So why do people engage in extreme sports, if not for the adrenaline rush? Researchers say that people experience something life-changing when they're dangling from a rope 500 meters above the ground.
Also, dangerous and risky sports like BASE jumping aren't just about taking risks and reveling in teetering on the edge of danger. Participants in these sports have undergone training and have done enough preparation in order to minimize the risks that come with the sports they love.
There's a stereotype of extreme sportsmen that portrays them as irresponsible and careless. That's far from the truth. These people don't participate in these activities without enough knowledge of the sport itself, the environment in which the sport takes place, and their own limits. Extreme sportsmen are thus no different from other athletes.
Extreme sports are like an unpretentious form of philosophizing. Participants aren't just sitting around and thinking, they're actually experiencing the limits and beyond what it's like to be human.
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