What are extreme sports? A list of all extreme sports played around the world

What are extreme sports? A list of all extreme sports played around the world

Ciku Njuguna
updated at April 12, 2023 at 8:23 PM

Thrill, adrenaline, action, and adventure are the driving forces behind athletes who enjoy a high dose of risk in whatever sport they are involved in. Dig in and discover what extreme sports are and how they are played around the world.

What are the 5 most dangerous extreme sports?
Ice climbers scale a frozen waterfall at Yunmeng Gorge Scenic Spot in January 2023, in Beijing, China. Photo by Fu Tian/China News Service/VCG.
Source: Getty Images

While traditional athletics stay within set regulations, action sports tend to push the boundaries of speed, height, and physical ability. This article will dive deep into the activities of the most extreme sports.

What are extreme sports?

These action-packed activities are a class of athletic exercises carried out to challenge natural physical limits and environmental hurdles. With mind-boggling stunts by players, different variations, such as inline skating, bungee jumping, paragliding, and windsurfing, have become extremely attractive.

What is the definition of extreme sports?

This is a category of athletic activities that involve outrageous levels of risk. Although the activities pose a danger of death or injury, they attract more athletes than mainstream games.

What is the number 1 most dangerous sport in the world?
Nikita Fedotov dives from a 27-metre platform before the 2022 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in September 2022 at Sisikon, Switzerland. Photo by Dean Treml/Red Bull.
Source: Getty Images

What else are extreme sports sometimes called?

The sport is also referred to as an action, alternative, or adventure sport. Just like the names suggest, the different variations of the activity usually involve breaking natural physical challenges and geographical barriers.

What is the history of extreme sports?

Individual activities began at different times in history. The use of crude roller skates can be traced back to the 1700s. Bicycle Motorcross and mountain biking began in the 1970s following the invention of motorcycles.

The games became highly popular following the debut of the X Games, a televised ESPN festival in 1995. Pop culture movies on surfing, skateboarding, and rollerblading in the 90s also increased their popularity.

However, some of the first extreme sports, such as cliff diving, can be traced to the ancient native Hawaiian culture in the 1700s. Cliff diving was also a part of the Mayan culture in La Quebrada, Mexico.

What is the most dangerous adventure sport?
Jessica Macaulay dives from the 22-metre platform during the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series in September 2022 at Polignano a Mare, Italy. Photo by Romina Amato/Red Bull.
Source: Getty Images

How have extreme sports evolved?

Over time, more danger has become a part of the activities, which comes at a high price in terms of deaths and casualties. The need to experiment and push more boundaries is common among its athletes. However, as a precaution, there has been increased investment in technological advancement in operation and safety gear.

What are the benefits of extreme sports?

Several studies have been done to help explain why athletes continually engage in the sport despite its inherent risks. One popular reason claims that athletes are purely motivated by the high adrenaline rush.

However, further studies indicate that breaking natural limits can enhance the players' strength, mental well-being, self-awareness, and satisfaction. In an interview with the Guardian, legendary free runner, Sébastien Foucan said,

“ The purpose is to become the explorer you were as a child and expressing yourself, seeing the world as a playground.”
Why should extreme sports be allowed?
Two athletes surfing on a highline during a base jump session, on Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in September 2016, in Saint-Julien-en-Vercors, France. Photo by Fred Marie/Art in All of Us/Corbis.
Source: Getty Images

What are the most common extreme sports?

Examples of mainstream extreme sports include skateboarding, surfing, BMX biking, snowboarding, mountain biking, freestyle skiing, and bungee jumping. Some of the most popular extreme sports are rock climbing, with over 490 million participants worldwide, and inline skating, which has over 17 million participants in the US alone.

What extreme sports are listed in the Olympics?

Are extreme sports in the Olympics? Action activities such as snowboarding, mountain biking, bobsleigh, skeleton, BMX freestyle, and racing are included in the Olympic game list. The 2024 Paris Olympic Games will also feature three new games, including climbing, skateboarding, and surfing.

What are some of the most extreme sports?

Adventure games such as paraskiing, heli-skiing, wingsuit flying, BASE jumping, and cave diving feature some of the most dangerous, if not deadly recreational activities. Here is a list of the most deadly adventure games in the world today.

Why should extreme sports not be banned?
Kotnik Gloria during the 2022 Snowboard Women's Parallel Giant Slalom in December 2022 in Cortina d'Ampezzo, Italy. Photo by Luca Tedeschi/LiveMedia/NurPhoto.
Source: Getty Images

1. Paraskiing

This is a combination sport involving paragliding and skiing. Although this can be done as a recreational activity, competitive guidelines by the FAI Skydiving Commission require athletes to jump 1000m from a helicopter onto a landing pad before skiing down a slope.

2. Heli-skiing

Heli-skiing is the ultimate example of extreme sport tourism. With the use of helicopters, athletes and tourists can access out-of-area backcountry and ski down steep slopes with more dangerous terrains.

3. Wingsuit flying

Although the sport accounts for over 400 deaths since 1981, it remains quite popular. Competitively, the wingsuit pilots are judged based on compulsory and free moves and flying styles.

4. Highlining

What is highlining? As a more extreme version of tightrope walking, highlining involves walking at incredibly great heights across a rope between mountains, cliffs, and buildings. In 2017, the longest highline (1662 metres) walk across the Cirque de Navacelles at 340 metres was completed by three French athletes.

List of the most extreme sports
Mimi Guesdon walking in a dress and heels on a highline above the Red lake, in Split-Dalmatia, Croatia, in May 2018. Photo by Fred Marie/Art in All of Us/Corbis.
Source: Getty Images

5. Volcano Surfing

Also known as ash or volcano boarding, the sport takes action games to an extraordinary level. Some of the most popular destinations for the adventure include the Cordillera de los Maribios mountain ranges in Leon, Nicaragua, and Mount Bromo in Java, Indonesia. Athletes surf down active volcanoes at speeds of about 80.5 km/h (50mph) while braving poisonous gases, falls, and burns from flying lava.

6. BASE jumping

As a result of a 0.2 - 0.4 injury rate and a 0.04% death rate per jump, BASE jumping is considered illegal in the USA, Canada, and Australia. However, this does not stop its athletes from jumping off buildings, bridges, and cliffs for the adrenaline.

Which adventure sports is safest?
A group of wingsuit fliers sail in formation above a mountain and cloud landscape in Bern, Switzerland. Photo by Reto Nyffenegger/ TFA/ Ascent.
Source: Getty Images

7. Cave diving

Although it has claimed the lives of many athletes, it is an attractive endeavour for individuals who enjoy exploring untouched underwater scenery. In an interview with famous cave diver and underwater photographer, Jill Heinerth told the Guardian,

"Swimming in groundwater environments is like swimming through mother earth's veins and the planet's lifeblood. It is a spiritual reckoning and an amazing thing."

8. White water rafting

Why is rafting an extreme sport? White water rafting is a physically exerting challenge requiring athletes to navigate down river rapids on rafts. White water rafting is relatively safe, with rare fatalities compared to most adventure sports.

9. Wing walking

What is wing walking? It involves acrobatic aerial manoeuvers and stunts on the wings of bi-planes. Although the sport has become much safer, it has claimed the lives of several athletes, including Ormer Locklear, who invented wing walking.

What is the danger in adventure sports?
Reira Iwabuchi competes during the 2023 Women's Snowboard Slopestyle Finals of the FIS Snowboard World Cup in January 2023 in Laax, Switzerland. Photo by Sam Mellish.
Source: Getty Images

10. Bungee jumping

What makes bungee jumping extreme? Jumping head-first over a bridge or cliff with an elastic chord tied to an athlete's foot makes it one of the most adrenaline-filled activities.

  1. Sandboarding
  2. Mountain karting
  3. Drifting
  4. Freestyle Motocross
  5. Aggressive inline skating
  6. Cross-country mountain biking
  7. Caving
  8. Slacklining
  9. Abseiling
  10. Free climbing
  11. Bouldering
  12. Mountaineering
  13. Parkour
  14. Land kiting
  15. Tyrolean traverse
  16. Via Ferrata
  17. Heli biking
  18. Luge
  19. Canyoning
  20. Fierste Ljepper
What is the coolest extreme sport?
A man walking on a highline in the French Pyrénées on March 19, 2018, in Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Lescun, France. Photo by Fred Marie/Art in All of Us/Corbis.
Source: Getty Images

What are the most difficult extreme water sports?

  1. Surfing
  2. Waterskiing
  3. Bodyboarding
  4. Wakeboarding
  5. Kite surfing
  6. Kiteboarding
  7. Windsurfing
  8. Flow boarding
  9. Stand up paddling
  10. Kayaking
  11. Cliff jumping
  12. Coasteering
  13. Scuba diving
  14. Kneeboarding
  15. Skimboarding
  16. Jet skiing
  17. Flyboarding
  18. Jet boating
  19. Free diving
  20. Sub wing
  1. Sky diving
  2. Hang gliding
  3. Canyon swing
  4. Slingshot games
  5. Giant swing

It is easy to dismiss extreme sports as professional sports based on popular and conventional beliefs. However, its athletes commit to years of training and education while constantly pushing their physical limits.

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Ciku Njuguna photo
Ciku Njuguna
Ciku Njuguna is a journalist with 3 year’s experience in content creation based in Kenya. She currently covers sports personnel as well as team biographies.