Hear the phrase "extreme sports" and you might immediately think of the X Games.
This twice-annual Olympic-style tournament, which comes in Winter and Summer editions, showcases the best and brightest in sports like skiing, snowmobiling, biking, and skateboarding. The events are understandably well-publicized, but they're only the tip of the extreme sports iceberg.
Outside of these arenas, there's quite literally a world of extreme challenges and championships, many of which you may never have heard of. In fact, many of these events take place in appropriately extreme destinations: Imagine running 135 miles in the hottest place on Earth -- in the middle of summer -- or crossing an ocean using only human muscle.
If these events sound death-defying, that's because they are. To take big wave surfing as an example, the sport has claimed the lives of several of its leading lights, and more are likely to follow.
If you think getting swallowed by a giant wall of water sounds scary, then imagine flying around a mountain -- literally -- in a wingsuit, or flying down one -- metaphorically -- on a skateboard.
But the risk of drowning or slamming into a mountainside isn't the only thing that makes a sport extreme. We found one centuries-old precursor to football where brawling is encouraged, and another oddball competition where your worst likely fate is throwing your back out.
Far and wide, you'll find athletes in peak physical condition battling the elements and testing their own limits as they compete to be named the fastest, strongest, bravest -- and perhaps the craziest.
If you ever watched Rocky the Flying Squirrel take to the air and thought you might want to try that someday, wingsuit flying could be the extreme sport for you. Nicknamed flying squirrel, bat, or birdman suits, wingsuits are specialized jumpsuits with extra fabric in between the arms and legs to allow for increased surface area, added lift, and the ability to glide over great distances. Think of it as horizontal skydiving! The sport is so extreme that only 20 people qualified to compete last October in the inaugural Wingsuit Flying World Championship in Zhangjiajie, China. Flyers jumped from Tianmen Mountain in Hunan Province, descending from a height of almost 5,000 feet, completing a loop, gliding about three-quarters of a mile, and then parachuting down to the finish line. The winner, now a world-record holder, completed the flight in just 23.41 seconds. Photo Credit: Redbull Click here to see more of The World’s Most Extreme Sports Competitions
Cliff diving is one of those extreme sports that inspires foolhardy confidence in spectators: Watching divers take the plunge from a beachside bar might make you think—especially after a few margaritas—that you could do that too. But though they make it look easy, cliff diving is a sport of extreme precision and skill. Just check out the athletes at the Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series, who do much more than simply get from point A (the cliff) to point B (the sea). After diving from their perch of between 85 and 92 feet high, divers display their most difficult acrobatic twists, turns, and flips on the way down, reaching speeds of up to 53 mph. The 2013 World Series will bring divers to destinations as far-flung as the Azores, Rio de Janeiro, Wales, and Thailand. Photo Credit: Redbull
Rock climbing may seem like a challenge to some, but even the most daunting rock faces will offer friction to help you on your way up. Now imagine reaching similar heights on a vertical wall of ice—as slick and slippery as a skating rink turned on its side—using only two ice axes and crampons! The 2013 UIAA Ice Climbing World Tour brought daredevils to South Korea, Switzerland, Italy, Romania, and Russia to compete in both speed and lead competitions. Keep an eye out in 2014 when ice climbing will be showcased as a demonstration sport at the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, with the hopes of eventually having it join the games as an official medal sport. Photo Credit: Photo Press/Lukasz Warzecha Click here to see more of The World’s Most Extreme Sports Competitions
Street luge got its start, as you might have guessed, on the streets of Southern California, when skateboarders decided to trade in all their tricks for one simple goal: go faster! To become more aerodynamic, they decided to lie down on their boards, mimicking lugers in the process. Once a part of the X Games, competitive street luging is now governed by the International Gravity Sports Association. The 12th annual world championship will be held this November in Teutonia, Brazil, on what is widely considered the fastest downhill skateboarding track in the world. Perhaps this is where the current record-breaking speed of 97.81 mph, set in 2008, will finally be broken. Photo Credit: Left: Top Skate Pro Teutonia; Right: Youtube/ Zeppelin840
The North Shore of Oahu is renowned for massive winter waves that attract some of the most daring surfers in the world. In 1978, the notoriously rough surf claimed the life of Eddie Aikau, a lifeguard and big-wave rider who was lost at sea while rescuing fellow paddlers on a capsized Polynesian canoe. Since 1984, Waimea Bay has played host to a big-wave invitational in his memory. But the conditions have to be just right: Instead of a set competition date, there’s a “holding period” between December and February, and the contest will only go on if waves reach a minimum face height of 40 feet. As a result, this exclusive event has only taken place eight times, with the last tournament being held in December 2009. Photo Credit: © Flickr / surfglassy Click here to see more of The World’s Most Extreme Sports Competitions
-Nicholas DeRenzo, The Active Times
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