No matter how athletically-inclined or otherwise we are, we can’t escape the impact sports have on the world. Every country has a sport for which they are best known – be it baseball, basketball, football or hockey. There are, of course, reasons for the universal popularity of sports. We reap enormous benefits from our sport of choice; sports are generally a way to meet new people or get friends together, and can help enormously with people’s health, both mental and physical.
When we enter the realm of extreme sports, however, the physical perks are arguably outweighed by the relative risk they involve. Pastimes such as dirt biking, bungee jumping, snowboarding and – perhaps surprisingly – skateboarding are widely practised around the world but are known for a high level of risk in terms of physical injury. Participation in extreme sports has long been viewed as a mark of honour among adrenaline junkies who go the extra mile when a simple game of football isn’t quite hardcore enough. As such, those who partake in extreme sports are often seen as rebels, and pros in the sport often have the same allure as the likes of rock stars and racing drivers, residing on the achingly hip fringes of the mainstream. Here, we’re looking at some extreme sports so on-the-edge that you’ve likely never even heard of them – don’t try these at home!
At number ten is slacklining, a sport which involves balancing along a narrow piece of moveable webbing which is close to the ground. In some ways it resembles a simultaneously more and less extreme version of tightrope walking: more extreme in that there are no nets or rigging used, and less extreme in that tightropes are usually much higher. The sport is believed to have originated in the ’70s in Yosemite climbing camps, when climbers began to use the process of slacklining to improve their core strength and balance between climbs. It turned out to be enjoyable as well as beneficial, and has become a well-loved sport among less traditional adrenaline junkies.
9. Train surfing
The truly bizarre sport of train surfing is at number nine. It’s a dangerous pastime known to be very popular in South Africa, and also a relatively common practise in India. The premise of the sport, which usually attracts young men, is exactly as it sounds: to ride, dance and do tricks on top of fast-moving trains. Train surfers have to continuously avoid the overhead cables, which often carry up to three thousand volts. There is an unsettling tendency among those who train surf to do it to achieve the maximum glory and respect possible; this means that they often try and ‘one up’ one another by becoming involved in evermore dangerous situations in order to be seen as the most extreme among their peers.
8. Volcano boarding
Volcano boarding is at number eight. Dubbed “snowboarding without the cold”, volcano boarding is a hugely popular pastime in Nicaragua, and is carried out on the Cerro Negro volcano. The sport was invented in 2005 by an Australian expat, and involves surfing down volcanoes sitting on a board. The board resembles a snowboard but can withstand volcanic ash and can go up to fifty miles per hour. This seems the perfect sport for thrill-seekers, since as well as the rush and danger of surfing down a steep surface you also run the risk of the volcano erupting while you’re on it – which last happened in 1999 in the case of the Cerro Negro.
7. Limbo skating
At number seven is the comparatively less extreme but still bizarre sport of limbo skating. Limbo skaters take upon themselves the objectively horrible responsibility of doing the splits while on roller skates, trying to skate under a low horizontal bar. Recently, a potential record in the sport was set by six year old Karuna Waghela. She completed a seven kilometre limbo skate in the city of Belgaum in Karnataka, India, and came in under the bar at a staggering nine inches above the ground one hundred and seventy six times. As extreme sports go, this is not so much a sport for the adrenaline junkie as for the incredibly flexible.
6. Mountain unicycling
A more extreme and probably more ridiculous version of mountain biking, mountain unicycling involves cycling a unicycle over all manner of mountain bike trails of every sort, from dirt tracks and gravel paths to intense, steep hills. Kris Holm, one of the pioneers of the sport, recommends mountain unicycling as a great alternative to biking with a dog, since when unicycling you can allegedly keep a more companionable speed with the animal. Mountain unicycling is not a sport to be undertaken lightly; in order to attempt it you naturally need to be able to unicycle, which is a considerable undertaking in and of itself.
Possible the ultimate meeting of brains and brawn, chessboxing is a hybrid of, fairly obviously, chess and boxing. Invented by Dutch event artist Lepe Rubingh, the sport alternates rounds of chess with rounds of boxing, with the game ending in the event of a checkmate or knockout. Chessboxing is played by two people and can last up to eleven rounds, and begins with a four minute chess round and two minutes of boxing. It’s one of the stranger sports out there in terms of the marriage of two dramatically opposing pastimes, but there is no doubt that those few who manage to be proficient in both chess and boxing are a force to be reckoned with – a perfect compliment of brains and brawn.
4. Calcio Fiorentino
At number four is Calcio Fiorentino, directly translated as “The Florence Kick”, which is in essence a more extreme and infinitely more physical version of something like football. Calcio Fiorentino is a fifty minute-long game and is played on a sand-covered field which is doubly as long as it is wide. There are two teams of up to twenty seven players, and the object of the sport is to get the ball into the opposing team’s goal by any means necessary. The origin of the sport can apparently be traced back to 59AD, and the fact that it is still played today shows the enduring appeal of exerting brute force on others while on a playing field… for whatever reason.
3. Wingsuit flying
At number three is wingsuit flying, an exhilarating combination of skydiving and hang gliding. It involves having to jump off a high precipice or out of an aircraft, as with both aforementioned sports, but wingsuit flying differs in that it allows the person to actually “fly”, as opposed to just drift or coast. The wingsuit itself makes the flyer somewhat resemble a flying squirrel, and is used to transform the body into a what as essentially a human wing. The flyer, when in the air, first has to spread their arms and legs to ensure the wings open entirely, before straightening their legs. Seemingly one of the most exhilarating sports there is, wingsuit flying is the closest most of us will ever come to literally being able to fly.
The penultimate extreme sport on this list is creeking, which is a version of kayaking that involves navigating extremely technically difficult whitewater rapids. It usually incorporates high gradients and often includes navigation of running ledges and waterfalls. Kayaks used for creeking have a wider bow and stern compared to conventional kayaks, in order to help prevent tipping into the water. Creeking tends to be one of the more widely accessible extreme sports, and is often offered in adventure centres.
At number one is the truly bizarre sport of Buzkashi, the national sport of Afghanistan. Buzkashi literally translated means “goat killing”, and the premise of the sport is accordingly as gruesome as you might expect: a rider, or team, travelling by horse has to pitch a dead calf across a goal line. The game can last up to a week at a time, and has a rich history in the country, but is not a sport for the faint-hearted or easily traumatised. Animal rights activists will want to give this one a miss.