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To The Extremes

Mountain bikingFrom the flood of exhilaration only adrenaline provides, to the intense concentration and clarity of thought that is only found exploring the very edge of ability, there are many reasons why individuals propel themselves to sporting extremes. From the balletic aerial artistry of the X-Games to the hurtling, traction breaching descents of downhill mountain biking and off piste winter sports, extreme athletes strive to overcome the barriers of nature, physiology and psychology, whether defying gravity or harnessing its fearsome acceleration in the pursuit of liberation and self-expression.

There are many pioneers in extreme sports, individuals who have taken an existing endeavour and pushed back the accepted horizon or completely redefined their chosen sport’s language and landscape (sometimes literally), all the while laying the foundations for the evolution of future mutant generations. In skating there were the Z-Boys, the Zephyr skateboarding team from Dogtown, an uncompromising and inhospitable Venice beach front, who included Jay Adams, Tony Alva and Stacey Peralta among their number. This disenfranchised gang reignited a fading craze from an earlier decade with their aggressive, surf-inspired style and urban guerilla tactics, seeking out and draining disused suburban pools to provide the illicit launch ramps for their vertical exploration and breaching the door that later athletes, Tony Hawk included, would unhinge completely.

In surfing too there have been those that have blazed way beyond what was previously considered possible in their attempts to harness the pummelling force of the sea. There is a lineage that passes from Greg Noll, whose bravery in the face of the big waves of Hawaii in the late 1950s earned him the nickname “The Bull”, through Jeff Clark, who, having discovered the fearsome Maverick waves near San Francisco, then rode them in solitude for over a decade, and on to Laird Hamilton, perhaps the archetypal extreme sports athlete of the modern era, a hybrid of physical prowess and innovation, and a pioneer in the use of technology to tame ever larger giants.

In the end, all of these individuals have challenged the accepted, pushing mind, body and equipment up to (and frequently beyond) limits that only they have been able to perceive. For individuals participating in extreme sports at any level, it is perhaps this last idea that provides the most compelling argument for the calculated risks involved, this sense of a life only being lived to the full when these extremes are explored.