About Extreme Sports

Bouldering at night with lightsIn the 80’s and 90’s extreme sports – or lifestyle sports – seemed to take the country by storm, as young people defied gravity and convention, pushing the limits of safety and, some would say, common sense.

Who engages in extreme sports? We put that question to Ron Pfeiffer, chair of the Kinesiology Department at Boise State University. Pfeiffer was himself an extreme athlete. In 1989 he placed 8th in the world championships in off-road bicycle racing. And he’s got the scars to prove it.

Pfeiffer covered in mud competing in the 1990 World Cup XC raceClearly, it’s a group of people who are very independent. They tend to be pretty self confident. You could make a long list of some pretty virtuous attributes in these folks, if you could somehow get away from the fact that they look like they’re crazy when they’re out there doing it.
-- Ron Pfeiffer, BSU Dept. of Kinesiology

Pfeiffer says technology drives extreme sports. Bicycle technology, for example, has changed dramatically, and so has the sport of biking, morphing into a handful of extreme activities.

In the course of a year or two, a whole new event would spring up.

Part of it is cultural. Part of it’s just a coincidence that we’re in this point in history when you have equipment and technology available that’s unique to this era; and people are going to take advantage of it, and go out and play and do these things and try to have fun and challenge themselves.

Pfeiffer speaking toward the cameraSo it becomes almost more of a spiritual experience than just going out and getting a workout.

The total package that you see when you really sit and break it down objectively, is it’s got a technical aspect. It’s got a psychological aspect. A physical aspect. And it brings that all together. That’s very rare in today’s culture.
-- Ron Pfeiffer

Competitiveness is also a part of extreme sports, says Darren Lightfield, a leader in extreme biking. “This is definitely extreme. People get injured quite often. There’s a few fatalities here and there. This is driven by aggressive human Darren Lightfield leaning on his mountain bike talking to the cameranature and competitiveness, to push the envelope of the sport.”

Ron Pfeiffer agrees that competition is a part of extreme sports, but in a different way from traditional sports like football or basketball.

You often see a camaraderie there that isn’t always present in a lot of other competitive environments. People you’re racing against will turn right around and say, ‘you did an awesome job!’ They’re not out there to make you look bad.
-- Ron Pfeiffer