| Pushing it to the Extreme: Positive Experiences

Bodyflight, zorbing, street luge, base diving, Australian abseiling, und bungee jumping. High diving, acroparagliding, balconing und swooping. Even just saying these names, many people think immediately of extreme sports - but it’s not as simple as that.

Extreme sports, according to Allmer, a professor of sports psychology, involve extraordinary physical fatigue, atypical physical conditions or states, unpredictable conditions, uncertain outcomes, and often life-threatening moves. The risk of serious injuries or even death is basically higher with extreme sports, but it has to be considered relatively - what counts as extreme and what doesn’t differs by individual! Extreme sports require above-average skills, though of course everyone has different mental or physical levels. One person might find climbing a via ferrata plenty thrilling, while another might get the same thrill from free solo climbing. Competitions and championships also represent a form of extreme sport. In addition, the athletic feat often seems much more extreme to a viewer than the athlete herself finds it, since risk assessment is based on different experiences, making it easy to project one's own comfort level or personal anxiety level onto the sport. Because of the potential for danger, it is important for extreme sports athletes that they think rationally and realistically, rather than like a daredevil, as is often assumed. The definition of extreme sports, therefore, is something that everyone can or should set for themselves!

Additionally, individual sports can not be completely classified as extreme. Virtually any conventional sport can be modified to maintain the classic components, but so that it is executed in a more intense form. Out of the triathlon we have Ironman; from diving we have freediving; and from skydiving comes sky surfing or Banzai skydiving. In some forms, extreme sports are even illegal due to the high amount of danger; these are often still practiced, though in small groups far from the public - but not from the media.

The media frequently varies in tone between positive portrayals, as with Felix Baumgartner’s stratospheric jump, or negative responses, describing it as childish and unreasonable. In this way, as always, they are able to twist perception.

But why is it that certain people take such existential risks? There are two main reasons, which are linked to each other. The first focuses on society. Humans have a basic need for variety; the everyday mediocrity of a boring, totally safe and secure existence is not enough for many. Our life offers almost no more deeply existential risks. Since industrialization, an ever-expanding number of extreme sports has been taking place, which means that it has already become a serious trend. And because of this popularity, extreme sports are being promoted more and more (newer, higher, faster), creating more social recognition and impact.

The second factor is the kick: physical exertion and stress intensify the distribution of endorphins, followed by an intense sense of happiness. A conditioned metabolism that undergoes regular stress is a physiological requirement. A wild thrill flows through you as you explore your body’s limits. You get into this so-called flow at the tipping point between normal challenges (boredom and routine) and exertion (stress, fear). It demands full concentration, pushing everyday problems and time to the back of your mind. As skill or requirements increase, you get further into the flow. But if you lose control, the flow instantly transforms into fear or panic. CsÌkszentmihlyi describes a man in this state as "creative and constructive, who gets into it and finds his freedom of expression”. The constant search for new challenges and getting into this flow, so-called sensation seeking, might even be hereditary, according to a US researcher.

Extreme sports can become too dangerous when one’s ambition leads to over-confidence, or when one no longer rationally assesses the potential for danger, or even outright ignores it. This is the case with competitive thinking, such as attempting to break records. It is also creates problems when financial interests enter the picture.

In conclusion: there is lots of fun to be had and great flows to get into out there! But remember, when it comes to your life, it's up to you and you alone - so just think rationally!